16/04/2024

more the same: Joe Root is once again looking for answers on an Ashes tour down under. Image: cricket.com.au

Whilst the Ashes series so far has been nothing short of a failure for England, a back to basics approach could be the key to turning it all around.

The first two matches of the 2021/22 Ashes series can only be described as hugely disappointing from an English perspective.

After being comprehensively outplayed in Brisbane and Adelaide, it’s back to basics for the tourists, with captain Joe Root calling for his team to pitch the ball up and let more deliveries go.

Already 2-0 down in the series and needing to win the next three matches to reclaim the Ashes, these changes must be made from the opening ball of the Boxing Day test match if the visitors have any chance of turning it around.

Over the last two matches, England has had to learn the hard way the importance of leaving the ball on Australian pitches, with the team paying the consequences for playing at deliveries they didn’t need to.

English batters so far have gotten out 19 times already this summer caught behind the wicket from balls that were missing the stumps.

It isn’t just a problem for those in the lower order either, with all four of the top-order batsmen falling victim at some stage.

Root himself, who has had such a profitable year in Test cricket, has scored a remarkable 26 percent of his side’s runs this year, has also fallen victim to balls that should have been left alone. Caught behind the wicket in all four innings down under.

It is something that the visitors are perfectly aware of, with Root emphasising the importance of leaving the ball on Australian pitches.

“It is a really important part of batting in Australia knowing which balls to play and which balls to leave,” he said.

With the lack of consistent bounce in many English pitches, it is difficult for the tourists to acclimatize quickly enough to have instant success from ball one, with the same thing happening in the 2017/18 series.

“In England, you don’t grow up trusting that bounce, it’s a hard thing to do in a six-week block of time out in these conditions,” he said. “One thing you can do is know where you’re off-stump is.”

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Whilst acknowledging that there is an issue is important, taking steps to solve the problem is far more crucial. England has done just that.

A fourth stump outside off was present during some practice sessions in the lead-up to Melbourne, with the idea that it will aid them in understanding which balls to play and which to let through to Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey.

While it is clearly one of the defining factors in the series so far, with Australian stars Marnus Labuschagne and Steven Smith finding consistent success by only playing what they need to, whilst many English batters are struggling.

It isn’t however just the batsmen who have come under fire for their poor execution of basic skills in the first two tests, with the English bowlers being called out for bowling the wrong length for much of the match in Adelaide.

With a pink ball in hand on a wicket that could be difficult to bat on at times, the idea was that recalled England legends James Anderson and Stuart Broad would be able to swing the Kookaburra around corners.

With just five wickets between them for the test from 75 overs at a strike rate of 90, their plan backfired.

England fast bowler James Anderson preparing for the second Ashes Test at the Adelaide Oval. (Photo: @WisdenCricket/Twitter)

Instead of pitching the ball up to give it the best chance of swinging and catching the edge, the ball was consistently pitched short of a length, which allowed the Australian batters to settle and profit and drew the ire of not only captain Root, but many pundits alike.

The clear plan didn’t work, with David Warner, Smith, and Labuschagne scoring 95, 93, and 103 respectively.

What made it all the more disappointing for the English skipper was the dramatic increase in chances created in the second innings when the bowlers pitched the ball up. Unfortunately, it was too little too late.

“If we are being brutally honest, we need to bowl fuller and as soon as we did in the second innings, we created so many chances,” Root said. “We just need to be braver and get the ball up there further because when we do, we will create chances.”

Fortunately for both the English batters and bowlers, they have an immediate chance to turn it all around.

70,000 fans will be packed into the MCG on Boxing Day to watch what they hope will be a true contest. Whilst Australia has dominated so far, by just fixing these few basic things the English are every chance of truly putting it to the home side.

However if they aren’t immediately addressed, the visitors could easily be staring down a 3-0 deficit by the 30th of December.

England confirmed on Saturday that they would make four changes to their playing XI for the must-win Boxing Day Test. Paceman Mark Wood and spinner Jack Leach have been rotated into the bowling attack for Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad. Zak Crawley has replaced Rory Burns at the top of the order and Jonny Bairstow has replaced Ollie Pope in the middle order.

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