By Michael Stafford-Jones
- Australia thrashed England 4-0 to regain The Ashes
- The hosts won two matches by an innings, one by 10 wickets and one by 120 runs
- Steve Smith out-batted Joe Root and Australia’s bowlers were outstanding
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – As the England players and management reflect on their disappointing Ashes campaign 2017/18, we analyse why they lost the series by the huge margin of 4-0.
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Australia’s bowlers are better
Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon established themselves as a bowling attack to be feared around the world in this Ashes series. Each snared more than 20 wickets and – with the exception of the Melbourne test when Starc was out injured – they were a constant menace to the England team.
It did not matter if a bowler was not taking wickets during a session because they still bowled well and built pressure on the batsmen, which enabled whoever was running in at the other end to take wickets instead. This is how the best bowling attacks function, as demonstrated by Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones, Andrew Flintoff and Ashley Giles for England in 2005, and Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Lyon for Australia in 2013/14.
England only managed to bowl in partnerships effectively on two occasions: Australia’s second innings in Adelaide when the tourists dismissed them for just 138, and the host’s first innings in Melbourne when they were all out for 327 on a flat pitch. The rest of the time, at least two of England’s bowlers did not perform to their potential and Australia capitalised by scoring more runs than they should have been allowed to.
The tourists could, and probably should, have approached the series differently by including seamers capable of causing Australia problems with extra pace and bounce. One option was Mark Wood, who could have been rushed back into the side in Perth after injury made it impossible for him to play in the opening two Tests. Another option would have been to play a young, lightning-fast bowler like George Garton, but he is arguably too young to make the step-up.
One of the other options available to England – picking Liam Plunkett – would probably have been the best solution to their dilemma. He is among the fastest bowlers in the country; he is tall and powerful and can extract bounce from even the flattest surfaces; he is a clever bowler with good variations; and he has played 89 international matches across all three formats.
The Yorkshireman would have a pragmatic choice by the selectors and an acknowledgement that their options were limited. It should not have mattered that he is 32, a bit injury-prone and considered to be a white-ball specialist, because he could have done an excellent job for his country if given the chance. Furthermore, it is the kind of selection the Australians would have made, because their selectors, unlike England’s, seem to realise that sometimes youth is not the answer when there is an important series on the line. You only have to review the performances of surprise Australian selection Tim Paine, 33, to see what a positive impact an experienced player can have.
After failing to make the right selections this time, England must ensure they find and develop at least one fast, hostile bowler who can thrive in Australian conditions the next they make the journey Down Under. They must also make sure they select Mason Crane in plenty of Test matches so that he has enough experience to be their premier spinner for the next away Ashes series. If England do not do both of these things during the next four years, they could find themselves in a similar situation in early January 2022, and no-one wants that.
England’s batsmen did not make enough big scores
When a batsman gets settled at the crease and starts to look comfortable against the bowling, it is vitally important for his team that he goes on to make a century. Unfortunately for England, their players only managed to make three scores of 100+ in Ashes 2017/18, compared to Australia’s nine, and this disparity unsurprisingly proved to be crucial.
However, while every position in the Australian top seven (apart from No.2) outscored its English counterpart, the biggest gulf by far was the one between the captains, who both come in at number four and are the best batsmen in their respective teams. Steve Smith passed 30 six times in the series and went on to make over 100 three times, whereas Joe Root only passed 30 on one fewer occasion but never made it to three figures. Consequently, Smith scored 687 runs while Root could only manage 378.
The fact that Smith scored 309 more runs than Root seems even more significant when the total runs scored by each team in the series is tallied up as Australia only scored 380 runs more than England (albeit in one fewer innings).
Despite these clear numerical differences, the tourist’s lack of centuries is not just significant from a statistical point of view. Typically, a premature dismissal for a set batsman represents a failure to capitalise on a good situation and England’s top seven have been guilty of getting out between 30 and 100 on a remarkable 20 occasions in this series.
Some dismissals are excusable as they result from an excellent delivery but, even if you reduce that number by five, 15 failures to turn 30+ into 100 is an unacceptable amount in a five match series. It makes such a difference if a player makes a big score. For example, if James Vince had gone on to about 120 in the first innings of the series in the Brisbane, England would probably have posted over 400 and been in a strong position to win the match. Instead, he attempted a risky single on 83, was run out by Nathan Lyon and England were all out for 302.
The tourist’s worst failures to convert occurred in Sydney as Alastair Cook, Dawid Malan and Root all passed 30 without going on to score a century and England were eventually all out for 346. Australia then showed them what they should have done as four batsmen passed 30 and three of those players went on to score hundreds (Usman Khawaja made 171, Shaun Marsh 156 and Mitch Marsh 101) as the hosts racked up a gargantuan 649/7 declared.
The conclusion to draw from the batting in Ashes 2017/18 is simple: England’s players must learn to go on and make a big score on most of the occasions when they pass 30 and become comfortable at the crease. And if there are batsmen in their team who they do not think are capable of doing that, they should consider dropping them and finding someone who can.
England did not capitalise on good situations
Despite appearances to the contrary, England had the advantage at various points during four of the five Tests and could have altered the outcome if they had taken advantage of their opportunities.
In Brisbane, they were 127/1 and 246/4 in the first innings and somehow managed to get bowled out for 302. They should have made at least 400. Then they had Australia reeling at 76/4 and let them get to 328, when they should have bowled them out for about 200.
In Perth, England seemed to be finally showing what they were capable of as they reached 368/4 in their first innings. Malan and Jonny Bairstow had both passed a hundred and the team looked like they were on course to post a total of 500 plus. Inexplicably, they then lost six wickets for just 35 runs and were bowled out for 403. Australia responded by piling on 662/9 declared and the tourists ended up losing the match by an innings and 41 runs.
With two overs left before the close on day one in Sydney, England were on 228/3 with Root and Malan at the crease and well set. Then Root played a loose shot and was caught by Mitch Marsh just 17 runs short of a much-needed century. As if that was not already bad enough, Bairstow declined the offer of a night-watchman and strutted confidently out to the middle. Seven balls later, he was walking back after wafting at a ball outside the off-stump from Hazlewood and nicking it to the keeper.
In Melbourne, England did pretty much everything right and were denied a proper chance of achieving victory by one of the flattest pitches imaginable as it failed to offer either seamers or spinners any assistance on days four and five when the tourists were pushing hard for victory.
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The First ODI between England and Australia begins at the Melbourne Cricket Ground at 3.20am on Sunday 14th January.
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