No doubt the Brendon McCullum-Ben Stokes combination is pulling its weight as the duo have came out with an approach that shouldn't have surprised…
The English press pack hammered the tourists again after a surprising bowling selection and costly drops by wicketkeeper Jos Buttler afforded Marnus Labuschagne two ‘lives’ and tightened Australia’s grip on the Ashes series in Adelaide.
Labuschagne’s unbeaten 95 from 275 balls, David Warner’s 94 and their 172-run second-wicket stand has provided the Australians with a sturdy platform to go on and build a big first innings after the shock of losing skipper Pat Cummins on the morning of the second Test through a Covid scare.
Yet again there were questions over England’s muddled team selections with many of the feelings from the nine-wicket capitulation in Brisbane returning in the City of Churches.
“Australia lost a captain but gained a grip on the Ashes by the end of an unforgettable first day of the second Test,” declared The Telegraph’s Nick Hoult.
“Australia had lost their leader, the world’s no. 1 ranked bowler and England were primed to bowl with a pink ball, long identified in their supposedly meticulous planning as the leveller between the sides.
“By cotton-wooling Mark Wood for the next Test, England picked five right-arm over seamers all singing the same tune, and with no lateral movement were reduced to banging the ball into a leg side field in the vain hope of a batsman making a mistake and holing out.”
“A day that began with Australia in chaos off the field ended with a familiar sense of control on it, as David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne batted them into a position of dominance in the second Ashes Test,” he wrote.
“For Joe Root, a disappointing day was summed up moments earlier, when Jos Buttler contrived to put down Labuschagne on 95 off Jimmy Anderson as England tried to make inroads with the second new ball. It was the simplest of chances, but England are already making a habit on this tour of making the simple look impossible.
“After their nine-wicket victory at Brisbane, Australia already look close to impregnable here. Eight previous floodlit Tests have brought them eight wins; four for England have produced three defeats. There was little evidence on the first day here that either sequence will take a turn for the unexpected.”
But there was a special emphasis on the fumbling of ‘keeper Jos Buttler and his two dropsies of the single-minded Labuschagne at crucial stages on a painstaking slow opening day.
England looked often frustrated, sometimes demoralised and frequently lacked potency, The Sun’s Tristan Barclay observed, under the leading “Buttler Fingers” and “Hands Free”.
“And, if that wasn’t bad enough, Jos Buttler self-inflicted further pain by spilling a straightforward chance to reprieve Labuschagne on 95 off Jimmy Anderson with 15 minutes remaining.
“It was the second time Buttler dropped Australia’s No.3 – he put him down on 21 off Ben Stokes – after earlier holding a more difficult chance to dispatch opener Marcus Harris.
“Australian TV coverage showed the exasperated England legend Ian Botham with his head in his hands following the second spillage.”
Buttler’s nightmare behind the stumps has predictably led to calls for the return of Ben Foakes.
“Buttler dropped a late chance to reprieve Marnus Labuschagne off Jimmy Anderson that would have been taken by any self-respecting keeper at virtually any level of the game,” The Daily Mail’s Paul Newman thundered.
“The case for Ben Foakes is becoming overwhelming now. He has fully recovered from the freak hamstring injury that denied him the opportunity to further display his class against New Zealand last summer when Buttler was rested and is keeping better than ever.
“And, it should be remembered, Foakes batting is good enough to have seen him make a century on Test debut against Sri Lanka in Galle three years ago and have a first-class average of more than 38, with 11 centuries.”
There was also growing criticism of England’s overall planning and team strategy for the Ashes with The Telegraph saying it smacks of panic.
“England have not been shy in trumpeting their forensic planning for the 2021-22 Ashes tour. But their attitude to team selection so far resembles a panicked student giving the answers to questions they have practised, rather than the ones on the exam paper in front of them,” Tim Wigmore harumphed.
“For months before the Test at Brisbane, England had envisaged leaving out both Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. But when they were confronted by a Gabba wicket that was unusually green, after weeks of rain in Brisbane, they still omitted both their two leading Test wicket-takers.”
There was also a rebuke from former captain Michael Atherton.
“England are not doing much right now that makes cricketing sense and this selection looked counter-intuitive,” Atherton wryly observed in The Times.
“On a green pitch under gloomy skies in Brisbane, England had chosen a varied and balanced attack; now, under piercing blue skies and on a dry, biscuit-coloured pitch, that variety and balance was lacking. Some say England always seem to be thinking about the game but one in front of them; here, it looked like they were playing the game behind.”
The BBC’s Stephan Shemilt said: “Only a few days after captain Joe Root and coach Chris Silverwood spoke about the importance of having variety in their bowling, England fielded an attack as uniform as a book of matches.”
The Telegraph’s Scyld Berry singled out David Warner for “tenderising England like strips of steak.”
“Firebrand. Bulldog. Mongrel. Street-kid. Street-fighter. Ball-tamperer. Cheat. No matter what label you pin to David Warner’s barrel chest, England do not have a batsman born on the wrong side of the tracks, and equipped with all the aggression that goes with it,” Berry hyperbolised.
“Warner’s brace of nineties in this series, his 94 and 95, have had more impact than most Test hundreds. He and Marnus Labuschagne, together, have tenderised England like strips of steak about to be slapped on the barbecues behind the stands at Adelaide Oval.”
And the final word on the stunning withdrawal of Pat Cummins on match morning. The Telegraph’s Oliver Brown said he has paid the price for Covid “paranoia.”
“In the city of churches, public devotion at the altar of zero Covid is so absolute that nobody bothers to question the penalty Cummins must now pay,” Brown lectured.
“He had the extreme misfortune to stray near one of the two dozen cases in South Australia, a state almost twice the size of France, ergo he must be consigned to barracks. But why?
“Cummins has already tested negative. In Victoria and New South Wales, he would still be allowed to lead his players on to the field, albeit with a heightened testing regime. It is only the paranoia of the host state that mandates his exclusion.
“A long shadow is cast across this tour by Australia’s obsessive Covid edicts.”