Before the first Test, England coach Trevor Bayliss emphasised the need to score ‘160s, not 60s’. It was perhaps a response to a big problem running through the England batting during his time in charge. So when, once again, several England batsmen failed to build on a good start, it will have done little to lighten his mood.
The Ashes: How England Can Get Back In The Series
On the first day in Brisbane, James Vince made an impressive 83 after coming early but needlessly ran himself out when he had the chance to make a match-defining contribution. The same went for Mark Stoneman (53) and Dawid Malan (56) who also wasted good opportunities when set. Had at least one of them gone on, England would have given themselves a far better chance of winning with a bigger total than their under-par 302.
Yet of all the England batsmen, captain Joe Root is the most culpable in this regard. He fought valiantly for his second innings 51 but played all around a straight ball immediately after reaching his half-century. Of Root’s last 25 half-centuries in Tests, only five have been converted into tons and the stats would suggest his conversion rate is getting worse. This needs to change.
Evidence suggests that in Australia, big totals are vital. When England won 3-1 ‘down under’ in 2010/11, they scored nine centuries in total, compared to the Aussies’ three. England have to be more ruthless when it comes to converting starts and not give it away after working so hard early on.
Add Variety To The Attack
In Brisbane, England’s attack looked lacklustre. Yes, they reduced Australia to 209-7 thanks to some expert bowling from James Anderson and Stuart Broad but they were unable to finish off the Australian tail like the Australian attack finished off England’s tail: through fast, aggressive bowling.
Joe Root’s plan to try and bounce out Steven Smith was not a bad one, yet he just did not have the bowlers to execute the plan. Chris Woakes looked extremely ineffective as soon as conditions weren’t to his liking and Jake Ball was also inconsistent.
It leaves us wondering why Liam Plunkett hasn’t made this tour. In Australia, having variety in your attack is key. Having two such masterful opening bowlers in Anderson and Broad is one thing but supporting them is another. Plunkett has made a reputation out of bowling fast and hostile and you would be forgiven to think how much more of an impact he would have had in executing the plan to Smith than either Woakes or Ball.
There has been talk of Mark Wood coming into the squad from the Lions to inject some much-needed pace and bounce. And despite the next Test at Adelaide being a day/night match, therefore suiting England’s bowlers more, if they fail to add something different to the attack, they will struggle even more to take 20 wickets.
Be Positive Against Lyon
Nathan Lyon is an outstanding bowler with now over 274 Test wickets to his name. Anyone with a record like that deserves plenty of respect. Yet in Brisbane, England showed him far too much respect. They let Lyon bowl to them and the danger in doing that is that eventually, a spinner of Lyon’s class will have a ball with your name on it.
England have to change their tactics against Lyon. “Nathan Lyon shouldn’t bowl 24 overs for 40 runs on day one of a Test match,” said former England batsman, Kevin Pietersen. And being more positive doesn’t necessarily mean trying to smash Lyon for sixes. England have to use their feet more, work the ball around and play their shots.
Moeen Ali looked to do so in the second innings and England need to follow his lead in doing so. The fact that Lyon looked Australia’s best bowler in this Test will give England some comfort and if they can upset his rhythm then they will have a better chance of posting bigger totals.
Find A Way To Dismiss Smith
For Australia, Steve Smith was the difference. He batted more responsibly than ever in helping his side recover from 76-4 and 209-7 to gain a first innings lead. His unbeaten 141 was a truly outstanding, match-saving knock. Yet it was the quality we have come to expect from arguably the best batsman in the world.
In truth, England looked clueless in trying to dismiss the Australian captain. The short ball tactic was a common one but Smith looked as comfortable against that as much as the other tactics England employed.
Smith has a superb record against England and if the tourists don’t find a way to get him out quick, the 28-year-old will continue to hurt Joe Root’s side. Whether it be bringing in faster bowlers or having patience by hanging the ball outside off stump, how England bowl to Smith could well be series defining.
Adapt To Quicker Wickets…. Quick
Despite losing Alastair Cook early, England’s fragile top order looked relatively comfortable on the first day, with Stoneman, Vince and Malan making good contributions. That was, in part, down to the uncharacteristically slow nature of the Brisbane wicket, which allowed England’s batsmen time to play their shots.
However, as the Gabba pitch quickened up, England looked far less comfortable. Josh Hazelwood hurried Alastair Cook with a short ball and some extra pace and bounce accounted for Vince late on day three. It was a worrying sight.
The likelihood is that the pitches will only get quicker as the series goes on, and England will need to adapt to the extra pace and bounce coming their way. Australia will have seen how much of a difference a quicker wicket made and will look to exploit it even further. England will need to find a way of coping. Fast.