When the end comes, it usually comes quickly with this England team. For all our hype and bravado we’re actually softer than a poodle’s undercarriage.
It took Australia just 45 overs to take all ten of our second innings wickets today. And eight of those wickets came in the last 23. It was a gutless performance that lacked any form of application, skill, or courage. They should all be embarrassed.
In years gone by we might have been saved by a classic Brigadier Block rearguard action. Or maybe Cook and Trott might have pulled off a Gabba. But who in this England team can pull off a determined ‘over my dead body’ innings? I’ll tell you who. Nobody. Because that’s not the way this team has been bred since Tom Harrison and Co implemented their bold new vision for English cricket.
I’m sorry but no World Cup is worth a capitulation like this. It makes me so sad to see the state of our red ball cricket. The shot Jason Roy played today, dancing down the pitch to slog Nathan Lyon and missing by a country mile, just about sums it up.
I can take losing when it’s honourable. Sometimes you just have to applaud the opposition. But some of England’s batting today lacked basic skill and judgement. Our batsmen just don’t have the technique or temperament to survive.
It took an unlikely hero in Rory Burns to spare our blushes in the first innings – the rest of the top seven made 148-6 – but today there was no hero at all. Just a bunch of test wannabes who were hopelessly outclassed by a proper high quality test attack.
All is not lost, however. England lost the first test comprehensively in 2005. But things will have to improve drastically. The likes of Buttler and especially Bairstow will need to work furiously on their games in the nine days before the next test begins. England might also consider giving Ben Foakes a call. He played in Surrey’s last T20 game on 2nd August so one assumes he’s fit.
I’ve heard calls for Jonny and Jos to be dropped. I can see why people are looking for scapegoats. Jonny hasn’t made many any friends recently and Jos now averages a pitiful 13 against Australia in six tests (that’s ten innings). However, although I’ve warned in the past that Buttler might get found out against top quality fast bowling, I do think he’s shown enough improvement over the last year to keep his place. What’s more, we shouldn’t forget that he made two half centuries (67 and 56) in his last test match before this one.
What’s more, we have to ask who is possibly going to replace them? In the words of Richie Benaud – a wise old sage if ever there was one – you can’t expect anything from a debutant. And I would be dead against going back to Vince or Ballance. Therefore, in the circumstances, England must stick with the batsmen they’ve got and just hope things improve. Sometimes it only takes a little technical tweak or two. Any experienced professional cricketer will tell you that.
As for Moeen Ali I fear that a change might be necessary if he’s mentally shot. It’s a shame as he’s given English cricket a great deal but his body language currently resembles the forlorn character we saw in the last Ashes down under. On that occasion he played the first four test matches, things went from bad to worse, and he suggested afterwards that he should’ve been dropped sooner. The management have a big call to make.
Thankfully the bowling, however, is one area we can improve. England must never, ever, pick four right-arm orthodox medium-fast seamers again. It never bloody works. What’s more, as Nathan Lyon showed today, we need a spinner we can rely on. If Mo’s confidence has sunk to irreparable levels (at least in the short term) then Leach must come into the side. At least he should provide some control.
I’ve heard plenty of experts argue that England need to prepare green tops at Lord’s and in the subsequent tests but I’m not so sure. Now that Anderson, our best exponent of swing and seam bowling, is unlikely to play for a month or so, the whole ‘green top’ theory looks flawed to me. It would just play into Peter Siddle’s hands.
Instead England should prepare pitches that give our batsmen a sporting chance to put a decent total on the board. Scoreboard pressure can do funny things to the opposition. What’s more, we need to change the composition of the bowling attack radically in order to fight fire with fire. In the past England didn’t have any fast bowlers available. Now we have two: Jofra Archer and Ollie Stone.
Archer and Stone should both play at Lord’s. It’s a no brainer. They’re younger and even faster than Pattinson and Cummins, and they should be fresher too. Leach should then come into the side in the hope that (a) he troubles Smith more than Moeen did, and (b) he can keep things tight if required. Broad and Chris Woakes, who has an excellent record at Lord’s and uses the slope extremely well, would then complete an attack that looks potent on paper. This pack of five should make life a lot harder for Steve Smith and prove far too much for Australia’s lesser players.
“But why do we need this many bowlers?” you might ask. I’ve argued against picking six bowlers in the past but in my XI for Lord’s Stokes would move up the order (to either 3 or 4) and focus on his batting. He might bowl the odd over if required. But if he does so it would be a short, sharp burst at maximum pace. There’s no way I’d ask him to bowl 22 overs in an innings again. It’s just too risky.
Moving forward, therefore, I’d like England to pick the following XI at Lord’s: Burns, Roy, Root, Stokes, Buttler, Bairstow, Woakes, Archer, Leach, Broad, Stone. If you’ve really got it in for Jonny then I wouldn’t mind giving Foakes a game. Some might wonder why I’m weakening the batting by dropping Denly but would the Kent man score any runs anyway? I like Denly as a player but I think it’s unlikely.
The tail looks a little longer than we’re accustomed to but I’m not overly concerned. Archer averages 32 in first class cricket, Leach made runs at Lord’s, and Broad made runs at Edgbaston. However, our main priority should be to dismiss Steve ‘bloody’ Smith (that middle name is now official) rather than eking our a few extra runs down the order.
England need to take 20 wickets to get back into the series. That’s indisputable. And if we prepare a wicket that’s generally good for batting, but with a bit of pace so it helps Archer / Stone, then our batsmen should enjoy a surface where that ball comes nicely onto bat. Let’s face it, they’re hopeless on green tops when good technique and patience are required.
The one thing we should never do, however, is prepare pitches that turn. I think that today made that abundantly clear.