JASON GILLESPIE has admitted he has been surprised by Mitchell Johnson’s “devastating impact” in the Ashes series and believes it will be “incredibly tough” for England to hit back from 2-0 down.
The Yorkshire first team coach and former Australia fast bowler said he had been taken aback by Johnson’s success and the way England have struggled to combat his pace.
Gillespie always thought Johnson would pose a big threat with his searing speed and technical improvements.
But he conceded that Johnson’s record – 17 wickets in the first two Tests at an average of 12.70 – was quite remarkable and insisted England have their work cut out going into Friday’s pivotal third Test in Perth.
Reflecting on Johnson and Australia’s stunning start to the series, Gillespie said: “What hasn’t surprised me is the aggressive nature of Australia’s cricket, the positive nature of their play under coach Darren Lehmann.
“What has surprised me and what’s surprised everyone, I think, is the devastating impact Mitchell Johnson’s had, and England’s lack of handling that.
“I expected Johnson to have a bit of an impact just through the sheer pace he has and the fact that it’s obvious he’s worked really hard on his technique; you can see he’s a lot more upright which, in turn, allows his arm path to be a lot more consistent.
“So I always expected him to perform pretty well but what I hadn’t expected was England struggling against him so much.”
Johnson blew away England in the first two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide with sustained, accurate spells of 90mph-plus.
His 7-40 in the first innings at Adelaide included a triple-wicket maiden.
With the next Test taking place at Johnson’s home ground, there is a strong chance Australia will regain the Ashes next week.
And Gillespie believes he knows why England have so struggled against a man who has taken 222 wickets in 53 Tests.
“I just wonder whether the fact that England have been playing on low, slow wickets for a good year or more has got something to do with it,” he said.
“If you think back to India, New Zealand and then the Ashes series in England, the wickets were low and slow and it just looks to me as though England’s batsmen are sinking on their front foots a little bit.
“When the bowlers are at the point of release, you can see that some of the batsmen’s hands are actually quite low, which is fine if you’re on a low, slow wicket against medium-pacers.
“But if you’ve got a guy bowling 90-plus mph and it’s coming at your throat and your hands are low, then you have to get your hands up high and over the top of the ball to be able to hit it down, which has not been happening.
“Of the 33 English dismissals in the series so far that have fallen to catches, 21 have been on the leg-side.
“If you’re trying to play attacking shots on the leg-side to shorter deliveries, and you start with your hands low at the point of the bowler’s release, then as your hands go up there’s more chance you’re going to end up skying the ball.
“I don’t think it’s a lack of fight or anything like that; you don’t associate that with this England side.
“But, all of a sudden, you’ve got a guy in Johnson bowling absolute wheels and let’s not forget the support act of Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle, who’ve bowled full and straight and made the batsmen play, and off-spinner Nathan Lyon, who, depending on the situation, can toss the ball up and give it a rip or bowl a bit flatter and keep down the runs.”
Gillespie believes Australia’s success in stymying England’s own off-spinner, Graeme Swann, has been another significant factor in their success.
Lehmann has encouraged an aggressive strategy against Swann, with the result that he has taken four wickets at an average of 99.25.
“Everyone’s talking about England’s batsmen not scoring many runs, and that’s clearly a big issue, but the strategy against Graeme Swann has also been important,” he said.
“Australia have picked right-handers in the middle order and the batters have been given a licence to take him on and, at the moment, they’re coming out on top.
“It’s been a very deliberate ploy against one of the best bowlers in the world and it’s worked wonderfully well.
“It’s probably the biggest challenge in Graeme Swann’s career, how he’s going to adapt to that and have an impact in the series.”
Gillespie, who was full of admiration for Joe Root’s fighting performance in the second innings at Adelaide, and who would now like to see any of Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow and Tim Bresnan get their chance, believes England will struggle to retain the urn.
No England side have come back from 2-0 down to win the Ashes, while Australia have only once done it – back in 1936-37.
“To be honest, I think it’s going to be incredibly tough for England to salvage this series,” said Gillespie. “Australia are red-hot at the moment and they’ve got a lot of people performing very strongly. But you never write off England; they’re a very good team.
“However, Australia are in the box seat and history shows it’s incredibly difficult to come back from 2-0 down.”
Unhappy hunting ground – England in Perth: Page 25.