Ashes: Dreadful England in deep trouble after batting collapse on another chastening day

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  • Joe Root
    Joe Root
    English cricketer (born 1990)
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

When it comes to the most depressing and disappointing passages of play from England on this Ashes tour, there are a few options to choose from. But losing eight for 86 on the third afternoon at Adelaide will take some topping.

While the first two days were dreadful, Dawid Malan and Joe Root, for the second time in the series, had batted through a session untroubled. Both men had passed fifty, and were looking in prime touch.

The pitch was blameless, and the weather hot. The trickiest conditions for batting – under lights at night – were some way off yet. Australia are without their two best bowlers, the menacing Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. In their place were Jhye Richardson, playing his third Test, who looked dangerous but went wicketless, and Michael Neser, the debutant who was troublesome on the second evening but gentle on day three.

Opportunity knocked; not necessarily to turn the game totally on its head, but certainly to put miles in Australian legs, and to get out alive.

Instead, England lost four wickets for 19 runs, with the batter at fault each time. With the stand worth 134, Root guided Cameron Green to slip. Malan followed a cut of Mitchell Starc with another, a little close, that found slip. Ollie Pope’s woes against spin, and especially Nathan Lyon, continued when he was caught at short leg, two balls after surviving on DRS to a similar dismissal. Jos Buttler drove listlessly at Starc, and was caught at slip for nought.

England slumped from 150-2 to 236 all out (Getty Images)
England slumped from 150-2 to 236 all out (Getty Images)

Australia, in fairness, were excellent. Green and Lyon combined for six successive maidens. Generally, they bowled a much fuller, more threatening length than England had. They tied down Ben Stokes, who was reduced to slogging with the tail after cruising quietly through a stand of 33 with Chris Woakes, who got out to Lyon. So did Ollie Robinson.

The collapse was hardly surprising; England have lost 10 off their last 11 Tests in Australia. In Brisbane, they were all out for 147 on the first day and lost eight for 77 on the fourth.

With a first innings lead of 237, Australia were left with a choice: to enforce the follow-on, and torture England’s batters, or to not enforce, and punish England’s bowlers. As they chose to in eerily similar circumstances four years ago, they opted to flog a bowling attack that includes four seamers in their thirties, another who looks to be struggling, and no spinner of repute.

A period of 70 minutes that mattered little followed, as Australia swelled that lead to 282. The only wicket was a run out, of David Warner in a nasty mix-up with Marcus Harris, who reached 20 for the first time in 10 Ashes attempts. A declaration will arrive at some stage on day four, and then the batters are back in the gun.

England’s hopes are fading after their latest batting collapse (Getty Images)
England’s hopes are fading after their latest batting collapse (Getty Images)

The first session of the day, which featured some wonderfully unobtrusive batting from Malan and Root, seemed a world away. They left and defended soundly, and pounced on bad balls. Malan confirmed that his recall was a fine idea, while Root passed 1,600 runs in 2021. He passed Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Michael Clarke’s best efforts, and now only has three men (Graeme Smith, Viv Richards and Mohammad Yousuf ahead of him).

It is incredible, really, that England’s best batter has scored more runs in a single year than any Englishman, Australian or Indian has ever had, and they have still had an unforgettably bad year of batting.

Root – and Malan, only recalled four matches ago – aside, England’s run charts make for horrible reading. Nobody else above even 28, nobody else has made a total of 500 runs, there has been just one century from a bat not belonging to Root. They have made an eye-watering 48 ducks, adding two more to the tally today, to close in on their annual record of 54, set in 1998. It is really quite desperate.

Change is required, obviously. Zak Crawley, Jonny Bairstow and Dan Lawrence are the options immediately available, while a few players with decent first-class numbers and some Test experience are in Australia playing in the Big Bash.

Any of them may come in and make a difference, with Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Pope and Buttler all showing worrying signs. But that is just cosmetic. England have tried all sorts of players since the great side that won here in 2010/11 began to break up with the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012.

They have picked seasoned county runs scorers (Burns), picked purely on hunches (Crawley), picked proven white-ball performers with ropey first-class records (Buttler), and old players (like Joe Denly, who was dropped 18 months ago).

Next to none of it has worked. We can all shout at the players, but there is a sickness throughout the system. There are simple fixes for some of England’s problems, such as poor selection. The batting malaise runs much deeper.

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