By Michael Stafford-Jones
- England’s first-innings batting failure costs them dearly as they lose Second Test by 120 runs
- Australia’s Shaun Marsh shows them how it should be done with unbeaten 126
- England must address three crucial areas of their performances to win the Third Test
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA – After glaring failings see England slide 2-0 behind in Ashes 2017/18, we assess three crucial areas where they must improve to have a chance of winning the Third Test.
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England’s batsmen must score hundreds
A team cannot expect to win many Test matches when its batsmen are not scoring hundreds on a regular basis. If all the batsmen produce between them is a few fifties and plenty of scores of 30 or less, it gives the team’s bowlers an unrealistically difficult task to bail them out and achieve victory.
England’s seamers tried their best to do exactly that in the third innings of the match in Adelaide as they skittled Australia for just 138. But they should not have had such a massive task, as their batting counterparts should have got much closer to the hosts’ first innings score of 442/8.
Instead, Mark Stoneman missed a straight delivery, James Vince and Joe Root both wafted unnecessarily at balls outside off-stump, Alastair Cook prodded tentatively at a ball from Nathan Lyon and Moeen Ali’s unconvincing flick scooped the ball up in the air for the off-spinner to catch in stunning style. Their respective scores were 18, 2, 9, 37 and 25.
How on earth do those batsmen think their team is ever going to beat a team of Australia’s calibre when they perform like that? Four of those dismissals definitely should never have happened, while Stoneman’s could also have been avoided. England’s batsmen must eradicate these relatively simple mistakes early in their innings so they can go on and score centuries for their team. Steve Smith and Shaun Marsh have both done it for Australia and their contributions have proved crucial in the outcome of the matches so far.
The most frustrating thing of all is that only two of England’s batsmen needed to make a score of substance to get them within 100 runs of their opponent’s first innings total in Adelaide. It is an embarrassing failure, shown up in stark contrast by the efforts of numbers nine and eight Craig Overton and Chris Woakes, who made 41 and 36 respectively and shared a partnership of 66 – the highest of the innings. Why did England need their lower order to save them from total disaster? It should not be that way, and Head Coach Trevor Bayliss and Captain Root would be wise to consider making a change to the line-up before The Ashes slip through their fingers.
England must improve the balance of their side
Few would disagree with the selection of England’s opening pair, as Stoneman looks resilient and up for the fight, and the question of whether Cook is past his best should wait until the end of the series at least, particularly as he may produce a special innings at some point.
However, doubts remain about the make-up of the rest of the order. Vince batted superbly in the first innings in Brisbane, but has failed every time since and still does not look disciplined enough to be a Test batsman. Perhaps number three is too high for him, but is there anyone worth replacing him with besides Root? England certainly should not turn to Gary Ballance again: he has wasted more than enough chances already.
As his country’s best batsman, Root obviously merits his place, and Dawid Malan has shown he has the required temperament (although maybe not a good enough technique) to succeed in Test cricket. However, Moeen looks poorly-suited to the task of batting at No. 6, and he should move down a place to seven for the next Test. His carefree, attacking style has often seen him labelled “the ultimate luxury player”, as his output is often all-or-nothing, but his country cannot currently afford for him to fail, and 105 runs in four innings – falling every time to the bowling of Lyon – is definitely failure.
Jonny Bairstow is the third best batsman in the England team, but he is currently coming in at No. 7. This is a major failure of selection, and must be rectified for Perth. There is a strong case to be made that Root should bat at three and Bairstow at four. However, as England have shown an aversion to this kind of thinking, they should consider moving the Yorkshireman up to five, or at the very least six, so he has more time to influence each innings. If England keep him at seven, they will continue to seriously damage their chances of winning matches.
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The spinner must perform well for England
The last time England won The Ashes in Australia – in 2010/11 – Graeme Swann took 15 wickets at an average of 39.80 (including 5-91 in the second innings of the Adelaide Test). That is not a stunning statistic in itself, but when you consider that the off-spinner bowled the most overs of anyone in the side (219.1) and maintained an economy rate of 2.72, it is clear he played an important part.
By contrast, Moeen has taken just 2 wickets so far at 98 runs apiece. To make matters worse, both those wickets were in the same innings, so he has not made an impact in three of the four Australian innings so far. He was also the most expensive front-line English bowler during the first innings in Adelaide as he conceded 79 runs in 24 wicketless overs.
Damningly for the off-spinner, his Australian equivalent is having an excellent series so far. Lyon has taken 11 wickets at 22.72, including 4-60 in England’s first innings in Adelaide. He has also bowled 109.1 overs, more than any other bowler on either team, while conceding just 2.29 runs per over.
It may be unrealistic to expect Moeen to match Lyon in the matches to come, but he should at the very least close the gap, as the performance of their respective spin departments currently shows up as a glaring difference between the teams. If England’s off-spinner again fails to make an effective contribution with the ball in the Third Test, the tourists should seriously consider selecting Mason Crane for the final two Tests.
The Third Test between England and Australia begins in Perth at 2.30am on 14th December.
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