Wow. So where do we start? Do I reiterate, for the hundredth time, that Chris Silverwood (who is the most powerful head coach England have had since Ray Illingworth) seems out of his depth, or do I simply blame the ECB for giving him a dud hand? It’s a toss up.
This time, however, I think I’ll focus on the former. Although it’s true that nobody can turn a pig’s ear into a silk purse, it’s also true that the best managers can turn inadequate materials into something vaguely workable. It takes a special blend of ineptitude to turn a turd into something even worse.
Talking of worse, England’s selection strategy for the first two Test of this series has been absolutely mindboggling. Yes, you’re generally up the billabong without a blade when your batting line up is about as useful as a condom with a hole in it, but England’s foolhardy strategy has only made matters worse.
So let’s just review what’s happened. I have to repeat this to myself because I still can’t quite believe that it’s happened…
England left out their two most prolific seamers of all time on a green pitch at Brisbane, in order to save them for a much flatter pitch at Adelaide, which has rendered them somewhat toothless.
Meanwhile, they picked their fastest bowler at the Gabba, where accuracy and the ability to hit the seam were rewarded most, and thus made it far more difficult to include him at Adelaide, where his pace would have been a much-needed point of difference on a better batting surface.
Oh, and just to compound their error, England’s management decided to leave out their specialist spinner – which was their only other point of difference – once they decided that it was too risky to pick the aforementioned paceman in back-to-back games (even though, actually, he’s had a week off).
All this is enough to make any rational cricket supporter’s head hurt. It’s lunacy. We’ve now entered the crucial Adelaide Test with an attack that consists of five right-arm medium-fast seamers, two of whom are undercooked. Is it any surprise that Australia piled on the runs?
Call me a purist, but I actually consider England’s 5-seamer strategy to be a crime against cricket. It’s so mind-numbingly daft, and goes against everything that the history of the game tells us, that I simply can’t believe that a coach who has risen through the professional ranks (albeit far too quickly) can think it’s remotely acceptable – which, of course, it isn’t.
What’s more, let’s not forget that this is the fourth or fifth time that Chris Silverwood has picked 5 seamers with no variation. Doing it just once is a sackable offence in my book.
Jack Leach has his critics – many of whom forget that he took 12 wickets at 25 in the last Ashes and out-bowled Nathan Lyon – but what chance did he actually have at Brisbane? A spinner’s primary job is to take wickets in the second innings but England’s woeful batting prevented him from having this opportunity. What’s more, it’s easy to target a spinner in the first innings when there’s no scoreboard pressure. Australia’s batsmen could attack Leach knowing there were few consequences if they got out. They’d still be miles ahead in the game. It was a gamble they couldn’t lose.
So how does Chris Silverwood, who’s been involved in the professional game for two decades – so he shouldn’t be a complete mug – manage to convince himself that his vacuous selection strategy in these first two Tests was appropriate? I can only assume it’s because he became completely fixated with playing under lights. In others words, he obsessed so much about what might happen when night fell in Adelaide, that he forgot that England would be in the field for five hours before the lights actually came on. What’s more, he totally forgot that the first Test was kind of important, too. And therefore, it might not be the best strategy to keep England’s two leading wicket-takers fresh specifically for an hour’s play at the end of the first day of the second Test.
One wonders, too, whether England’s management even considered that this particular Adelaide Test was being played almost a month later than it’s usually played; therefore it would be lighter for longer. Shane Warne (on commentary) claimed that the day light lasted about an hour longer than it usually does in these day-night fixtures. So how long did that give Anderson and Broad to reverse the whole momentum of the series? Buggar all is the answer.
The absurdity of England’s position became even more apparent when, having waited days for the opportunity to get at Australia’s bastmen under lights, Root ended up bowling himself for a few overs in the shadows to hasten the second new ball. You can’t make this stuff up.
And, of course, none of the above even challenges England’s fundamental assumption that Adelaide was their best opportunity to win a Test. England have lost every single day-night game they’ve played away from home. Australia, on the other hand, are unbeaten in pink ball games at Adelaide. So what, exactly, made Silverwood target this particular fixture as his team’s best chance to succeed?
Now it must be stressed that cricket is a funny old game. Strange things happen. And it’s not unheard of for cocksure bloggers to write something (or someone) off and then have to eat humble pie when they turn out to be a genius. But can you really, realistically, see this happening?
I sense that we’ve all seen this particular movie before. It involves Australia scoring somewhere between 450 and 650. And then England getting rolled over quite quickly for scores in the region of 300 and 200.
And that, my pedigree chums, will be the end of the Ashes as a contest. No team has ever come back from two Tests down to win the urn. And this team is one of the least equipped of all time to break that particular hoodoo.
So will I be sad if England get trounced as predicted? Of course I will. But, I have to admit, that part of me will be numb to it. After all, if you’re going to pick five right-arm medium-fast seamers for a Test match down under, with a Kookaburra ball on a flat deck, then you bloody deserve everything you get.