England’s Ashes squad should have been taking to the field on Monday morning to enter into battle against Australia on the fifth day of the Lord’s Test. Instead they will have awoken to a mass of catastrophic language scattered across the back pages.
Phrases like ‘calamitous’, ‘embarrassing’, ‘shameful’, ‘oblivion’ that were prevalent in the last Ashes series down under, but had been put away after the romping win at Cardiff, have been dusted off to describe England’s thrashing in the second Test.
The euphoria and hope that the Cardiff win had brought have been replaced by soul-searching and finger-pointing.
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Where it was Australia with questions to answer, it is now England who, under new Coach Trevor Bayliss and the new dawn it was said to herald, are scratching their heads and wondering how to fix their many issues ahead of the third Test at Edgbaston.
Those issues come in two forms, both technical faults and mental deficiencies, which makes the task for the England staff and selectors all the more troublesome.
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Let’s start with the technical issues which are most evident in the woeful form of England’s top order (excluding Alastair Cook). In their last 14 innings, England have lost their third wicket for 52 or less on eight occasions and for 74 or less on 11 occasions.
That has often left Joe Root and Ben Stokes to come in and do a repair job that on this occasion was beyond them.
Adam Lyth is new to Test cricket. This is just his fourth test but apart from a century against New Zealand at Headingley he has struggled badly. Seven of his eight dismissals in his Test career so far have been caught behind or a slip.
He doesn’t seem to know where his off stump is and so has no ability to leave the ball alone either on line or length. Australia have exploited this technical flaw brilliantly and you can see him continuing to struggle but the selectors will want to give him more of a chance.
Ian Bell has been a wonderful servant to English cricket but is in horrible form. He has scored more than 29 just once in his last 12 innings. Despite his obvious class he looks worried by express pace and is giving his wicket away very cheaply.
The next Test being at his home ground Edgbaston will probably see him survive the chop.
Gary Ballance is the man with most to fear. He has been horribly exposed and has a rigid technique at the crease, which has made him an easy target for the quick bowlers. He has reached 30 just once in his last ten test innings.
The way he bats so deep into the crease allows the bowlers to bowl such a full length at him. He is prodding at the ball rather than hitting it and looks easy pickings for such a high-class attack.
His technique makes you question how on earth he has managed to average over 50 in tests and with changes surely inevitable, Ballance is at most risk.
While Ben Stokes and Joe Root are in great touch, there are question marks over the lower middle order. Jos Buttler is a supreme talent and there are no questions over his place. But he seems a bit confused as to his role.
He is a naturally attacking batsman and should be encouraged to play that way. However he has a tendency to prod at the ball outside off stump and needs to fix that flaw very quickly.
Moeen Ali has done ok in this series so far, but is a target for the short ball. Mitchell Johnson did him all ends up in the second innings at Lord's and the plan for him, as with much of the England order, is now very clear.
Moeen also has a technical issue with the ball. Basically he is not a frontline spinner and when Australia show him the respect and simply pick off the bad balls, he looks about as effective as a waterproof teabag.
So there are a plethora of technical issues but that is not where England’s problems end. The manner of the defeat at Lord's has to leave you questioning the mentality of the side. They simply folded when tasked with batting out five sessions to save the match.
It was embarrassing the way they surrendered. Ben Stokes’ schoolboy error of not grounding his bat and being run out epitomised this.
England were outplayed, that happens, but they showed no fight, no commitment, no spirit and that is a seriously worrying situation for the England management going forward.
Additionally, many of the wounds inflicted by Mitchell Johnson in the last series in Australia, that were healed at Cardiff, have been ripped wide open once again. Johnson was at his best at Lords.
Fast, hostile, nasty. England had no answer. They were anxious against the pace and couldn’t deal with the barrage he sent their way. If they are to win this series they have to find a way of coping with Johnson’s threat and 90% of that battle is in the mind.
The England side that won so comprehensively in Cardiff have not disappeared. They are not a bad side in the same the Australian side in the first Test were not a bad side.
But Australia addressed their issues and made a wise selection. England must not be frightened to do the same. Freshening things up and dealing with players out of form can help them get their noses in front in Birmingham.
A pitch that provides something for the bowlers would be a good idea too after two desperately disappointing pitches. The toss of the coin has been the main determining factor and that just is not right.
Mentally England need to show more stomach for a fight and a willingness to dig in through difficult moments. Technically, they have a number of issues that a couple of changes and tweaks to the batting order could go a long way to solving.
It’s not all doom and gloom and in a five-match series, there is plenty of time to turn the tables again.
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