Post mortem from the Ashes

England seamers bowl too short in first innings

In a mind-boggling repeat of what transpired four years ago at the same venue, England bowled far too short and to disastrous effect. Statistics showed that on Day One, only five per cent of their deliveries would have hit the stumps. It caught every expert by surprise.

“When only five per cent of the deliveries England bowled on the opening day were going on to hit the stumps, how did they expect to bowl Australia out?” Jason Gillespie, former Australia bowler, would gasp in his column in Daily Mail. “I wouldn’t anticipate the proportion being as high as 50 per cent but challenging that off-stump regularly has simply got to be part of a team’s bowling plan. Without it, you’re taking out two dismissals instantly — bowled and leg before wicket. Historically, one in five dismissals in Test cricket is bowled and one in six LBW. So, when a team only bowls one in 20 deliveries that cater for those possibilities, it does not make sense.”

At one point, when a rare full delivery was bowled and beat the bat, the cameras zoomed on Joe Root at slips and he was seen mouthing, “Bowl fuller”. Why his bowlers didn’t follow his advice we would never know. Even at the end of the game, Root would reiterate: “I don’t think we bowled the right lengths, we needed to bowl fuller. As soon as we did that in the second innings, we made it harder for them. It’s disappointing because we made the same mistakes that we made four years ago. We could have bowled better.”

Inexplicable really, considering England’s veteran bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad played that game and were in the fray this time also.

England didn’t play a specialist spinner

They dropped Jack Leach on a dry pitch that offered healthy turn and what did they end up doing? Root bowled 20 overs of off-spin in the first innings. In the second, even their seamer Ollie Robinson and batsman Dawid Malan bowled some spin.

Former England captain Nasser Hussain was aghast. “England’s managing director was a finger spinner. Ashley Giles must have winced when he saw Robinson and Malan bowling spin. The lack of a decent enough slow bowler the captain feels he can trust to bowl on a dry, turning track in Adelaide should be right up there at the top of his list of issues to address.”

Opening issues – Burns struggles and Hameed combusts

There have been 13 ducks by England openers just this calendar year alone. Overall as a batting unit, there have been 49 ducks so far, five short of their own world record set in 1998.

Rory Burns has been so hassled by Mitchell Starc that he even avoided taking first strike at the start. It only delayed the inevitable as Starc knocked him over soon. “The issue for Rory is that there is lot of moving parts in his technique. Particularly for a bowler like Starc who pushes it very full and straight, all those moving parts have to be in sync,” former England skipper Mike Atherton told Sky Sports. “When Starc bowls at 145 kmph, it becomes difficult.”

His partner Haseeb Hameed hasn’t looked visibly in trouble but then has found many a way to get out. In the first innings, he flicked an innocuous full delivery from debutant Michael Neser to mid-on. “Inexplicable dismissal. Hameed looked so good against Starc, settling in nicely, then he inexplicably flicks it to mid-on,” Atherton would say.

In the second innings, Hameed’s technique of ‘low hands’ worked against him. It was a good delivery from Jhye Richardson that bounced from back of a length and took his glove. Hameed has low hands and finds himself in trouble against bowlers who can get the ball to kick up.

Ollie Pope’s problems against off-spin

Pope averages just over 20 against spin in Tests and that dips to 15.6 against off-spinners. Unsurprisingly, Nathan Lyon has harassed him in the series. Former England player Nick Compton termed Pope’s approach to spin as “too frenetic”, and blamed the lack of specialised coaching. “No one… high-class coaching doesn’t exist anymore. What does is ‘back yourself’, lots of throwdowns and lots of ‘good blokes’ but unless the work is put in, can’t see how batting will change,” Compton tweeted.

Jos Buttler’s ailments

He produced a valiant attempt in the second innings, dead-batting his way for a 207-ball 26 before he trod on the stumps to be out hit-wicket. But before that knock, he had been blowing hot and cold, as usual. In the past, he has been almost confused about what approach to take in Tests – should he try batting as freely as he does in white-ball cricket, or be more circumspect. Before this series, he had talked about batting aggressively, but that didn’t really work in the first three innings of the series. He was out for a duck in the first innings of this Test.

Also, his wicketkeeping too has been Jekyll and Hyde in nature. A stunning catch has been followed by drops off regulation chances. His feet don’t side-shuffle and he tends to lunge or dive, and has unsurprisingly clanged balls. Buttler dropped centurion Marnus Labuschagne in the Adelaide game.

Former England wicketkeeper Matt Prior didn’t hold back. “Everyone thinks it’s the hands that get you the catch,” added one of England’s best keeper-batsmen. “It’s not, it’s your footwork. And your hands follow. There were a couple of takes where Jos had a dive, that’s lazy wicketkeeping. You want to dive as little as possible,” Prior told BT Sport. “There were a couple of takes down the legside towards the close where Jos had a bit of a fall, then a flop. It just looked like his energy levels were down.”

Overthinking and eye on future instead of present

“England always seem to be thinking about the game but one in front of them; here, it looked like they were playing the game behind,” Atherton wrote and it’s difficult to argue with that assessment.

They chose to leave out their best fast bowler in the first Test, Mark Wood, and went with Chris Woakes, presumably for his ability to bat. As a result, Ben Stokes had to try the job of Woods, the aggressor. He tried to bowl short and fiery, but ended up stressing his body a lot more in the process and began to labour along in the second half of the game.

“Ben Stokes was asked to take on the enforcer role this week, but he dismissed Cameron Green with the length I have been banging on about. Stokes has a wonderful wrist position and great control of it,” Gillespie would write. “In my opinion, as good a player as Woakes is, he is in Wood’s position in the team. Wood coming in and hitting 90mph, getting the ball into batters’ armpits, creating indecision, should not be underestimated. What that type of bowling does is help the rest of the attack. If Wood is ruffling feathers at one end, it can create opportunities at the other.”

Fielding issues and iffy decision-making

England have dropped seven catches in the two Tests and have taken two wickets off no-balls. “Fielding hasn’t been good, the decision-making (at toss and team composition) off the field has not been good,” Alastair Cook, former England captain, would say. “The bowling unit have never played before together in the first Test. Where is the planning?” Cook said. “Stuart Broad, who has a good record in Brisbane, doesn’t play. I go, ‘really?’ Where is the decision-making?”

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