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“It doesn’t matter which bowlers you play if you’re being bowled out for 140”

by Justin Rourke

Stuart Broad has said something very similar previously. The first time I heard him say it was in response to questions about needing bowlers with pace/bounce/left arm etc to succeed in Australia.

He does have a point, England’s batting has been unacceptably bad for a long time now, arguably since the end of the Andy Flower era. Runs set up games. Without runs the bowlers have nothing to bowl at, captains can’t set attacking fields. It is also true that if the batting last only 60 overs or so then the bowlers get little or no time to rest between innings which also does not help.

In a nutshell Stuart is correct, and the stats back him up. England memorably won the Ashes under Strauss and Flower but since then the batting in Australia has been appalling:

There are some fine players in that list, but since the start of the 2013 away Ashes, the records in Australia are not even close to good enough. The much maligned Bairstow is the only player to score more than one century and only 3 other players have managed a single one!

Not a single player averages 40 or above, and whist Australia have good bowlers it is not a bad place to bat. However, I think Stuart is also wrong. It does matter which bowlers you pick, not withstanding the lack of competitive totals and rest between innings you can still take wickets. Over the same period of time (2013 ashes to date) in away series the bowling stats are:

Much like the batting, these figures are not good enough. Jimmy is a good example, he has an excellent economy rate of 2.46 runs per over, but he is only taking a wicket every 80 balls he bowls.

This is symptomatic of the style of bowling England deploy, they famously don’t like to be driven and often bowl a little shorter than they need to. In England this is less of an issue because the ball swings most of the time, the pitches almost all have moisture in them and the Dukes ball a pronounced seam. However in Australia with a kookaburra ball on dry surfaces against batsmen happy to leave the ball you need to look for wickets. Not doing so simply means you will have to bowl a lot more overs.

This is where strike rate outweighs economy rate. Often we over complicate the game but the best way to stop a side scoring runs is to get them out. Test cricket requires flexibility, and there will be times when you need to dry up runs and apply that type of pressure, but this should not be plan A.

The new ball should be used aggressively and the focus should not just be on swing. Not many batsmen will want to face Mark Wood at 95mph with a new ball, sometimes it is worth giving him 3 overs at the start.

England are also guilty of having no coherent spin bowling plan since Swann retired, there have been bowlers with talent but too often the defining factor has been batting or fielding not bowling. In 2013 and 2017 leg spinners were picked for the last test and neither has played a test since. Matt Parkinson has been with the test team for 2 years without a cap.

Part of the problem is that England ask their seamers to bowl 25/30 overs an innings in 6 over spells whilst only giving the spinner 10/15 overs in short spells. More trust and skill in the tactics would see the spinner bowl long spells and rotate the quick bowlers in short sharp spells.

It was obvious 2 years ago that Wood and Leach would be key to this test team, yet both are only used sporadically. The best use has been in the Sydney test when Root’s hand was forced due to Stokes injury.

With hindsight many are criticising England for not picking Broad in the first test, but remember Broad and Anderson have both missed big chunks of 2019/20/21 with injuries. Taking both of them and Stokes into the first test was a risk.

Both are good enough bowlers to still play test cricket, but I also believe that they have some (unintended) negative impacts on the side. Root and Silverwood seem unable to get them on plan, they require a 5 man attack to ensure that there are enough overs available, they are locked in at 10 and 11 in the batting order meaning anyone else selected needs to be good enough to bat at 7-9.

Where I will defend the bowlers is that England’s catching behind the wicket has been very poor for a long time. Many of us have argued that picking your best wicket keeper improves the success rate and sets the tone in the field. It is not easy to create chances so drops are incredibly frustrating.

England’s strategy on wicket keeping has been as bad as the spin bowling strategy. Pope, Bracey, Buttler, Bairstow have all kept and it looks like Sam Billings will get a go now when it is absolutely clear that Ben Foakes should have the gloves.

“I’ve been really impressed with Ollie Pope’s wicketkeeping – he’s been far and away above Jos Buttler. His footwork in particular has been impressive.”
Former Australia captain Greg Chappell on TMS

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