Test Match Diary: Here We Go Again
Brisbane was a shambles. England were comprehensively outplayed, being bowled out twice for under 200. No prizes for guessing where England need to improve at Adelaide.
From the view of us nocturnal English supporters, Brisbane was horrendous. A great start with the ball followed by two batting collapses, the first of which left us stunned. Watching England lose 6 wickets for 9 runs at 4:15am was not something I wish to repeat. The performance served to puncture the bubble of optimism that this series had come with. The pre-series excitement has been replaced by a fear of failure and humiliation. Adelaide matters, as does the rest of the series. The added spice between the two sides means that there is an even greater desire than usual not to lose to the Australians. England have the chance to silence the Australian crowd/media by fighting back and showing why the summer’s 3-0 scoreline was reflective of the quality of both teams.
England’s batting needs to improve a great deal, but they’ll be forced to shuffling the order due to the loss of Jonathan Trott. Despite his poor form, losing him is a huge blow. He brings stability at three, and without the stress related problems that have sadly forced him to leave the tour, we’d have backed him to find a solution and return to scoring runs. Alas, it is not to be. A lot has been said about Trott’s situation, much of it without the required sympathy and understanding of what exactly his illness is, but what is clear is that he was no longer able to manage his situation without it affecting his form. He made completely the right decision to fly home and be with those who are most important to him in life, and I for one wish him a full recovery so that he can once again stride out at number three and amass a lot of runs.
Warner’s comments about Trott were blunt, but ultimately he did not know of the real situation going on behind the scenes. They were reflective of the symptoms of Trott’s stress-related illness, and not a direct cause. It is too complex an illness for it to be that simple. In any case, the comments are part of a wider narrative this series which has seen the Australian team, media and general public combine forces to create a hostile atmosphere for England. The main moment of controversy this has given rise to was when Michael Clarke thought it necessary to threaten Jimmy Anderson with his side on the verge of a huge innings victory. The atmosphere in the middle at that point was fractious, but Clarke’s threat to give Anderson a “broken fucking arm” was taking it too far. Despite Shane Warne’s best attempts to justify it as a response to Anderson threatening Bailey, its a rather unsavoury comment for which he should have apologised. It represents a sad trend in these contests nowadays, where Australia in particular put hostility above integrity. Whilst sledging has always been part of the game, abuse to create an unpleasant environment is something that no Test side should have to resort to. That the media have decided to go to such ridiculous lengths to be hostile is ridiculous. The likes of Malcolm Conn have ditched any idea of balance, instead turning to propaganda. It is a situation that is crazy, but England must just accept that they are under siege, and deal with the pressure.
England will have to cope with what Australia throw at them, but hopefully they will let the cricket do the talking. After their first Test win this year, suddenly the home nation believes they are once again a great side. But the frailties remain, and a good England performance with the ball at Adelaide can expose that. The pressing issue, though, is the batting. With Root likely to bat at 3, and the potential inclusion of Ballance at 6, means that England not only have to deal with the short ball much better, but also cope with the re-shuffle of the order. Ballance is the best option, as Stokes is not a good enough batsman to slot in at 6.
It is not beyond this batting unit to score more than 400 or even 500, but since the previous tour in 2010/11 they have not scored that amount nearly enough times. It highlights a more worrying issue – apart from the series just gone, England’s successes have been built on the foundations of Alastair Cook scoring a shed-load of runs. England’s win in India was largely down to his runs at the top of the order, and those 766 runs in 2010/11 were decisive. That he has averaged twice as much in England victories than he has in defeats since the start of the 2010/11 series shows just how important his runs are at the top of the order.
This is not a criticism of Cook, but more a criticism of the rest of the team. Ian Bell’s summer heroics aside, the batsmen have rarely been able to compensate for when Cook has fallen cheaply. Australia have found a way to nullify Cook for now, and whilst his form should well return, the rest of the England batting line-up need to fire. Bell showed signs that he has the ability to play the short ball in the second innings at Brisbane, but the whole top order need to do so. Furthermore, soft dismissals (such as those two painful bat-pad wickets gifted to Nathan Lyon) need to be eradicated. England need to stand firm as a batting unit, make few errors, and score runs. Cook is likely to be key to that, but if he doesn’t score a hundred, others needs to.
Calls for a 5-man attack are not illogical given the flat nature of the Adelaide surface, but the 5th bowler needs to be good enough. Woakes showed at the Oval that a poor spell can let a dangerous player like Watson score freely, thus they need to be able to contain. Stokes is pacy but inexperienced. The return of Bresnan will be welcome, as he is a good tight bowler that can get reverse. Tremlett bowled some good spells in Brisbane, but the desertion of his pace has meant he is not viewed as the threat he once was. Suggestions that Monty may play, with Bresnan at 7, are wild. It would be unlike this England set-up to respond to a double batting failure by bringing in an extra bowler, however helpful a second spinner may be by the fifth day.
This match becomes vital, as England’s historically poor record at Perth gives reason to believe they will struggle to win there. A defeat at Adelaide makes a series win a nigh-on impossibility. This Test really matters. The irrepressible smugness of the Australian press needs to be dealt with, and I’m hoping that England will be able to use a siege mentality to inspire a victory, or at least a respectable draw. England haven’t become a bad side overnight, but they need to show that they are confident enough to deal with the hostility of both the short ball, and the Australian slip cordon…
The Australian win at Brisbane, and subsequent gloating, sets this series up nicely. England have a huge task ahead of them.
Bring on the cricket.