We now know England’s reaction to the St John’s Wood massacre. Ian Bell advanced three, Joe Root four and Jonny Bairstow was called aside – at the expense of Gary Barrons – for five. More on that later.
Judging by your thoughtful comments on my report on the third day of the Lord’s Judgment, I worry that my analysis is too negative. In retrospect, my words seem bordering on romantic naivety – hopelessly optimistic about England. The reality of England’s plight holds true for even the most relentless skeptics.
To reiterate a phrase I used on Saturday night, it’s man to boy. Australia is much more than Damo. Barring a miracle, they have won the psychological battle. Britain is afraid of them. With a bat and ball.
Where Australia shone with confidence, authority, strength and controlled aggression, England was sluggish, demure and powerless.
It all comes down to confidence. Australia’s expectation of success remains the right side of arrogance or complacency. England may be playing a fine game with their “Mark” story, but the affective bombast is a form of self-deception and they know it in their hearts.
It might not be impossible to inspire confidence by convincing yourself to think a certain way, but it’s very difficult and England are nowhere near that. Their victory in Cardiff surprised the team more than anyone else, and that was the crucial and fatal point. Deep down, they know they are not good enough to live with Australia.
But one can still ask the question – is Cardiff a crazy one-off, taking advantage of Australia’s rust, or can England regain enough panache and composure that they lost in the M4 show, and in their right head preparation Focus on Edgbaston, strengthen the club’s reshuffle and personnel renewal?
After all — and it’s telling for them — they have a ten-day break between games. Lord’s dire memory will feel less poignant than when the next Test happens immediately, at least giving England a chance to start over.
As far as cricket is concerned, Australia’s bowling has endowed them with a flaming firepower that, at Lords College, brutally exposed the porosity of England’s astounding work. The host nation lacked cannons with such destructive ammunition.
Mark Wood’s pace dropped in the second Test – he could still be replaced by Steve Finn, who was again in the team – while James Anderson was without wicket. England have rarely won without Anderson leading the attack, but now he is too old to do anything in his entrance bowl – open bowls, finish games, regain control, break partnerships and wipe off tails. By continuing to use him as a pitcher and pitcher, Cook burned Anderson’s candle at both ends – and now all that’s left is a stub.
England’s pace, or lack thereof, is key – as in the past (1932-33, 1954-55, 1970-71, 1977, 2005) they could only beat competitive Australian teams if they had good fast bowlers . We won in 2009 and 2013 because Australia’s batting team was weak, and in 2010/11 because the bowling was also weak. But Australia in 2015 outperformed all three of their predecessors.
While her batting ability is far from the best the country has ever seen, she still has the depth and determination to play against the best England team at the moment. Plus, David Warner has an important game ahead. Michael Clarke hasn’t even started yet.
But what about England after their top mix? On a personal level, I’ve always liked Jonny Bairstow a lot and it’s great to see him get another chance. But its inclusion creates as many problems as it solves.
On the one hand, Bairstow brings form. On the other hand, his technique might be too loose to hold up against Johnson, Stark and Hazelwood. Four-year-old Root – England’s safety net – risked his early exposure to the new ball. To a greater extent, so is Ian Bell. If he didn’t play well at the four, why did he play better at the three — a more challenging position?
Bell’s struggles have sparked head-scratching across the country. If he falls, who is best suited to replace him? Well, who can imagine a batsman with a great Test record, proven performance, fit, in shape, young enough — and fourth in batting average?
Talking about Kevin Pietersen is not in vain. Bell’s conundrum makes it a living problem. Whether it makes sense to choose Pietersen for Edgbaston in cricket is irrelevant (although he may do better than Bairstow). What really matters is not allowing the selector to select it. The ECB is only hamstrung out of petty vengeance.
In a climate where England’s racket cabinets are empty and selectors are forced to pick out convincing batsmen and then knock them out to make ends meet, the top scorer in English cricket history is sunning himself on a beach in Miami. The person in charge thinks it makes sense. Andrew Strauss would rather lose his ashes than eat a humble piece of cake.
This is in a country where Graham Gooch and Mike Gartin left England on the brink of winning apartheid but were reinstated into the core of the team and establishment at the first chance. Make you proud to be British.
Heinous and absurd as Peterson’s exile may have been, his return does nothing to address England’s most pressing problem – the fragility of the highest order. My solution is to replace Adam Lyth with Michael Carberry, who was as good, if not better, than anyone on the Australian fast break team in 2013-14. It’s good to invest in youngsters, but they’ll do even better with experienced hitters on the field. There is nothing wrong with choosing av’s mid-term plan