O the fickle English cricketing public and press – last week we were on a high, a resounding win against a very good Australian side, positive headlines, 5-0 predictions and good feeling. This week it’s back down to earth with a resounding thumping by that same Australian side (give or take a Haddin and a Watson). One loss, albeit a pretty horrific one, and the knives are out!
A hefty pinch of salt should be in order, how often does a side that concedes 560 odd in the first winnings come back and win? Never? How often do teams chasing 500 runs over 5 sessions to win or draw a game collapse at some point? Nearly always! England are a side in transition and young players need time to learn about test cricket. The Australians are a very talented and highly motivated group, beating them is not something that should be taken for granted. Losing to them is not a reason to abandon hope.
That being said, the way England lost does mean some questions have to be asked. There is no doubt that the top order needs shoring up – at the moment England may as well send Root and Stokes in as openers on the basis that they might build a half decent platform before the batting collapse. The side is constructed on the basis of the grinders at 1-4 building a platform that the strokemakers at 5-8 can build on, but so often the strokemakers are left to dig the side out of a hole. What can be done? I don’t think wholesale changes are warranted, but a couple of tweaks to the order could be good! My thoughts on the team for Edgbaston…
Adam Lyth is struggling to adjust to the demands of test cricket but should probably be given another chance to prove himself, he has made a hundred against a good New Zealand attack but needs to show more constancy and better judgement of when to play and when to leave – a vital skill for an opener! A couple more failures wafting outside off stump and his number could be up.
Alastair Cook, has fought his way out of his rut, but he needs the other top order players to stand up and fight with him. His captaincy looks to be improving and shouldn’t be judged on the Lords result.
Gary Ballance is a man in a deep rut of bad form, every few innings he looks like he might just play himself out of it but as yet, he has not! Against a very good Australian attack, his tendency to play so far back in his crease is leaving him very vulnerable and it would be a kindness to send him back to Yorkshire to rediscover what it was that got him into the side in the first place.
Ian Bell, the enigma! The talent and technique to be a true great, allied to a lack of confidence that so often undermines him. Perhaps counterintuitively I think it’s time for Bell to put up or shut up and as such he should be shunted up the order to number three and given the opportunity to prove he can deal with the pressure and use his talent to dictate the game to Australia.
Joe Root, a class act and as such, the man to move up the order to number 4. Despite that stats that say he is at his best at 5, England can no longer afford to have their best player so far down the order. A shuffle up to 4 will give him a stepping stone to taking the number 3 slot when he is ready.
Jonny Bairstow, not so much banging on the door as knocking it down! Averaging over 100 in the county championship this year, he is the man to come in for Ballance and have a decent chance to show if he has what it takes at test level.
Ben Stokes, not much to say here, a class act and a competitor (the occasional run out aside!) and should stay at six where his attacking instincts serve him well.
Jos Buttler, the ability to counterpunch and take a game away from an opponent is slightly tempered by the fact that sides have worked out that he struggles to resist balls aimed at 5th or 6th stump. He is a class act but we have to remember he has only played 10 tests!
Moeen Ali, the tweaker, the freeflowing strokemaker. Despite his bowling not being straight out of the top drawer, he is still learning his trade and he does have a knack of taking wickets at crucial times. On a turning pitch I’d consider resting a batsman, moving Moeen up the order and including Rashid, but for now we must stick with him at eight.
Stuart Broad, looking like he is getting back to his best, even on a Lords pitch that was as bowler friendly at the M4
Mark Wood, looked down on pace at Lords, but then who didn’t. Has the character and the skill to succeed and the rest before the next test should mean he will come back firing!
James Anderson, when the ball swings he is lethal, if it doesn’t he looks tired and short of pace and ideas. Jimmy can be England’s most potent weapon in English conditions, so let’s play to our strengths and give him a pitch the suits him.
So Ballance takes a break and a bit of a shuffle ensues, the groundsmen at Edgbaston prepare a pitch that suits Jimmy and Co and we’ll see what happens.