Lutters’ Lines – part seven (the third Test)

IT had to happen, I suppose. The Australians are renowned for fighting back and did so with what can only be described as a drubbing on a par with England’s performance at Adelaide.

The main destroyers were Mike Hussey (pretty much written off at the start of the series), Brad Haddin and Shane Watson with the bat, the comeback king Mitchell Johnson and the patched up Ryan Harris with the ball.

It’s an amazing turnaround for both sides to be honest and fairly typical of an England team (not just cricket) where they are built up in order to be knocked down.

The euphoria of Adelaide now seems a distant memory and England will have to regroup in the coming week.

It has highlighted a few things as far as the England team is concerned – the main one being that they struggle on fast, bouncy pitches.

Perth has been fairly tame on recent years but was almost back to its old self and was handled far better by the Aussie top order than their English counterparts. No doubt the groundsmen in Melbourne and Sydney will be trying to replicate their Western Australian colleague’s efforts in a bid to wrestle the urn back from England’s clutches.

Changes do need to be made to England’s batting line-up, though.

Paul Collingwood ought to be the most nervous among them. He has looked out of form with the bat, and the cracks in his batting can’t be papered over with tremendous catches at slip or his ability to act as a fifth bowler.

He is picked to score runs, and he’s not really doing so. Ian Bell, who looks in the best form of any of the England top six, must surely move up the order to give him a chance of scoring the weight of runs his innings so far in the series have suggested.

On the bowling front there could be some difficult decisions to make. Chris Tremlett will stay in the side having picked up eight wickets in the game, having bowled extremely well.

His bowling will be less well suited to Melbourne’s slow, low, swing-friendly pitch, though.

If the national press is to be believed, it’s leading wicket-taker Steven Finn who has cause for concern. His 14 wickets in the three games so far have cost him around 33 runs a piece, but alarmingly he has gone at over four runs per over, which is almost unheard-of for a frontline Test match bowler. He is young and learning his trade, but could the runs he leaks out-weigh the wickets he takes?

If England are to win this series, and they are the better side player-for-player, then the batsmen must pull their collective fingers out. Strauss and Cook look reasonable up front, but Trott needs to contribute more runs and Pietersen’s stats for the series would be appalling without his double hundred in Adelaide. His wicket is so prized by Australia that the fact that he’s giving it away cheaply can only inspire the hosts. Prior needs to find some form too. He is keeping pretty well, but needs to contribute more runs if England are going to retain the Ashes.

It’s not all doom-and-gloom for the tourists, though. Australia have had a good game at a ground where they have had a very good run of recent results on a surface that suits their game far more than it suits England’s.

Ricky Ponting (who may be out for the rest of the series with a broken finger) and Michael Clarke still look desperately out of form with the bat. Mitchell Johnson has always bowled well at Perth (29 wickets in his last four games there) but doesn’t do that well at Melbourne (just 11 wickets in his last three games there) and Ryan Harris is far less threatening on a slower pitch. Conditions in Victoria may suit Ben Hilfenhaus more, but James Anderson is a better bowler and should exploit the conditions far more effectively.

It’s fair to say that this series will go to the wire and it’s very good to watch, especially now that there appears to be quite a bit of chat between the sides – not all of it very friendly, you won’t be surprised to hear.

And, finally, I can’t leave this week in cricket without mentioning South African Jacques Kallis. I say this, not because of his superb double hundred against India at Centurion, but for his newly found head of hair. I can’t believe I was the only one who took a second, aghast look at the South African No 3 upon removal of his batting helmet. This seems a trend within international cricketing circles recently, with the likes of Shane Warne, Doug Bollinger, Michael Vaughan and Rana Naved all sporting the “pampas grass” look, more akin to front gardens than the heads of cricketers.