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Ashes 2021 – Part 1

by Justin Rourke

It has been, as expected, a chastening start to the Ashes for England. They are woefully underprepared and not all of that is their fault, however there are some glaringly obvious mistakes.

The Root/Silverwood axis has been very poor at reading pitches/conditions throughout their time working together. Hindsight is marvellous etc. etc. but the selection for the first two tests has been very poor.

They appear, under the guidance of Ashley Giles, to have some form of premedicated selection and rotation plan for bowlers. The reality in test cricket is that premeditation does not work on or off the pitch. The notion of ‘horses for courses’ is a bizarre (and very English) idea that is actually absurd. You are trying to predetermine the pitch, weather and game situation over the next 5 days!

The excuse for poor selection throughout last summer was the absence of Stokes, yet we head into Adelaide with five 80mph right arm seam and swing bowlers banking on getting to bowl on the 1 hour of the day played under lights …

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Another harsh reality is that Stokes, Anderson and Broad were not fit for this tour, I can see the benefit of talking the risk with Stokes but less so with Anderson and Broad. Nothing will take away from their status as greats, but their refusal to pitch the ball up has been very disappointing. The obsession with drying up runs does not work when the batsmen have the patience and technique to bat properly. Wickets and strike rates win matches. The stats tell you Gough, Headley and Tremlett are the most effective we have had in Australia.

The fielding has been appalling. I’m actually not sure that is a strong enough word. Silverwood, Collingwood and co have no excuse for the dreadful standard of catching and the many missed run out chances. Some of this also stems from Jos Buttler, his footwork is heavy and slow. He has held a couple of good-looking catches, but the dive is a sign of lack of footwork. He is scrappy and scruffy even with takes in the field. The keeper sets the tone, and the place for the slips to field. This was another absurd Silverwood/Giles/Root decision back in 2019. I understood why Bairstow was dropped at the end of the home Ashes, but I don’t understand why Buttler was not. It was Foakes’ time to keep and bat at no7.

Foakes is the best keeper in the world, and his first-class batting record (average and 100’s) is better than Buttler or Sam Billings. In his limited test career he has done nothing wrong. An odd rumour started in 2019 that he can’t play short pitched bowling, yet there is no evidence of this.

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As I write this Jos Butttler is digging in and providing more evidence that he is not just the white ball hitter people think he is. He may well be the best candidate to captain this side from no6, but not as keeper.

A further question for the coaching team is the regression of young players Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope. Both have ability and technique but both bat in a very skittish way. Why are Thorpe, Silverwood and Collingwood not only not improving these players but actually they’re getting worse?

The bowling is equally muddled. Poor Leach has not bowled a ball then gets picked on a green top against a team stacked with left handers. Bess plays for the Lions whilst Parkinson and Crane are ignored?

Woakes gets criticised for his overseas record but rarely gets to use the new ball. Wood is being rested until we are 2 nil down just to make his life a bit harder.

I have read a couple of articles from the excellent Nick Howson for The Cricketer and he suggests that there is no one else. I dispute this. Four years ago, Mason Crane and George Garton were identified as bowlers who could make an impact but neither have played a test since. In 2019 Mahmood and Parkinson were taken to New Zealand as bowlers with the skills to bowl on flat surfaces … neither has played a test yet.

Ben Foakes went on the Ashes tour four years ago and scored runs for the lions but was not picked for this tour.

Livingstone, Gubbins, Hain, Bell-Drummond have all played in and/or against Australia and have back foot games but have no test cap between them.

It was also very odd to send that entire party home having played one match – the only saving grace is it might spare Parkinson the same fate as Borthwick and Crane.

Burns and Sibley are examples of players who have successfully adapted their game to be peerless in county cricket. Their method allows them to effectively combat wicket to wicket bowling that is pitched up and between 75 and 82 mph. Many of the players above have not been able to combat such bowling because they stay side on and have a technique that is designed to trust the bounce of the ball – something you generally can do at test level.

The same applies to the bowling. Often bowlers life Garton, Mahmood, Stone, Archer, Wood, Parkinson and Crane are not needed because the medium pacers can take the wickets. However, on a flat (ish) pitch with a kookaburra ball you need pace/bounce/reverse/spin and the reality is that a Mahmood or Parkinson is more likely to take wickets even if they are a little more expensive than many of the current crop.

The county structure is poor, but we have players they just need to be selected and given a fighting chance by the people around them. I read via George Dobell that the country championship might get some games in mid season, which would be excellent. I’d go further and suggest all county cricket is played with a kookaburra ball.

If Alec Stewart and Gary Kirsten are still available, I’d be getting them lined up to take over ASAP.

On to the MCG and I’d expect a couple of changes. Bairstow will replace Pope and Wood will replace Broad. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Crawley come in for Burns and the final change will see Dom Bess return. I don’t think Root/Silverwood trust Leach and they will suggest the selection is because Australia have a lot of left handers (the reality is that his fielding and batting will be part of the attraction).

So, here’s my team for Melbourne; Crawley, Hameed, Malan, Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Buttler, Bess, Robinson, Wood, Anderson.

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