Everyone panic! We’re going to lose this five match series 6-0. Steve Smith is the new Bradman, Pat Cummins is the new Dennis Lillee, and Nathan Lyon is a genius who bowls hand grenades. In fact, we might as well raise the white flag now. England are the Frank Spencer of world cricket while Australia have the cunning of Carlos The Jackal and the strength of Hercules.
Give me a break.
In all honesty a ten wicket defeat at Brisbane is pretty much par for the course. Few teams leave the Gabba with anything other than a loss. It’s just a shame that we capitulated despite the pitch being sluggish on days 1-3. The groundsman gave England a sniff, but we turned our noses up at it. It was all extremely disappointing in the circumstances but it’s not the end of the world. Remember Perth in 2010/11? We won the next game by a country mile.
Because I did all my doom-mongering before the series – so there’s no need to bang on about Australia’s extra firepower and England’s inability to take wickets on true surfaces – I’m going to look for solutions today and try to think of some positives. There’s a danger I’ll come across as a debutant who’s just been through an ECB media management course but what the hell.
The first problem is coming up with a plan to mollify the Aussie attack. When it comes to Nathan Lyon the solution is obvious. He doesn’t have a doosra so we shouldn’t hesitate to move our feet more and attack him. Yes he’s a good bowler but he’s far from the best spinner England have faced in recent times. He’s not Shane Warne, he’s not Murali, and he’s not even Saeed Ajmal. There’s nothing to be scared of here.
Combatting 90mph throat balls, however, is a little scary at the best of times. But that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily lambs to the slaughter. There are still things we can do. Starc and Cummins are dangerous bowlers but they’re not Mitchell Johnson or Jeff Thompson on steroids.
Although England shouldn’t become passive, I do think we need to eschew pulls and hooks. We lost at least two important wickets at crucial times trying to smash short balls (Malan in the first innings and Cook in the second) so my advice would be to do a Steve Waugh – just leave the shot in the locker. There are plenty of other higher percentage ways to score runs on true Australian wickets.
Facing 90mph bowlers is obviously hard for the tail – who probably shit themselves like an American POW playing Russian roulette in a Vietcong jail – but the senior batsmen should have the wherewithal to duck and weave. The Aussies only have a four man attack; therefore every dot ball is to England’s advantage. We need to attack Lyon, make the seamers bowl more overs, and then wait for their speeds and accuracy to drop.
When the batsmen do go on the offensive we need to drive at every opportunity (within reason of course). The kookaburra ball doesn’t swing for long, and the seam goes soft quickly, so playing on the up is easier than it is back home. That’s probably why James Vince did well in the first innings in Brisbane. He loves a good cover drive.
When it comes to back foot strokes we must play with a crossed bat. The cut is a relatively simple shot to play on Aussie wickets. Playing back foot drives and punches are harder, and they leave batsmen more vulnerable to balls that bounce higher than expected. We also need to leave the ball better. Most good length balls bounce over the stumps down under.
The final thing our batsmen need to do is concentrate harder. With no Ben Stokes, and the tail likely to get blown away, every batsman needs to take personal responsibility for scoring big runs. Six or seven down is basically all out; therefore the top seven need to make hay. They can’t rely on someone else to dig the team out of a hole.
In terms of personnel there’s very little the management can do. Picking Ballance isn’t going to improve anything, so it’s up to the incumbents to get the job done. What’s more, let’s not forget that Stoneman, Vince and Malan all did ok at Brisbane. This is a good sign.
One area where we can move things around, however, is in the bowling. And after his underwhelming display at the Gabba, it’s time to kick Ball out … if you excuse the rather obvious pun. I’m sure the selectors picked Ball because they thought he could be the second coming of Chris Tremlett. The problem, however, is that he’s not nearly as good as Tremlett.
Mike Selvey once wrote that Ball “just looks right” as a fast bowling prospect. I reckon he needs to look again. I’ve got nothing again Ball personally but he labours to the wicket, seems rather ungainly, and he’s about as much of an athlete as Rodney Trotter. He doesn’t look like a natural fast bowler to me. An average of 114 after four tests (and an average of 43 after sixteen ODIs) probably tells us all we need to know.
It seems a no brainer that Craig Overton should play at Adelaide. My expectations for Overton aren’t exactly high but he can’t be any worse. If Mark Wood is fully fit (like he wasn’t last summer) he should be propelled into the starting line-up tout suite. We’re crying out for an injection of pace and a buoyant and bouncing Wood bowling short spells could make a significant difference.
The other thing to consider, of course, is picking Mason Crane. Although Adelaide will be played under lights there’s no guarantee that the ball will swing and seam for long periods. It’s worth noting that Australia scored nearly 400 in the third innings at Adelaide against South Africa last year. Playing four right-arm seamers was a mistake at Brisbane because every attack needs variation. Crane might be raw but if the selectors didn’t think he was ready then they shouldn’t have picked him.
The final reason for optimism is that Ben Stokes was spotted at Heathrow airport with his England kit yesterday evening. The ECB said he was flying to New Zealand to see family and this had no bearing on a potential recall … in the same way that I’m pressing buttons on a keyboard but this is no indication I’m about to publish a blog post.
It has since emerged that Stokes is in negotiations with Canterbury about playing some domestic cricket for them. He might even play in the world’s most aptly named T20 tournament: the Burger King Super Smash.
It seems pretty obvious what’s happening here. If the fuzz give Stokes the all clear – which seems more likely now they’ve allowed him to travel abroad – then he’ll be nearby with some competitive cricket under his belt. This seems thoroughly sensible. Denying it, on the other hand, probably isn’t.
Getting Stokes back in the team won’t solve all England’s problems but it will raise morale, improve our batting, bowling, and fielding, and increase our chances of being competitive. Stokes is one of our few batsmen capable of playing extreme fast bowling well – as he showed at Perth in 2012. Having him back would be great.