By Mark Whalley
The question on everyone’s lips in the aftermath of England’s dramatic 14-run win at Trent Bridge last week, was how would Australia react to coming so close to victory, only to have England slam the door shut on them in such a cruel fashion?
Would they draw confidence from pushing the home side so close when, at 231 for 9 and chasing 311, they had no right to?
Or would they struggle to recover, like a boxer hit with a solid body shot early in a fight and trying to carry on with a broken rib?
What occurred at Lord’s probably gave us the most definitive answer possible – in winning by a mammoth 347 runs, England have not quite knocked out their foes, but they have them down for the count and Australia show little sign of being able to get back up and carry on the fight.
In the post-mortem of this second test it will go forgotten by many that on the first morning, Ryan Harris had the hosts reeling, with a devastating burst that left England 28 for 3 and facing the prospect of an embarrassing total on what had been described as a “batsman’s wicket”.
Fast forward 36 hours and it was Australia, not England, who had posted a pathetic score, closing finishing with a meagre 128 – 52 runs shy of what Joe Root went on to score in the second innings.
In many ways, the fact that they started so promisingly and failed to push home their advantage will be the real salt in the wounds of Michael Clarke’s men.
To describe them as in disarray would be too much of an understatement – Team Australia is pure bedlam.
They have now received the news that fast bowler James Pattinson will miss the rest of the series through a stress fracture of his lower back.
That the news will be well-received by England fans because he was proving to be an obdurate batsman rather than a bowling threat puts a rather fine point on the problems Australia face.
Mitchell Starc must now return to the team and dramatically improve on a performance that saw him dropped for Ryan Harris for this second test.
Harris, meanwhile, must somehow overcome the fact that he is effectively made of glass, and play in consecutive tests, despite history indicating that he has rarely been capable of doing this.
This places more pressure on Shane Watson – a similarly injury-prone player – to bowl more overs, despite his medium-pace seamers nagging his own hamstrings more than the England batsmen.
And Ashton Agar, despite his world-record-setting feat with the bat at Trent Bridge, has thus far been a spectacular failure with the ball, taking only two wickets in the series so far, and none in this last test.
Yet all this seems to pale into insignificance when analysing the team’s batting prospects.
Watson’s inability to convert starting into big scores by being trapped LBW has descended beyond parody into total farce.
His partner Chris Rodgers is looking every inch a county journeyman, and the less said about Phil Hughes the better.
How can a player who burst onto the scene in such brilliant fashion a few years ago, look so utterly perplexed by the bowling he is facing?
There is a real possibility that he will prove to be the very cricketing definition of a “busted flush”.
Before the series started, many commented that Australia’s fate would rest on the contribution of Michael Clarke – the only genuine world-class batsman in the team.
If he failed to deliver, the team would inevitably fail.
So far, he has flattered to deceive.
He has been unable to replicate his staggering 2012 form – though that in itself is no shame, as it would be impossible to do so.
The real worry for Australia is that they have found themselves 2-0 down in a series where England’s major batsmen have been incredibly underwhelming.
Cook, Trott, Pietersen and Prior have largely failed with the bat.
Just imagine what might happen if (and when) they live up to their billings as world-class operators.
No wonder PaddyPower is currently offering 50/1 on an Australia series victory.
Even at those monumental odds, there will be few takers.
For the neutral cricket fan, the likely one-sided nature of this series will prove disappointing.
Even for England fans, there is a sense that many would prefer the dramatic rollercoaster of 2005 (or even 2009) than the prospect that faces us now.
Of course there would be immense satisfaction in exacting revenge for the 5-0 whitewash Down Under, back in 2006.
But can that really replace the sporting theatre of classic series’ of the past?
Almost definitely not.
And from the perspective of a sports fan that turns up to see a real battle, that seems a huge shame.