Peculiarities.

Lots of good things about a diabolical Lords test for England. Maybe firstly it’s right that reality has checked – or rather thudded – in. Maybe it’s great that there are debates re-ignited about whether pitches should be tranquilized or away teams simply offered the choice of batting or bowling. Possible too that this assumption towards ‘positive cricket’ from England should be challenged.

Don’t get me wrong I was in Cardiff for two of the four days and can rubber-stamp the brilliance of that event and the extremely decent-plus nature of the England performance. But it might be that the victory there was more about discipline than liberating culture-change. (England bowled tighter lines/Aus under-performed/job done?) The SSE Swalec pitch –derided for the first four overs, broadly accepted thereafter – was surely less of a factor than the Aussie seamers inability to keep the cherry in the slot? So whilst Root and Stokes again gave us Brits an exciting whiff of Horny Expressionism, one view might be that Test Match cricket is about passages in time as well as inspired clonks… and that we are advised to recognise that wonderful peculiarity.

In other words, New England are growing up in public. Against – asitappens – the best cricket team on the planet. There are issues arising – some of them to do with hitting a ball or not.

Now our relationships with the Shackle-draggers (thankyou, Brian Moore) are *conflicted* but not to the extent that I can’t (grrrrrrrarrrrunnnchhh) express some (ffffuuurkanaall-lla) reeeeasonably convincing appreciation for their work down at Lords. Where the bastards were magnificent. Clearly however, from the local’s perspective the fascination turns immediately away from applauding Johnson and Smith and and towards philosophical discussions around what I am admittedly appallingly going to call The Bigger Pitcher… and to eeking out explanations.

Skirting for the moment right past the issues around That Pitch – and therefore flopping foolishly into the trap of talking (actually) about what happened – we are confronted with the question; how could the Aussies dominate every facet of play so utterly completely? Given the previous and allowing, yes, for their great-ness?

On that inevitable sliding scale, how come we (England) failed to register on any –ometer of any description, at any time? In fact is it possible that the reason Australia scored all them runs and took all them wickets was because England *literally* did not turn up at Lords? So Clarke threw a few pies for Warner and Smith to slap around the place. And Blowers and Aggers ‘batted’ one and two for ‘England’ to fulfil the fixture. Because proper England – Cardiff England – were stuck in an ice-bath at Celtic Manor for four days.

This explanation seems as plausible as any of the alleged ‘transmissions’ by Sky Sports over the last week.

Ok we have to note and even respect the quality of the Australian fast bowling; and mark that it tends to be significantly sharper than ours – a few mph around the 90 bracket being disproportionately key, so it would appear. Reluctantly we may also have to accept the evidence that their top three batsmen are playing at a contemptibly higher level than ours but… where does this get us? Nowhere. Team England has to (actually) do stuff to get back into this.

Messrs Bayliss and Farbrace and Strauss (I imagine) will be looking at both technical competence amongst our frontline batsman and scrutinising psychological profiles to find evidence for a satisfactory match-up. Whether this means consulting with wacko’s or havin’ a beer and a quiet word the end result presumably needs to be either a change in mind-set or personnel or both, unless conditions – not necessarily but possibly That Edgbaston Pitch – conspire in England’s favour. Which (as they say) could happen.

But back to what could be done. Lyth and Balance look pret-ty close to shot, as does Bell but the latter’s enduring quality and doughty English quiet man-who-may-yet-blossomness may, I suspect save him. In fact all three may yet survive to duck another day, either because the management believe they themselves shouldn’t twitch or because it’s notoriously tough to step in as an opener or number three bat. There are candidates but it may be wrong or unfair on Hales or Compton or anyone else to parachute them into this. (Not that this constitutes a reason not to act; it just complicates things.)

Is it not somehow fabulous, however, that this test – the Ashes – is suddenly again the largest and hairiest in the sport? With the biggest black and whitenesses and turnabouts by the ton. Cruelly absurd and yet predictable(?) that England, having been in dreamland, must now blast or grind or spirit a way back to being *remotely* competitive.

It’s unreal drama but excruciatingly trying for players and coaches of both teams. All that physical effort really just the flanneled tip of an immense iceberg-like accretion of tensions and yes (for Lyth/Ballance etc.) traumas . And howsabout we pause for a moment’s sympathy for the New England gaffer? I mean – what a week and a half for Bayliss?!? What state is the poor fella in NOW?

Time to gather oneself and think back to those positives, loaded though they may be with counter-griefs.

It may be painful for fans of Ingerland but it’s also surely exhilarating that high quality fast bowling – one of the most glorious and somehow viscerally-received spectacles in sport – puts us here? Cook is right to describe the capitulation at Lords as ‘unacceptable’… and yet.

Australia were in their zone, their element and (goddammit) they were undeniable in a way that may even make Bayliss’s genius redundant. For though there must always been a response – planned, calculated, mature, skilful, evolutionary – and though conditions may be engineered, the peculiar combination of big wedges of time and world-class pace can prove overwhelming. Plainly England were overwhelmed at Lords.

Even those who don’t get the finer points of bowling sharpish get that the exceptional ferocity and skill of the Australian fast bowlers has pinned England somewhere evidently vulnerable. The urn just lurched back towards the southern hemi. A mere week on from Cardiff, individuals look and unquestionably feel vulnerable, both in a ‘Jee-sus, that could hurt!’ kindofaway and in terms of their professional security. Making it a rare challenge, this. The Ashes.

Sport is about tactical stuff and theoretical stuff but it’s also – as we are seeing – about holding firm when a hunk of leather is flying at you unfeasibly quickly… and arcing or not… and bouncing or not. And amid and amongst any indulgences we, the fans and pundits may get caught up in, Lyth and Cook and Ballance and Root and Bell, or their immediate successors, must face up and front up when the challenge resumes.

Regardless of the toss, regardless of the qualities of the strip. They really need to get playing and then maintain that intensity and that freedom… for days.

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