Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Back wizards of Oz

Australia's Mitchell Johnston proved just too hot to handle for England in the first Test in Brisbane

IT looks like a case of Ashes-to-Ashes as Australia have their hands around England's neck even at this early stage in their bid to win back the coveted urn. And so they must be backed at 8/11 for an outright series victory.

One up after that oh-so-easy comprehensive victory in Brisbane, England captain Alastair Cook has plenty of thinking to do if he's to turn things around after two pathetic batting performances badly exposed by the hostility of recalled pace bowler Mitchell Johnson.

Expect more of the same. If Mitch can pick up nine wickets on a track where he doesn't have the best of records, what will he do in Adelaide and Perth where the left-armer's record makes for horrible reading as far as England are concerned?

He has taken 19 wickets in three Tests at the Adelaide Oval, scene of the second Test next week, and 36 in five at the Gabba.

The old English batting failings were back big time and not being able to reach 200 in either innings is simply not the stuff that wins Test matches. Add in the problem now of having to find a number three with the unfortunate Jonathan Trott having returned home to seek treatment for a stress-related illness, similar to that which engulfed Marcus Trescothick.

It was clear Trott was having difficulty in handling Johnson and the sledging that went with it but that's to be expected Down Under in these fiercely-contested clashes. Some have called it bully-boy tactics but England players are experienced performers at the top level and have to be able to stand up to it.

They are about to face the sternest examination of their psychological prowess.

Trott could no longer mask his hitherto unseen problem in handling the short deliveries and he was right to pull out of the series now rather than risk humiliation because of his mental difficulties in dealing with this tour and, more specifically, with Johnson.

All wish him well on his recovery road but it'll require lots of time and professional counselling.

England can bounce back if they dig deep into the bag of courage but severe doubts are there. The scales, even with four Tests to go, are firmly weighted in Australia's favour even though England had the Aussies in trouble at 132-6 in the first innings.

But being unable to press home that advantage highlights the problem facing Cook and co and hence their odds have drifted to 3/1 for the series, 6/5 to retain the Ashes and 2/1 to hit back immediately in Adelaide.

A 5-0 Aussie whitewash has been slashed from 50/1 to 16/1 and while that's a big ask, 7/4 for a second home success has to be snapped up in view of the current England misery.

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