Lehmann backed the beleaguered Bird, whose tough initiation back into Test cricket resulted in the underwhelming figures of 0 for 108 from 30 overs. © Getty
Poor old Jackson Bird. The recalled Australian paceman was playing his first Test in 12 months but cut a lonely figure on the boundary in front of the boisterous Barmy Army, who were in full voice with their beloved England storming into a surprisingly commanding position late on day three of the fourth Ashes Test. The rabid collection of England fans gave the downtrodden Bird the infamous Mitchell Johnson treatment with their ‘he bowls to the left, he bowls to the right’ stinging barb.
Without a wicket and having conceded over 100 runs, Bird’s dejected presence symbolised a stunning turnaround in the MCG Test. The intimidating Australia, who seemed set for another crushing victory over their hapless opponents at lunch on day one, had suffered almighty toil on an unforgiving pitch. They were further frustrated by their whipping boy Stuart Broad, who had stunningly flipped the game with an invaluable century partnership with double-centurion Alastair Cook.
After a dominant day for England, Australia’s chances of victory in the fourth Test – and their bid for another home Ashes whitewash – appear forlorn. As Australia quickly realised, life without spearhead Mitchell Starc is difficult. On a flat pitch against the imposing blade of Cook, Australia battled but were unable to provide consistent breakthroughs without the variety and explosiveness of the mercurial southpaw.
“He’s (Starc) always difficult to replace,” Darren Lehmann, the Australian coach, said on Thursday (December 28). “Starc is obviously a big loss and hopefully he’s fit for Sydney. I thought our bowlers worked really hard today but Cook was simply brilliant and England batted around him.
“We would have liked more bounce in the track, I think both sides would have,” he added. “The wicket is pretty good and doesn’t break up here.”
Lehmann backed the beleaguered Bird, whose tough initiation back into Test cricket resulted in the underwhelming figures of 0 for 108 from 30 overs. “I thought he bowled good spells at times and then he was a bit wayward at times,” he said. “That’s the pressure when you come back in and look for wickets. It’s always tough to get wickets on that type of track but he’ll be better for the run.”
Bird aside, Australia’s bowlers toiled manfully although the quicks went overboard with their short-ball tactics on Broad, who after a scratchy start counterattacked and scored a vital half-century. Things could have been even worse for Australia if not for the jarring non-referrals from England batsmen James Vince and Dawid Malan, who both inside edged lbws from Josh Hazlewood.
Sometimes an innately aggressive Australia rely too much on intimidation, and their perseverance with the short ball on day three showcased that they were out of tricks. There wasn’t much inspiration from skipper Steve Smith, who dropped Cook twice in the innings. Smith, who struggled with a stomach bug which has afflicted the Australian team, had a tough day in the office compounded by the frustration of seeing continual nicks fly through the slip region.
Smith was left with precious few options. Mitchell Marsh, the all-rounder, could not offer much with the ball and looks short of a gallop having only returned to bowling one month ago after major shoulder surgery.
After a rudderless past couple of days, Australia faces the humiliating prospect of a home Test defeat within four days. Their maligned batting order faces a major challenge on day four against a suddenly upbeat England. The Ashes have been reclaimed but Australia will be undertaking some much-needed soul searching overnight. They will be desperately keen to extricate the general inertia taking hold of this team in recent days.
A frustrated Lehmann rued Australia’s first innings collapse, which triggered their underwhelming performance ever since. “It was tough yesterday when we had the chance to make a really big score and lost (7 for 83)…that’s where we fell short by about 100 or so,” he said. “We have got to be better in those situations. I thought it was even after day one and we needed to grab the opportunity, which we have in the series, but didn’t on day two.”
Even though Australia have their backs against the wall, Lehmann looked forward to his team’s response to the adversity. “We’ve been outplayed by a better side,” he said. “From our point of view we will hope to bat out the (fourth) day and reassess it from there. It’s a different challenge for the group.”