You know it has not gone well for Australia when their coach fronts the media at stumps. Bad Day Boof is what it’s called when Darren Lehmann steps in front of the cameras but this was a case of Sad Day Smudge. Steve Smith started the morning with an upset stomach and could only have ended his draining shift in the field feeling worse.
Run ragged by a champion in commanding nick, dropping catches, drawn into increasingly funky fields and, by the end, playing an unwilling game of Protect No11 – this was the sort of afternoon the Australia captain usually inflicts on others.
Throughout the Ashes, the critique of England with the ball was that they did not have the cattle – nor the speed of hoof, more to the point. On the third day of the fourth Test that became the hosts’ problem. According to CricViz, the home pace trio bowled at an average of 84.5mph, some way slower than the opening day in Perth.
“It was really hard,” Lehmann said. If Pat Cummins found it difficult to generate pace, Jackson Bird had no chance on a surface maintaining its peaceful disposition. He clocked an average 82mph.
Lehmann was instructive with his conclusion it was a pitch for stump-to-stump bowling and reverse swing. But that did not help Bird. “You need the air speed to get the reverse,” the coach said. “And that didn’t happen for him today.” Damning.
It was more than that, of course. The argument for Australia’s success is that it has not been the result of one deadly quick but a relentless assault. Armed with that knowledge, they did not so much signal their strategy as write it on a dossier and slip it under England’s door.
Losing Mitchell Starc, the meanest of their beasts, was always going to change that dynamic. Doubly so given the MCG conditions. It also, as Alastair Cook explained at the end of his magnificent hand, decreased the degree of difficulty by removing what a rapid southpaw offers. “Just that natural variation,” he said. “The balance…