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England must produce a big first-innings in Adelaide to have a chance of going 1-0 up, says Mike Atherton.
Last Updated: 02/12/10 10:54am
Scoring heavily in the first innings of a Test is no guarantee against defeat, as England found out on their last visit to Adelaide in 2006/07, but as Andy Flower admitted this week his batsmen can do much more to put Australia under pressure for the rest of the series starting with the second Test.
England suffered a number of batting wobbles against Pakistan this summer and have looked vulnerable at some stage in each of their matches on tour so far and it's hard to come up with a cast-iron reason why.
All of the batsmen to a man said that the seam-friendly conditions they encountered this summer were the most difficult they had encountered in their careers so far and therein perhaps lies part of the answer.
Moreover, as the Duke ball continues to move around as it gets older it is possible that batsmen who play a higher proportion of their games in England never quite feel as 'in' as those who bat elsewhere and consequently aren't so adept at turning starts into big hundreds.
We have also seen a lot of pitches recently that have started with a little bit in them before becoming flatter rather than deteriorating and it may be the case that it is becoming more difficult to bat first than last.
Whatever the cause of the deficit, England will take an enormous amount of confidence from the manner in which they recovered from conceding a first-innings deficit of 221 to draw in Brisbane.
Flower is right to stress that England shouldn't get carried away with the result - after all the game was drawn and the bowlers only took 11 wickets, the same number as Australia.
Nevertheless it was wonderful to watch English batsmen play with the authority that Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott displayed on the final two days.
Strauss played as well as I've ever seen him play and I was particularly impressed by his aggressive intent; it's easy when you are well behind in the game to dig yourself into a deeper hole but he gave off a vibe that suggested there wasn't much to worry about.
His attitude - one that he has helped to foster throughout the team - showed that he is prepared to take on Australia whatever the situation; that is a very important message for any captain to convey.
Cook responded with a mammoth innings of the type that England have been crying out for in recent years. Technically he played better than I've seen him play in the last two years; he forgot some of the things he's been working on in the last few months and went back to some of his older methods of play; he looked a lot more instinctive and natural as a result rather than someone who has been over-coached.
His back foot play has rarely deserted him in the difficult times but in this innings his driving and solid forward defensive play demonstrated that he has rediscovered his balance and weight transfer.
Equally, Trott's fluent driving through the off-side was particularly impressive for a player who more often than not likes to shovel the ball through the on-side.
As a unit England are more than capable of putting a substantial first-innings score on the board and now they need to because Adelaide has a reputation as a bit of a bowlers graveyard; the batsmen can't afford to sell the seamers short.
Bowlers have to show more heart and stamina here than normal to keep running in and possess plenty of skill besides because once batsmen get in at Adelaide they will punish you.
It is a tremendous place to bat and if the wind blows off the desert as it did in 1998/99, raising temperatures into the early to mid-40s, life can become very uncomfortable for bowlers indeed.
Four years ago England were mesmerised, then destroyed by Shane Warne; while Graeme Swann is not in Warne's class, England will hope that he can get a lot more out of this pitch than he did in Brisbane.
If they do get themselves into a position where they are 200 runs up on Australia after the first innings then I'm convinced that Swann will have far more of an impact than whichever spin option the home side go with.
For England the only selection issues are whether Steven Finn might need a rest and whether a shorter, more skiddy bowler like Ajmal Shahzad who reverse swings the ball might be more effective on this type of wicket.
I suspect the selectors, unlike Australia, will stick with the same side.
It is a big call for the hosts to drop Johnson because he has 166 wickets behind him and without him at No 8 the tail looks very long indeed.
On present form, though, it was hard to see how he could get any of England's right-handers out.
England left the ball well outside off-stump and coped with the short stuff thrown at them more than adequately; with Johnson unable to swing the ball back into the right-handers, his effectiveness will diminished considerably.
While he remains a very decent cricketer, Johnson's low-arm action means he has minimal margin for error and he doesn't possess express pace either.
Without him Australia lack a potential wicket-taker but, as Cook proved in Brisbane, Test cricket is about making the most of your ability when your team needs it most and with the series level neither side can afford to carry any player.
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