International cricket is back, and we have a ripper of a series coming up from July 8 as England host the West Indies.
For all the talk of this being a new England with a new setup, it appears nothing has changed.
The second Test of Ashes is going ahead on the lines predicted before the start of the series, as if the first Test never happened. Is this is really a new England? One which in English conditions is on par with Australia?
The article is written from the perspective of England – because they are the underdog. I like to say I am neutral.
There is a palpable change in England which reflects on the mid-lower order of their line-up – which includes players from shorter formats. But the culprit of this hole like it has been for few consecutive series is the top order. Not only attack is not in their nature, but their defence also doesn’t pose a challenge to the world number 1 team.
An average of 50 for Gary Ballance just puts in perspective how stats have evolved over the years in cricket. Is it too early to call time on Ballance?
Greats also do go out of form. Yes, but the way Ballance handles the short ball, the low backlift that results in the minimal scoring range, the defensive mindset just doesn’t make a recipe for long time success.
One can play with the patience of an average bowling attack (India, Sri Lanka, West Indies) but against sustained attacking bowling a scratchy 50 is the best one can expect.
150 overs in the field makes you do funny things. Yes, but being three down for a handful has been second nature to England. And there was no drop for Root to redeem the innings this time around.
He did play and miss quite a few times in the early part of his innings in the first Test too. The redemption song of Ian Bell in the second innings in the previous Test seems to be premature too. A 60, when one’s team is at a top, is very different from grinding out of a hole. And Bell’s career has been a story of scoring when the going is good, bar the magic in 2013 Ashes.
The way he attempted to play the delivery from Josh Hazlewood was just awful.
The form of Ballance and Bell has been no secret, but one tried to find solace in their fifties in the first Test. If England do prepare wickets more conducive for fast bowling or Australia find good overhead conditions things are going to go only downhill.
For all the talk of attacking England, they should make a call now and drop Ballance and give one last chance to Bell. Not because Bell has a longer track record, but because attacking is more aligned with his nature.
Adam Lyth is young and should be given another shot. Also, there is no viable replacement from county cricket. The most reliable among the options- Nick Compton was dropped because he was as insiders reported not fitting the old setup.
Root should move to one down and Johnny Bairstow (who is in terrific form, is attacking cricket by nature) should come in for Ballance at 4. Bell should go down to 5. If England go back to saying Root only averages 33 in top 3 but 60+ in 5 or 6 would mean, the new England in Tests is just a hoax.
He is the man in form, has opened before in Tests, and has rebuilt the innings, like a one-down already a plenty of times in his short career.
Apart from Batting the obvious predicament this time was their bowling. Although touching high 80s mph few times, on a slow, low pitch England don’t have the consistent pace to force a mistake. Few people seem to compare Jimmy Anderson with Dale Steyn, saying he is an artist and what not. But here on a pitch with not much to offer, clear overhead conditions, Anderson had no second plan and no other skill to fall back on.
Should England prepare more lively tracks? I think yes. It is a fallacy to assume the slow-low tracks would negate Australia. Yes, they would become less threatening, but so would England.
In the first Test Australia attacked while batting, bordering on recklessness sometimes. But the same can’t be always expected. And England has to win the toss to gain that advantage or otherwise we would see this sorry story repeat.
How can England win?
1. England must capitalise on their advantage in the middle order.
2. England must introduce livelier pitches to counter Australia’s advantage in the top three.
3. England must play to their bowling strengths, again by having livelier pitches.
4. Put pressure on the Aussie all rounders, through having their own all rounders play well.
Hopefully, we will see more evenly balanced pitches and England walking the talk. Otherwise, the series may be over soon.