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Ashes 2015: No safe house for England in James Anderson's absence

Ankur Dhawan
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547   //    04 Aug 2015, 01:00 IST
Will Australia gain from Anderson’s pain?

The irony of life is uncanny. A move away from dismantling Australia’s king, Alastair Cook lost his most precious pawn. Imagine Cook’s plight, when his men take the field at Nottingham, to try and safeguard a hard-earned two-one lead, without their guardian angel -- James Anderson.

Anderson who set up the win at Edgbaston with a hypnotising exhibition of swing and seam bowling. Anderson who lifted dead English souls after a 405-run drubbing at Lord’s. It was the venerable Anderson who bowled England to victory and himself to the proverbial stretcher in a stomach turning ordeal at Trent Bridge (the venue for the fourth Test) two summers ago. At the same venue, Anderson has snaffled 53 wickets in just eight matches at a god wooing average of 19 and a quarter. Anderson, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is ruled out of the fourth Test with a side strain.

England’s imperishable warhorse will miss a home Test for only the third time in a staggering 55 matches since July 19, 2007. The timing could not have been more asinine. An albatross around Cook’s neck, Anderson’s absence threatens to drown England’s Ashes in river Trent. It has left a chasm wide and beguiling, waiting to be filled by Australia’s equaliser.

England’s approach, selection and pitch dilemma

Despite the loss at Lord’s, there has been a refreshing sense of adventure in England’s campaign hitherto. But can they, in the absence of their premier fast bowler, approach the Nottingham Test with the same intrepidity? The English Don Quixote got their wish for an antique home grown pitch at Edgbaston, but will they be as daring again?

Producing another green top will lay greater emphasis and pressure on England to win the toss. With no Anderson to contend with, the Aussies will fancy another bat if conditions promise to remain favourable to seam and swing throughout. What compounds England’s dilemma is that a flatter surface will further negate an already depleted bowling attack. So, essentially there’s no safe house for the hosts. They find themselves in no man’s land.

While Steven Finn bowled like a younger, faster, sexier incarnation of Glenn McGrath on a resounding return to Test cricket, he remains a nightmarish enigma and could blow up without warning if history’s an indicator. Stuart Broad’s mere steadiness was sufficient at Birmingham. Nottingham however, will offer no such luxuries to Broad who now assumes the role of torchbearer. Besides, neither man can match Anderson’s skill and guile given archetypal English conditions. Thread through the sieve of county cricket and realisation quickly dawns that there isn’t one quite like him for miles, English or South African.

Graham Onions is mysteriously out of favour. Instead, available on the menu is another Durham quickie: Liam Plunkett, whose stock ball is short and fast, a deadly concoction for Asian batsmen perhaps, but Australia’s staple diet. The tourists will gleefully gobble him down like a six pack of lager. Mark Wood’s skiddy pace was ineffective in the first two Tests while his namesake Footitt is a stranger to the world he is about to traverse. And playing a second spinner at Trent Bridge would be akin to being perched on a bed of poison ivies. Graeme Swann averaged an embarrassing 51.42 at the venue which, in general has been less than charitable to his species. One major change has left the English camp strapped for options. They are in the ascendency, but the word momentum has been robbed of meaning this summer. It has in fact been obliterated off the face of the earth with the pendulum swinging at it with such wild abandon.

Schadenfreude in effect

Buoyed and driven by an arm-chair malice, the enemy, especially their top heavy batting line-up will draw a mirthful breath of life. Australia’s myriad problems have temporarily ebbed, or at least masked by the conundrum of gigantic proportions faced by their counterparts. To fathom this inscrutable shift in the direction of the wind, let’s time travel to the Edgbaston Test of the 2005 Ashes.

After being bullied, at Lord’s, England were greeted by serendipity, in the form of Ricky Ponting’s preposterous decision to bowl combined with an ankle injury to Glenn McGrath moments before the toss. What followed was carnage at the hands of the English openers, who ploughed into an Australian attack denuded of its powers. The stand of 112 between Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss set the dice rolling for an epic battle which was won by England by a wafer-thin margin of two runs.  A decade later justice is served, Australia will gloatingly believe. For once memories of Edgbaston 2005 will not cut through Aussie hearts like a hot knife, but can be reminisced to draw inspiration since the shoe is on the other foot this time.

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