Cricket: England showing Australia how to play long game

Ben Stokes, Adam Lyth and Joe Root of England celebrate after winning the 4th Investec Ashes Test match. Picture: Getty
Ben Stokes, Adam Lyth and Joe Root of England celebrate after winning the 4th Investec Ashes Test match. Picture: Getty
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Remember when England were thrashed 5-0 two winters ago in Australia? Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann left the tour with Test matches still to play, the former ill and the latter retired. Bickering among players, discordant team meetings were rumoured in the press and offstage the Aussies sniggered as the tour party

Then came the abject final match at the SCG in Sydney with Kevin Pietersen supposedly so disconnected from the rest of the team that the then managing director designate of England cricket, Paul Downton, decided it was time for the maverick batting star to be sacked. The accusations and ramifications continued for months at home and all the while Australia laughed with delight as their old enemy imploded.

England leave the field for lunch during day four of the Fourth Ashes Test Match at Melbourne Cricket Ground. Picture: Getty

England leave the field for lunch during day four of the Fourth Ashes Test Match at Melbourne Cricket Ground. Picture: Getty

Well, it is not so funny now as the Australians have been humbled 3-1, lost the Ashes already and, with the final match starting at the Oval this week, could be the first Australian team ever to lose four Test matches in a series in England.

International cricket teams are now struggling to dominate abroad. In Australia England were awful, ditto Australia here this summer. So alarmed are the powers-that-be in Cricket Australia that apparently they are contemplating changing the ball used in their domestic first class cricket from the Kookaburra to the Duke used in England.

The Kookaburra swings for about 20 overs and then resembles a soft orange. The Duke, if cared for, remains hard and shiny for about 40 to 45 overs and has a slightly bigger seam. It is more bowler friendly and batters generally have to work harder for longer against it.

It would be a wise move if they do change ball but there is a much more obvious reason why the Australian batsmen have not coped with the moving ball this summer, and that is the inexorable rise of T20 cricket.

Each of these Australian players is a millionaire, some many times over, and their most prominent paymaster has been the Indian Premier League.

No need for patience at the crease or to watch a swinging ball like the proverbial hawk there. Just swing hard through the line, hit boundaries and if you do edge it there are no slips anyway so it is more runs down to third man. The art of playing late has been lost in the bish-bash world of 20-over cricket and Australia suffered accordingly.

Actually, an aggressor at the top of the order is tactically good, a player like David Warner who goes hard at the ball because he scores so quickly and that makes up for the expected failures.

However, a top six of “hard hands” players is inviting disaster. That is what happened at Trent Bridge when they were dismissed for just 60.

Something has to change, as Australia’s last series victory in England was 2001. They like to think of themselves as a dominant cricket nation but they are not, not with that statistic.

What they have done is announce their new leadership team. Michael Clarke will toss up for the last time in south London and then Steve Smith will become captain in all formats with David Warner as his vice-captain. The new guard is taking over, which is as it should be.

For England it is a celebration but an important match. The winter will be much more attritional cricket on dry, slow and low pitches in the United Arab Emirates. There a frontline spinner that Moeen Ali can support will be vital so Adil Rashid, pictured left, really must play this week. He may or may not be the answer but this is an opportunity to test him. If Jonny Bairstow makes way for him Ali can move up from number eight, a spot Rashid with his wristy strokeplay could fill.

The Oval normally demands good spin anyway so he would have been in serious contention for selection regardless of the scoreline. It is also a very important match for opener, Adam Lyth. A team cannot consistently be 20-1 and his inability to leave the ball outside off stump is a concern. He is not an aggressive opener like Warner so he needs to learn better control of his hands because at the moment they go too hard at the ball and too far away from his body. Compact is the style he should be trying to develop in Test cricket. If he fails again England could do worse than deciding to play their own opening aggressor in Alex Hales. He will fail, but when the alternatives are failing that will not make any difference, but if he does get in the scoreboard will race along.

That is for the future, though. Now is a triumphant procession and deserved reward for those who suffered so awfully Down Under last time round. It is Australia in disarray and these England players should revel in it. The questions about whether they are really good will come rapidly this winter with Pakistan before Christmas and the powerful South African side after.

And for James Anderson it could be a hard week. He is desperate to play and it would be a fitting event for him as he has played so wonderfully against Australia for so long. He is 33 years old now and may never play another Test match against them. It would be a shame if Edgbaston was his final memory of Ashes cricket because he did so much to win the match but got injured in the process. Sentiment should not sway selectors, though, and any risk to his side should be paramount in their minds for the cricket ahead.