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Their problems are obvious, but where do England go from here?

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29th December, 2021

Extraordinary. That’s the word I used throughout the passages of play late on the second day as England batted, then again as play progressed on the third and final day.

At one stage I turned to my daughter and said we’ll never see anything like this again.

What a difference a year makes. Just on 12 months ago, we dragged our feet out of the MCG while Indian fans danced and celebrated on the nearby lawns following our Test loss.

This year we left buoyant. At times the play was so intense we momentarily forgot the uncomfortable seats, expensive drink prices, sunburn and endless police interventions including an eviction for throwing a hat.

The air felt so thick with atmosphere it was as if I could put a piece in my pocket and store it later in a box of souvenirs.

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When Joe Root left the field following losing his wicket during England’s first innings, his frustration was obvious.


But it was a more subdued Root walking off in the second innings. His body language suggested he knew a loss was inevitable.

He replayed the shot he was out to as he left the field, guiding his bat through air the way he should have played, as if creating muscle memory for the next time he faced a similar delivery.

I’ve admired Root’s defensive posture with the bat. One journalist beautifully described his head over the bat as if he was looking down a microscope.

But the Australians have found the outside edge of his bat and demonstrated even within his profound ability, there also lies vulnerability.

Joe Root of England edges a ball to Alex Carey off the bowling of Mitchell Starc of Australia during day one of the Third Test match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at Melbourne Cricket Ground on December 26, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Darrian Traynor - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

(Photo by Darrian Traynor – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

England lost the Test and the Ashes on the first day of the Boxing Day Test. Rather than play ambitious and attacking cricket, their batting was dour and tentative, as if in losing the toss they also lost their game plan.

Bold and attacking batting was so badly needed, even to demonstrate intent and a positive self-belief. But that was missing.


Instead they dug in, holding on in such a way that occasionally wins sessions, but rarely a Test.

Some of their problems were obvious. A lack of tour matches certainly didn’t help their preparations for the bounce of our pitches and use of the Kookaburra ball. And there’s the poor selection choices.

Before the Gabba Test, Stuart Broad gave a press conference discussing his rivalry with the Brisbane crowd, as if the true intention was to hoodwink the Australians into believing their bats would face him and then later be surprised when he wasn’t selected.

Of course, it didn’t work. Not much has for England.

Now England face a series potentially worse than their last visit.

At least during that series they secured a draw in Melbourne, even if the pitch offered the same predictable bounce of an asphalt lane excavated from the nearby Monash Freeway and dropped in.


There’s a slim chance they could still perform, with the pressure of winning back the Ashes off them. They could begin playing out of their skins.

But it’s doubtful.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture the mood in the English dressing rooms after the match.

Heads in hands, uneasy silence, eye contact avoided.

What could Joe Root and coach Chris Silverwood possibly say?

Perhaps they merely told their players to avoid reading the English press as well as any social media and to reflect.

England head coach Chris Silverwood looks on during a rain delay during day one of the First Test Match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at The Gabba on December 08, 2021 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)


What can England do? Options exist for calling on Sam Billings and Alex Hales, currently playing in the Big Bash.

After the Adelaide Test loss, England had a few days to work on technical weaknesses before Boxing Day. But that seems to have addressed little and with only a short time between now and the Sydney Test, it will be difficult to successfully iron out any batting problems.

James Anderson remains steadfast in their team. Mark Wood’s pace will continue to earn him a place. Joe Root’s batting places him well ahead of the others. Ben Stokes is, well, Ben Stokes.

But the top order, the lack of a top-class spin bowler, an erratic wicketkeeper, some uninspired bowling and overall brittle batting leaves an England who may well struggle to beat a Sheffield Shield team.

It’s now up to Chris Silverwood to address the English team. He must ask who wants to be there to face South Africa next year and play in the final rescheduled Test against India.

Who wants to be part of a comeback and win a Test against Australia?

Who will live and breathe every stroke and every delivery for the remaining Tests and inspire the rest of the team as well as those aspiring to play for England?


Who will remain behind in the nets asking to face more bowling? Who will commit to be their absolute best?

It remains to be seen if anyone puts their hand up.