By George Marrable
- Australia won the first Ashes test against England in Brisbane
- Steve Smith led Australia to victory with 141* in the first innings
- England were bowled out for just 195 in the second innings
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Hosts Australia have taken an early advantage in the 2017-18 Ashes as they beat England by 10 wickets, and the game has given both sides a lot to think about for the second test in Adelaide.
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Joe Root needs to convert
England captain Joe Root is unquestionably one of the world’s finest batsmen, but, once again, he failed to convert a score of 50 into a century. Root has converted just 28% of his fifties into hundreds, compared to 50% for his opposite number, Steve Smith.
It is something that has been troubling Root for a while, and his failure to convert does put pressure on England in multiple ways. Whilst consistent fifties are more than important in test match cricket, hundreds are game changers. Those extra runs Root could add could swing many games in England’s favour.
Not only that, it exposes England’s middle order which has struggled for a long time now. Root, perhaps, is feeling the pressure of a misfiring middle order, with the burden of necessary runs of his shoulders applying extra pressure in an already intense arena. Hundreds from Root allows their middle order some room to relax, and, in theory, the potential for more runs.
Either way, although widely recognised coming into the series, Joe Root’s contribution to England’s batting will be vital in the coming tests, and will look to improve in Adelaide.
England need an answer to Steve Smith
Whilst Root faltered somewhat in Brisbane, his opposite number Smith flourished, and was vital in Australia’s first innings. The Australia captain made 141* not out and, considering Australia only made 328, they would have been much worse off without that contribution.
Never the most technically correct batsman, Smith is a bowler’s nightmare. His trigger movements and technique, some would argue, should not work in test cricket, and perhaps make him even more difficult to bowl to.
But when faced with criticism of his technique, Smith more often than not responds with a big score, and England need to find a way to counter him in Adelaide. They looked as though they had unsettled him on day three when they starved him of runs by testing him with the short ball, but Smith found his way through.
It is up to Root in Adelaide to keep testing Smith in ways he hadn’t before, changing fields and tactics to keep him guessing and exposing his technique. If they don’t, Smith could single-handedly take the Ashes away from England.
Broad and Anderson need more support
Whilst David Warner and Cameron Bancroft put on a 173 first wicket stand to win the game in the second innings, England bowled fairly well in the first innings as they dismissed Australia for 328.
That bowling performance was, once again, led by Stuart Broad and James Anderson. Taking three and two wickets respectively, both of them continued to answer the many Australian criticisms of their bowling. Both were economical throughout both innings and, although wicketless in the second innings, they led the attack superbly in the first innings.
Aside from their main bowling duo, however, England have some issues. Chris Woakes impressed in the warm-up matches, but failed to carry that form through into the first test, struggling to find his pace and consistent areas on a slow Gabba wicket.
Surprise inclusion Jake Ball also struggled with an economy rate of over four in both innings as the Australian bowlers exploited his inexperience on the big stage. Moeen Ali, whilst picking up a wicket in the first innings, failed to exploit the pitch like Nathan Lyon did, making him an easier bowler to target.
This leaves England with a few problems: do they persist with Ball? Do they give Craig Overton a chance, or bring in Mason Crane as a second spinner? And, with the upcoming test being a day-night test with a pink ball, they have to take that into account to exploit Australia’s weaknesses.
Funky Fields could hold the key for England
In his short tenancy as captain, Root has never been afraid to challenge the norms and try something different. The first test in Brisbane showed that the Ashes would be no different as he tried a variety of unorthodox fielding placements.
Roots willingness to try something out of the ordinary could provide a key to unlocking Australia’s batting defences. He knows he has two world class bowlers who have the ability to bowl to a plan which, if executed properly, could pile the pressure on the hosts
Issues will come if Root cannot rely on his bowlers to bowl to a plan, and will be questioning this following Woakes and Ball’s performances in the first test. But, with doubt in mind and playing under the lights at Adelaide, Root’s unorthodox captaincy may well come into fruition.
England need to attack Nathan Lyon
Off-spinners have long been the nemesis of England with their multitude of left-handers, and Nathan Lyon exploited that as many have done in the past. Lyon took 5 wickets in the match and went for less than 3 runs an over in both innings.
But it wasn’t just Lyon’s wickets that were the problem for England as he did an excellent job of tying up and an end and restricting the runs. Not only did this put pressure on the England batsmen, it allowed his fellow Australian bowlers the flexibility to try new plans and attack England.
Whilst he is a top class bowler who needs to be respected, England’s batsmen need to take the game to Lyon, and force him to lose his line and length. Ali and Jonny Bairstow showed glimpses of this in the second innings when Bairstow fired him over the rope for six, but the controversial dismissal of Ali quashed any positivity against Lyon.
Putting Lyon under pressure, in turn, puts pressure on the whole Australian bowling attack. Without him restricting the runs at one end, that role will fall to someone else, nullifying the threat of either Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood or Pat Cummins.
England will look to tie the series in the day-night test at Adelaide, with day one starting on Saturday 2nd December at 4am.
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