Ashes update, second Test, close: England stunned in game of two halves

It was like a game of two halves at Lord’s today, Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook putting England into a very comfortable 2-0 lead, and at that point there was only one team in it, but Australia struck back and once Cook had gone, the weaknesses in England’s spine was cruelly exposed.

And  we must acknowledge Mitchell Johnson’s similarity to a wayward and wasteful striker, who looks for ages very ordinary in front of goal, but, boy, when he gets into the right position and looks up, he picks out the top corner from a good 22 yards and slams it home with quite some style. If and when he gets some consistency, he’s going to be hard to stop. So, from an English point of view, – and perhaps that of Matt Prior, who got the day’s killer delivery – let’s hope he’s some way from that.

And early on today,he was. It was as woeful a bowling performance as I’ve seen from a player at this level, let alone one who’s ranked No3 in the world. He simply had no idea where each individual ball was going to land. Unfortunately he is not a bowler with a captivating aesthetic. At the best of times, his action is like that of an inelegant clockwork toy. At the worst, it’s a slinging embarrassment.

Ben Hilfenhaus was altogether a different proposition, probing from deep, setting up opportunities, exploting weaknesses and giving some balance to the side.

The Tasmanian was a bit of a hit in South Africa, but this is my first genuine sighting of him – take away a meaningless one-day international in Hobart against New Zealand where he did little to catch my eye while being endlessly cheered by a parochial crowd – but a straight reading of his figures from Joburg, Durban and Cape Town does little for his case: seven wickets while conceding 366 runs.

However, he has doubled that haul in three innings here. Some draw comparisons with Terry Alderman. Well he may not have reached that level of accuracy, but when he’s not taking wickets, he’s precise enough to keep a tight economy rate and you can always sense that the slightest mistake will be punished.

As the naive Ravi Bopara found out when he launched himself at a series of outswingers – one of which he sliced just short of backward point – before being pinned by the inevitable straight one. The Essex batsman has much to learn and Shane Warne’s doubts over his temperament may have something to them.

A sound temperament is certainly not lacking in Andrew Strauss who, after two failures and some quite carping criticism of his captaincy, especially his field placing, hit back in fine style.

It seems churlish to point out that it wasn’t a great innings – how much more than 161 not out do you want – but there were plenty of pleasing shots amongst others without so much grace, yet what was most notable was the way in which he carried on at his own steady pace when all around were falling.

As I type, my part of London is under siege from thunderstorms, and if Lord’s is taking a similar battering, Strauss’s progress may have to be delayed tomorrow morning. However, surface water drains quickly at St John’s Wood and the better part of the weather is forecast to come in the morning session. After that, persistent rain is expected to set in.

Maybe the pitch will sweat enough to liven it up for England’s bowlers, even if not before Saturday. It is hard to be definite about what is a good score here, for, as at Cardiff, the team bowling first has appeared to have found life in the ball – and less so the pitch – in the second half of the day. What meteorological explanations there are for that remain undisclosed.

So it’s nicely poised – again. Although Australia’s batsmen may make England pay for their soft centre.

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