Joe Root’s optimism after the defeat in Adelaide was to be expected. You don’t throw the towel in from 2-0 down, however much history is against you. That said, the way Australia’s bowlers are slicing through England is all pointing to the Ashes changing hands.
Much was made of Root’s decision to bowl first – more on that later – but right now, four innings into the series without a hundred from a touring batsman and only one total a nudge above 300, it doesn’t take a genius to work out where the problem lies for the England captain.
They have a break now before the third Test next week and though their record of one win in 13 matches at the Waca is poor, its reputation as the fastest pitch in Australia has faded a touch and batsman-friendly surfaces are the norm these days. Perhaps the curator can roll back the years but more likely is this is the chance for England’s batsmen to truly stand up.
There is a case of it being uncharted territory for three of the top seven who had never made a Test hundred before. So far I think Mark Stoneman has looked the part with good intent. Dawid Malan was gutsy on that fourth evening under lights and copped a cracker from Pat Cummins. He needs to work on facing right-arm round and left‑arm over, though, and not just because of that ball but rather a general discomfort against the angle that this former bowler has noticed.
James Vince is probably the hardest to fathom and the biggest concern. His 83 at the Gabba remains England’s top score and yet the modes of dismissal in Adelaide were troubling. He is an enigma who can look a million bucks with those cover drives but he is also vulnerable through that slightly open bat face, especially when pushing through the off-side off the back foot.
Shot selection is key. If Vince is going to play outside off stump it needs to be with a horizontal bat to genuine width, rather than pushing out with a vertical one. And especially so in Perth: the bounce there will mean the slips cordon is always alive if he doesn’t make better choices.
Alastair Cook may be 33 innings against Australia without a hundred but he is a champion cricketer. He is starting to look sharper against the quicks but his game plan against the spinner Nathan Lyon doesn’t look clear to me at all. That’s puzzling for a guy about to play his 150th Test and has played spin so well but perhaps it says as much about a bowler at his peak.
Lyon is enjoying the lefties and has got the better of Moeen Ali four times. Moeen is trying to be positive, which I like, but the way it has panned out surely Jonny Bairstow has to move up one. If you were making one tweak, then bringing in Ben Foakes as another right‑hander could work – he’s an organised player – but this will open up the debate about the gloves.
It’s guesswork to say it would unlock runs from Bairstow higher up the order. Knowing him – and the desire to keep wicket that drives him as a batsman – it could just as easily have the opposite effect on his psyche. For me, it’s a simple case of getting him one spot higher.
Now, the bowling. For all the strength of Australia’s attack – wow they look good – there remain frailties in their batting lineup but, on that first morning in Adelaide, Root got it wrong. It was an English decision, looking up at the clouds not down at a decent pitch, and the way his seamers responded by failing to pitch up the ball sufficiently was disappointing.
It was strange to see Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, with all their experience, not bowl full enough. Only they know why but I sense generally there is a fear of being driven. This can be overcome with the right field. And when Broad rips through teams - ie the seven times he has taken five wickets in a single spell – he is full, not that hip‑high length he reverts back to so often.
Anderson is an absolute swing master – his five-wicket haul in the second innings was due reward for one of the very best there has been – but on that first day, when it wasn’t swinging as much, would he have been more effective by keeping the top of off stump and fourth stump in play?
We bowlers are a funny breed. Had Steve Smith won and batted, I fancy they would have gone better. Now you might say that’s the same scenario, right? Perhaps, technically, but then expectation does funny things to players. Losing the toss and bowling can see an attack loosen up more, focusing on the process rather than the end result.
It was strange to see Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad not bowl full enough. Only they know why
As an aside, I have to say I thought the umpiring in Adelaide was pretty ordinary. I lost track of the number of decisions overturned and, for some, height was the issue. Perhaps it might be time for the International Cricket Council to consider local umpires again, where specialist knowledge of the surfaces comes in. That may sound retrograde but this era of DRS, bias should not happen.
Like Root, Smith will have learned a lot from the Adelaide Test, not least the decision to not enforce the follow-on. It was the batting that made it look worse and Smith will point to the end justifying the means. But for me, the correct call was still to take that brand new cherry under lights again on the third evening and go for the knockout blow.
It didn’t matter – the way Josh Hazlewood in particular snuffed out England’s chances on the final morning was exemplary fast bowling – and though likely driven by workloads to the quicks, some relief is now coming with Mitchell Marsh in the squad for the third Test on his home ground.
The all-rounder has only just returned to bowling after injury but if he can send down 10 to 15 overs per Test, that’s a spell less apiece for the main guys. That plus Peter Hanscomb’s struggles means I would expect the change to be made. And besides, you can never have too many Mitches or too many Marshes in an Australia XI.