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Australia's Welsh Woes


Ashes_England_Australia_cricketSophia Gardens, Cardiff, Wales. Mention this location to an Aussie and watch his face contort into weird shapes, all indicating a general sense of embarrassment. Before you do so, make sure you are not within the perimeter of Walkabout Bar, or in the presence of their bludgeon wielding opening bat, David Warner. It may lead to an awkward moment and perhaps even a more long-term disfigured face.

This intimate ground, by the River Taff, has brought much strife to this proud cricketing nation. Ponting still rues the time Monty Panesar and Jimmy Anderson wriggled a draw from the jaws of defeat. Bangladesh, a much weaker outfit back in 2005, memorably outdid them at the same venue. However, Australia reserved their worst cricket at the ground for the recently concluded test.

It did not start too badly though. At 43-3, England was in a spot of bother, before Brad Haddin's slowing reflexes failed to anticipate a sharp chance. Joe Root was off the hook, The New England™ cut loose. Root compounded Haddin's miseries of chasing balls to the left, and to the right by adding 134 finely compiled runs. Had Haddin pouched the catch, Root wouldn't have troubled the scorekeepers.

Cardiff has been similarly unkind to Australia in the past, and their miseries on this ground can be summarised in a series of opportunities squandered, or in this case, dropped. England's brilliance since that moment was further exacerbated by an abject display from the much vaunted (now much derided) Dad's Army. Since that first session, Michael Clarke and his band of pompous men were always behind the game, and the English barely gave them a sniff at reclaiming lost ground.

There will be obvious casualties from Cardiff. The Australian dressing room has a few creaking bones, some of which are beyond repair. Shane Watson, a reluctant cricketer if there ever was one, gave the impression that he was scarred by the mode of his dismissals- a prominent forward stride falling in line with the stumps, a full delivery thudding into his pads as he shuffled across. Mention leg and wicket in the same sentence, and watch a broad shouldered man shrivel into oblivion. Watson might even have played his last test; such is the unforgiving nature of cricket at the highest level.

More importantly, a rethink to their approach, especially towards Moeen Ali, would be wise. Every time he came on to bowl, the Aussies incorrectly presumed that Cook was being generous and looked to trade their bats for samurai swords, such was their willingness to slash him down to a size more acceptable to their estimation of him. Moeen flourished, his rudimentary grasp of sleight of hand accompanied by an unassuming demeanour, was enough to strike crucial blows amidst a flurry of counter punches.

England, rather, The New England™ will be basking in the unexpected splendour of their unEnglish approach. That one dropped chance of Rogers aside, theirs was the most complete performance by an English side in many years. Their batting was positive, the fielding sharp, and the bowlers maintained an unnerring line. Even Cook's captaincy, usually an amalgam of his dour qualities and the timid nature of the country's cricket, was inspired and aggressive. Captain Cook even danced down to Nathan Lyon on a few occasions. The outcome was not a four or a six, and he does not really need to indulge in the shenanigans of T20 era batsmen, but the message was unequivocally clear. Against the odds, England have set the tone for the series. Who knows, The New England™ might even be resolving issues over a few beers. They must be, since Botham was asked to give the lads a little lift.

It is a strange old game nonetheless: Australia were supposed to swagger about, play collars up cricket, et al. Instead, it is England, fresh from a trip to Spain, who espouse that much-talked-about free spirit. The abstractness of the concept no longer fazes Cook and Co., nor does it muddle their heads anymore. Instead, they bandy it around as if it is second nature to them.

England have asked the questions, Australia have failed to answer them. With doubts over Mitchell Starc's ankle, their once imposing horses for courses bowling attack threatens to get further weakened. It may be premature to suggest that England will romp through the series, but judging by this performance, it should not be ruled out entirely. The signs are ominous for Australia, but what better way to allay the fears than by sharing a few beers with the opposition?

The Ashes are well underway. Old wounds have been reopened and for some, their aura has dimmed.


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