England cricket finds itself in a world of hurt following their defeat at the hands of New Zealand at their so-called fortress in Edgbaston at the weekend.
The loss came partly through their insistence upon a bubble mentality in the age of COVID-19 but also through a desperate lack of depth in batting.
England were fortunate not to lose the two-Test series 2-0, with the Lord’s Test having lost a complete day to rain – New Zealand were in a strong position to press for victory had it not rained throughout Day 3.
Not only that, but New Zealand made six changes to their team for the second Test and still managed to thump England to the tune of eight wickets in a comprehensive and dominant display of Test cricket.
English commentators and experts are already wondering how the team can possibly find a way to reverse this by the time they reach Australia in an effort to regain the Ashes at the end of the year, but surely their first port of call should be trying to avoid a series loss – or, worse, a series wipeout – at the hands of visiting No. 1 Test team India from August rather than worrying about an Australian team with its own batting woes to solve.
England did themselves no favours in this series, deciding that the players returning from the Indian Premier League would not be considered for selection tp instead rest and recuperate at home. It has been the England solution to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The use of bubbles in the various tours they have undertaken over the last 12 months certainly cannot be criticised for not putting player welfare and mental health first in these unique times.
But in a home series, where it appears from the outside that players would have had sufficient time to be ready to participate, surely the likes of Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow could have been vital inclusions in this batting line-up. Or perhaps not – indeed perhaps the selectors felt all along that the top six they went into this series with was the best England had to offer.
The fact that Ben Stokes was out injured certainly hampered the team balance, while Jofra Archer’s injury woes also cost them another vital piece of their best team scenario. And losing Ben Foakes to an injury the day before the first Test was also not the best preparation, with both next best keeping options in Buttler and Bairstow not in the team bubble.
However, it is the lack of runs from the top six that is causing the greatest concern.
Change must occur before that first Test against India. Rory Burns and skipper Joe Root are the only certain inclusions in that top six.
They must look at New Zealand’s depth. They had not only a solid top six in the first Test but then replaced two of them, including their captain and best batsman, almost seamlessly for the second Test and still won comfortably.
Dom Sibley crawled to a half-century in the second innings of the first Test when England just batted time but otherwise struggled. Zac Crawley continues to plod along in mediocrity. Ollie Pope looks good without being able to make that solid contribution they need, while Dan Lawrence is still a work in progress.
No doubt Stokes will return if fit, and perhaps either Foakes or Buttler will be back as keeper – or maybe even both with will return, with one as a batsman only. And surely if these two Tests have shown anything, they have shown Root is not a frontline spin option. England must choose one to be effective in all conditions.
From an Australian perspective, I love seeing England get beaten. I don’t know what the answers are to their batting woes any more than I know the answers to Australia’s own similar problems in their Test batting. But one thing is for sure: England must decide very soon which of their misfiring batting order they feel are worth persisting with and which they feel are now ballast, because Australia is the least of their problems in the immediate future.
England will host a full-strength India in a five-Test series in just a matter of weeks. That is the immediate cause for concern.