Opinion: England must play street-smart cricket
'It is fast bowling, not sledging, that provides the primal challenge to one's virility. And England would do well to remember as much,' writes Scott Oliver.
If you keep prodding a kid in the chest, it's likely that one day he's either going to mug you down an alley or, if stronger, confront you in broad daylight.
Mitchell Johnson – the man Dennis Lillee had dubbed a 'once in a generation bowler', prompting many to avail themselves of what they saw as an open goal of a punchline – has been prodded often enough by the English in his career to date, particularly when mocked by twenty thousand-odd Barmy Army air traffic controllers. The riposte was always going to brutal.
Sure, he had a couple of devastating hours at Perth on the last tour (and if England don't get it right in Adelaide, the WACA could see a swift reversion to the once traditional pre-Christmas wrapping up of the Ashes), but nothing like the sustained menace just witnessed at the Gabba.
Abetted by some surprisingly partisan sections of the media, the Australians talked the talk and followed it by walking the walk. Not that they literally walked – they're not doing that because of Stuart Broad, or the '27 year old medium pacer' as the Courier-Mail decided to call him.
They promised hostility, and they delivered, testing English stomach for the fight. It is now, as they say, game on.
It's tempting to see in all this – an apparently pre-determined policy of aggression – as the work of Darren Lehmann. He spent a lot of time in county cricket and might well have left with the impression feel that the average English dressing room smelled a bit too much of peach moisturiser.
So, who to implement it? Well, why not Dave Warner. He doesn't look too keen on making friends out there. The swinger in Birmingham's Walkabout Bar; the bouts of Twitterhoea – neither suggest a man slow to start drossing. See, he has confidence, an invaluable commodity at this level, and if you don't get it right, he's going to hurt you (with runs, I mean).
Verbals, however, are one thing; 150 kph exocets another. And Mitch – YMCA 'tache and all – has, as I've intimated, doubtless been biding his time to start chest-prodding. He and Harris are not about to stop.
It is fast bowling, not sledging, that provides the primal challenge to one's virility. And England would do well to remember as much.
In the wake of a chirp that has probably now been debated by Vlad Putin and Barack Obama in some downtime in their geopolitical manoeuvering, Jimmy Anderson might well feel the urge to have his masculinity display, but he needs to remember exactly what type of bowler he is, what has been successful for him. It is not running in and trying to bully the batter. It is swinging the ball late, or extracting extra bounce.
There's no doubt that England need to harden up – and I feel compelled to say explicitly and unreservedly that this is no comment at all about Jonathan Trott, no suggestion that it's weakness, lest any ambiguity hover – but they also need to keep their cool, play smart, play the situation, the conditions, and not just the challenge to their manhood.
After all, if it is indeed a deliberate ploy, it might have been devised to bridge the perceived difference in class. Perceived, for England's current top six (names in a hat, please) certainly looks vulnerable and badly needs two of Bell, Pietersen and captain Cook to start making runs. Pronto.
And they should get the opportunity at Adelaide (KP has a 158 and 226 here, remember), traditionally flat for three days before starting to turn, fairly slowly, at the back end of the game. This time there's a drop-in wicket, but indications are it is a good deal drier than the wit on display over the Alice Springs Public Address system last week.
In which case, the temptation for England to go to, say, Finn or Rankin in order to give the opposition a taste of their own medicine will be shelved, at least until Perth. And that's no bad thing.
Turning it into a macho battle might be a canny tactic. England are 1-0 down, have been bullied, and need to stand up. But they need to stand up with streetwise, focused cricket. Whisper it, but what they most need are runs, wickets, and catches.
<b>Scott Oliver (@reverse_sweeper)</b>
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