Five things England need to sort out before second Ashes Test against Australia | Ashes 2021-22
Last month, Jack Leach was out for dinner in Brisbane with Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad when a local approached them. “Hey guys,” he said, “I just want to wish you the worst of luck on Gabba.” So far so tedious, but then the man added, “It’s gonna be a green designer.” This amused Leach, who thought, “I’m not sure this is the best two of the biggest bowlers sled England has ever had.” The joke was on this jubilant Australian, until it wasn’t – because the pitch was indeed a greentop, and England sort of left out their two former maestros. Anderson, OK: Save him for Adelaide, where he has a much better record. But wide ?! He loves Brisbane, he has a bite to eat, he lives for the Ashes, and when he fills out the breakfast room form, he writes “David Warner, on toast”. England had to choose Broad, had to play first, had to keep it simple, had to play to their strength.
The floppy stick
When England had their best moment, 220 for two with Joe Root and Dawid Malan cruising at the end of Friday, the CricViz predictor would always say they would all be ready for 298. It sounded tough, but it was too much. fair: they made 297. Since time immemorial, they’ve always had a meltdown up their sleeve, and this one started even before the second new ball. Time and time again, their hitters were bamboozled by the rebound: of their 20 wickets, 13 were caught in the keeper’s cordon at the ravine. Three of those nicks came from Cameron Green, the gangly neophyte who threatens to correct one of Australia’s traditional weaknesses – failing to produce all-rounders.
Poor quality land
Ashes to ashes, rust to dust – if Warner doesn’t get it, Travis Head has to. England gave them both gifts by abandoning catches and missing outings. And the price they paid came in more than just shopping. Fielding is not only fielding: it is a marker of morale, professionalism, pride and unity. Of the elements of the game, this is the easiest for the underdog to shine – as New Zealand has shown, until the World Test Championship.
The leaky bowling alley
England’s specialist crimps, never before seen as a unit and having no leads to play with, coped well under the circumstances. Mark Wood was quick and unlucky, Ollie Robinson a coroner as always, respectable Chris Woakes if he was gentle. But Australia still scored way too fast: their 425 innings only took nine more balls than England’s 297s. They helped each other eight six without conceding any. They took on poor Leach and even intimidated the normally optimistic Ben Stokes. After a five-month absence, the England talisman has leaked leads and thrown several blatant no-balls. He’s not the messiah, then, just a very rusty guy.
The woolly thought (again)
Root is generally good at giving interviews right after losses, perhaps because he has a lot of practice. He’s always nice, largely honest, and takes responsibility quickly (be careful, Prime Minister?). But he slipped this time: by insisting that he was right to strike first and forget about Anderson and Broad, he ended up defending the indefensible. He spoke of “lessons to be learned” while showing that he had failed to see what they were. If he and Chris Silverwood managed a football team, they would have been sacked three times this year.
But all is not lost – yet. The pink ball is a leveler, and for the first time it will appear twice in the series. The next two venues are Adelaide and Melbourne, the Australian courts where England play best. The final Test is in Hobart, where Australia have lost two of their last four games.
These are the three England need to win (they ditched Sydney, where the ball is spinning, as they fend off Matt Parkinson’s promising leg turn). Haseeb Hameed, Ollie Pope, and Jos Buttler have all shown some intention.
If they can turn their 20’s and 30’s into 120’s and 130’s, and Root can expand his batting masterclass, and Stokes can be himself again, and Anderson and Broad can handle a swan song, we could just attend a competition.