Ashes Eye: Time for England's bowlers to take control

After England bowled the first ball in the series, the Australian media coined a new phrase: "Shoddyline".

cricket 88 (photo credit: )
cricket 88
(photo credit: )
Last Thursday England's Stephen Harmison bowled the first ball of the most eagerly anticipated Ashes series in history and produced a wide that went to second slip. The following day the Australian media coined a new phrase: "Shoddyline". The new term was a play on the name of the Ashes series of 1932-33 which became known as the "Bodyline" series due to a tactic devised by the touring English team which involved aiming the ball at the body of the Australian batsmen. The Australian crowd ridiculed Harmison's opening delivery that set the tone for the first three days of the Test. By the time England had found some fight the Test was all but lost. Australian captain Ricky Ponting admitted afterwards that the "first ball gave everyone on our team a lift." Australia's so called "Dad's Army" proved their quality at the Gabba, showing a hunger that England were unable to match. Ponting, possibly spurred on by being the first Australian captain to lose the Ashes in 18 years, epitomized the desire of the Australian team with a combined score over two innings of 256. The win was also achieved through notable contributions from some of the other more experienced "baggy greens", including Justin Langer, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, with Stuart Clark and Michael Hussey making impressive Ashes debuts. Despite the 277-run defeat England can take some positives from the first Test. Freddie Flintoff showed that his long injury lay-off has not affected his bowling, whilst Ian Bell, Paul Collingwood and Kevin Pietersen all produced significant scores with the bat. Unlike some previous Ashes tours the England team has not come away from the first Test believing the Australians are supermen. Both Ponting and McGrath suffered injuries which, although won't keep them out of the upcoming Adelaide Test, did suggest that age may be catching up with them. Ponting's controversial decision not to enforce the followon illustrated that the Australians are worried about saving energy. It gave England the chance both to post a relatively impressive fourth innings score as well as show some fight - most amply demonstrated by the spat between Warne and Pietersen on the fourth afternoon. But the England bowling attack is under pressure. Rod Marsh, the former Australian wicketkeeper, commented after the first Test that "you can never lose sight of the fact that you have to take 20 wickets to get anywhere in a Test series." At the Gabba, the England bowlers only managed to take nine wickets and a run-out. The English press is calling for the inclusion of spinner Monty Panesar, a bowler described by Australia coach John Buchanan as "a craftsman, a bit of an artist." If included in the upcoming Test at Adelaide he will probably take the place of James Anderson. Panesar's enthusiasm and quality on what is expected to be a dry pitch could make all the difference. In recent days England fans have been making the comparison between the first Test of this series and the first Test at Lords in the 2005 series. Australia also won that Test by a large score and England recovered to win the series. The first over in 2005 was also bowled by Stephen Harmison, but on that day he shook up the Australian batsmen. Justin Langer the batsman who faced both overs (in 2005 and 2006) has remarked that the first over of this series "was in stark contrast to his first two balls at Lord's in July 2005 and I can't help but wonder if the opening to this series could prove to be as significant as it was 15 months ago." England can also take some hope from the history books. In 1954-1955, England lost at the Gabba by an innings and England's main strike bowler Frank Tyson had a disastrous first Test. In the following three Tests Tyson bounced back and played a major role in helping England retain the Ashes. If this Ashes is not to become known as the "Shoddyline" series then England's bowlers and primarily Harmison need to find some authority in their play and prove that the first ball of the first Test does not necessarily decide the destiny of the famous urn.