Aust 8(dec)-442 and 4-53 lead England 227 by 268 runs

While England arrived in Adelaide for the second Test match with ideas, speculations, anxieties and contingencies, Australia came with a secret weapon.

England equipped themselves with detailed plans about their use of the pink ball, informed by scientific analysis of playing conditions under sun and moon, daylight and twilight. They bore notions of persecution and counter-measures in the arts of psychological warfare, with complaints not just lined up but their release timetabled for maximum effect. There were Ben Stokes’s travel arrangements and other shenanigans to finesse, or to find out about by surprise. So much to think about. They had everything schemed in advance, so much so that Joe Root, before he chose to touch the first new ball on Saturday, was already talking about the advantages of the second.

Australia mirrored a lot of this complicated chatter, but their blather was a Trojan horse within which they smuggled a shock tactic that nobody else had thought of. This tactic was codenamed ‘cricket’.

The third day in Adelaide emphasised this difference even more than the first two, which was quite a lot already. Shaun Marsh’s century had been based on the fundamental cricketing principle of shot selection, and the bowling and fielding assault was similarly earthed. To Alastair Cook, who made a hole-in-one at Kooyonga a few days ago and looked sharp and motivated, Australia bowled with the same discipline they have maintained since 2013: full length, off stump, pick at the same old sore. Usually it has been the pacemen who got the final result – since running Australia ragged in 2010-11, Cook has not passed three figures against them once. This time it was Nathan Lyon who dismissed Cook, but the same fundamental line and length applied, and the coolest head in the England line-up was on his way again. Golf, a gentler pursuit rewarding low scores, must seem especially appealing right now.

There was thought behind the Australian bowling approach, but thought without execution is just thought. A short, leg-side attack on Dawid Malan, conceived in Brisbane, was carried out by the outstanding Pat Cummins, conqueror also of Root, who walked off shaking his head and thinking the same thought that had plagued him night and day since the toss: ‘What the hell have I done?’

A symphonic arrangement of the Australian bowling, under Steve Smith’s baton, played its way through the English middle order. Cummins combined with Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood with Cummins, Starc with Hazlewood, and each with Lyon. On the rare occasions when their fielders let them down – a catch and a run-out were missed – the bowlers did the job themselves, Lyon and Starc playing two-men-in-one to take spectacular return catches off Moeen Ali and Jonny Bairstow.

A four-man bowling attack has no room for weak links, but it also simplifies things. The captain doesn’t have to clutter his mind with bowler management; he just needs the ones on the field to play their best cricket. Not much more to it.

For England, there always seemed to be too much more to it. In Brisbane, they earned praise for the preparation and intelligence of their plans. Their minds were active. But good planning could only be a supplement to good cricket, not a substitute for it. Eventually in Brisbane, and alarmingly in Adelaide, thinking turned into over-thinking, analysis into paralysis.

This is one of the galaxy of reasons touring is harder than playing at home. (And chances are that these same two teams, if teleported to London or Nottingham tomorrow, would produce an opposite imbalance.) Away from home, there are unfamiliar noises outside the hotel at night. As Samuel L. Jackson said in Pulp Fiction, it’s the little things. The air has a different taste and so, in Adelaide, does the water. You make up for these by holding meeting after meeting and providing security, a cocoon of days planned to the tiniest degree. It’s not that the home team aren’t also micromanaging, but they have also left some space in their mindset to focus on producing their best cricket.

It was poetic that when Smith decided to disregard the special conditions and refrain from sending England back in to bat under lights – just doing the normal cricket thing – England finally relaxed and played their best cricket of the match. For a second time, a captain’s decision looked to have inflicted damage upon his own team. England had borrowed Australia’s secret weapon. After dinner, they played cricket.

None of England’s planning can be faulted: when they want to bat, when to bowl, how to deploy the pink pill to each Australian batsman, how to counter each bowler. James Anderson grasped his chance to swing the ball under lights. He was devastating. One problem: Australia were already more than 200 runs ahead. Perhaps in their debriefing on how this conflict is going and why they are not winning, England’s planners, like the Vietnam-era US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara, will submit that according to all their data and metrics, they won it some time ago.

The thing didn’t have to be so convoluted. Day-night cricket is still just cricket. When it came to performance, one team was playing better cricket than the other. The rest is noise.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.