England and Australia in Ashes role reversal
With England staring down the barrel of another heavy defeat, it has become clear that in the past three months the sides have completed a remarkable role reversal.
However there is one exception – the Australians are significantly more ruthless than England.
Over the past six and a bit Tests there are four main areas in which the sides have evolved, Australia for the better and England for the worse.
1. Opening pair
Four short months ago England made the decision to move Joe Root up to open with Alistair Cook and there he would stay for the next 10 years, or so we thought.
Root played OK in that series, his one big knock coming after having been dropped early – but there was stability in selection, if not in performance.
Now England have moved Root down the order to three via six and Carberry has assumed the opening role beside his skipper.
One can only hope he pays back a good portion of the runs he owes England having dropped the kind of catch most U10′s would take 90% of the time late on day one in Adelaide.
How long this partnership lasts nobody is quite sure, but unless Cook finds some form, his opening partner, whoever it is, will be under pressure to perform more than they have over the past few months.
With Warner’s indiscretions, Rogers back in the side after the best part of a decade, Watson filling in as required and Ed Cowan sniffing around for a place at the top of the order – there was anything but consistency.
Fast forward a few months, Warner is in the form of his life, and Rogers is providing the stable platform that Australia so badly needed. Watson is settling in at three and Ed Cowan is back in Tassie.
Jonathan Trott, along with Cook, were arguably England’s most important batsmen over the last five years. He provided a calm and reassuring presence and a frightening thirst for runs. Behind the scenes things were more traumatic, and I wish him well in his recovery.
The afore mentioned Joe Root has been thrust in at first drop in Adelaide, and I hope he lives up to his talent; but you have to worry that bouncing around the order every five minutes will hinder his development.
Starting the Ashes series with a sick Ed Cowan at three was clearly not a wise choice, in retrospect. After a couple of doses of Khawaja, the job fell to Shane Watson, and perhaps finally he has found his niche. He looks to be much more settled at three and it is where his qualities are most suited.
Correct enough to see off the new ball if an early wicket goes, but also the right person to continue the momentum of a quick fire start that Warner will likely provide.
Perhaps it was wishful thinking to assume Jonny Bairstow would step in at six and make it his own, before he presumed move to take the gloves when Matt prior’s time is up.
His performances, and England’s desire to bring more balance (not you Gary) into the side has seen him jettisoned.
At the Gabba it was Root, now Stokes and at Perth it could be Ballance. England’s batting is uncertain and this is playing havoc with the selections in the bowling unit, as well as at the lower middle order.
Having dabbled with Hughes, Watson and Faulkner in England, it seems that Australia have now got two options that they are happy to go with, depending on the conditions. George Bailey or James Faulkner. Both offer plenty and they should stick with them for as long as possible.
4. 3rd Seamer
England: Between Steve Finn and Tim Bresnan, England seemed to have options at the position, both of whom could be relied on back in July.
Now Finn’s form is in reverse and Bresnan cannot come back quick enough (words I never thought I would write).
They tried a past it Chris Tremlett at the Gabba, despite the fact he has lost the pace that made him so dangerous three years ago.
Through injuries, form and a lack of consistency in selection Australia mixed up the third seamer role in England with Bird, Starc, Harris and Pattinson all sharing the load with Peter Siddle.
Now they appear settled. Mitchell Johnson has overcome his demons and is wreaking havoc in the England ranks.
Harris appears fit and with Johnson’s resurgence shoulders less of the burden.
Siddle is continuing to be consistent and is always guaranteed a wicket when Matt Prior comes to the crease. At Perth there is the option of a fourth seamer with Smith and Clarke shouldering the spin bowling.
Looking back on the Ashes in England, it seems even more obvious, that England won the series on the back of Ian Bell’s brilliance and winning the key moments, without ever burying Australia.
Now it seems very different. Michael Clarke is in prime form, Australia are seizing the initiative at key moments and are ruthlessly turning the screw.
If England are to save this Test, and the series, they will need heroics from the batsmen.
As for the rest of the series, Cook must get his form back if England have any chance of winning.