CONTRARY to all expectations, Australia has won the first two Tests of the ongoing Ashes cricket series against England. But it has done so in a way that leaves much to be desired.
The teams played a series in England during the northern summer too and England prevailed 3-0 with two Tests drawn. England has held the Ashes since 2009 when it won them back from Australia.
In the current series, the main factor behind Australia’s surge has been the fast bowler Mitchell Johnson. He has undergone a considerable change after being trained by a man who is probably one of the two best fast bowlers of all time – Dennis Lillee.
Johnson has lost his tendency to be erratic — bowling one ball down the legside and the next outside the off-stump — and increased his strength so that he can bowl faster. And he has started using the bouncer creatively, threatening the body of the batsman who is facing up.
This has paid dividends in no uncertain way – in the first Test he took nine wickets and made 64 and 39 not out to be an uncontested choice for man of the match. During that game, for the most part he used the tactic of threatening the batsman physically.
In the second Test, which Australia won today, Johnson got eight wickets, seven of them in England’s first innings. This time, he mostly used sheer pace to beat the bat and four of his victims were bowled.
But in the second innings when he was not half as successful he behaved in a manner that can only be described as atrocious.
His behaviour was of the type that has led to people affixing the label “ugly Australian” on members of the cricket team. Johnson stood in the way of England debutant Ben Stokes at one stage, and with the latter not giving an inch, there was body contact.
This kind of loutish behaviour is not needed either when a team is in the ascendancy or getting trod on. It spoils the game. Johnson may take all 20 wickets in a game but if he behaves like a bully in a schoolyard, he will lose whatever public support he has gained.
Good players let their performances do the talking. It is disappointing that Johnson has let one of the better bowling performances in recent days be marred by behaviour that can only be likened to that of a thug.
Cricket can do without this kind of spectacle.