After just a three-day break since England’s thrilling 14-run win over Australia in the first Test at Trent Bridge, England, the Ashes rivals are to meet for the second of a five-match series at Lord’s today.
The manner in which Australia competed in Nottingham suggests Ashes-holders England will not have things all their own way.
However, just when Australia thought they had put the departure of sacked former coach Mickey Arthur behind them, the row over the South African’s controversial exit has been reignited in spectacular fashion.
Arthur, fired just 16 days before the Ashes, is taking legal action against Cricket Australia.
He is seeking up to A$4 million (US$3.68 million) in compensation, claiming he was discriminated against because he was South African and “didn’t understand the Australian way.”
According to Australian broadcaster Channel Seven, the legal documents also reveal a major rift in the team between captain Michael Clarke and former vice captain Shane Watson.
Clarke allegedly described the role of Watson, one of four players dropped by Arthur for the third Test in Mohali, India, in March, as a “cancer.”
Arthur called himself the “meat in the sandwich” between the conflicting camps.
Arthur, sacked two years before his contract was due to expire, claimed Clarke embraced the need for discipline, while Watson did not, Channel Seven said.
Watson has since been replaced as vice captain by Brad Haddin, but the all-rounder remains in the side as an opening batsman.
Wicketkeeper Haddin, whose second-innings 71 so nearly led Australia to victory in Nottingham, insisted on Tuesday that all was well with the side.
“The Australian dressing room is fine. I don’t know how many times we need to answer this,” Haddin said. “All the other stuff that we can talk about is white noise, so it’s not something that has affected the side at all.”
Key among the things that cost Australia victory at Nottingham was their top-order batting.
Whether new coach Darren Lehmann can do much to improve it is doubtful, although struggling No. 3 Ed Cowan could yet find himself dropped and replaced by Usman Khawaja.
Australia’s 10th-wicket pair were responsible for 228 runs at Trent Bridge, including a world-record stand of 163 in the first innings that featured teenage debutant Ashton Agar’s 98 — the highest score by a Test No. 11.
“Our tail has done really well over a period of time now, but it’s time for the batters to make sure they’re making the runs,” Lehmann said.
England’s 115-run win in the last Ashes Test at Lord’s four years ago was their first Test success at the “home of cricket” in 75 years against Australia.
The steep slope that runs across the ground can prove challenging for bowlers and batsmen alike unfamiliar with Lord’s, but Australia opener Chris Rogers has had the advantage of playing there for Middlesex.
So too does England fast bowler Steven Finn and, despite finding a slow pitch at Trent Bridge not to his liking, Finn’s local knowledge is likely to see him retain his place.
By contrast, Australia may be tempted to give paceman Jackson Bird a run at Lord’s in place of the wayward Mitchell Starc.
However, whatever XI takes the field for a match set to be watched on the first day by Queen Elizabeth II, the monarch of both countries, England wicketkeeper Matt Prior is expecting another tough contest.
“The Australians are fighters,” he said. “They’re not going to lie down and die at any stage, and we had to fight equally as hard, if not harder, to get ourselves in position to win the game, and then go that one step further and actually win it.”
“It’s going to be exactly the same this week and we’re steeling ourselves for that,” Prior added.
The first Test was also full of umpiring controversies and highlighted how just four men — Pakistan’s Aleem Dar, Sri Lanka’s Kumar Dharmasena, South Africa’s Marais Erasmus and New Zealand’s Tony Hill — are currently eligible to control Ashes matches.
As has long been scheduled, Dharmasena will again be standing at Lord’s, with Erasmus moving from third umpire to an on-field role. Hill takes over the replay duties, while Dar will sit the match out.