The root of their woes
England need to find answers to their problems after disaster
FROM the smiles and roars of approval at Lord’s to the despair and heated criticism at Trent Bridge – Joe Root can attest, that a week is a long time in Test cricket.
It was South Africa who made some bold moves between London and here, changing three members of the starting XI – one enforced – while their captain made a profound impact.
Faf du Plessis is still relatively new as a Test skipper – he’s been in the job less than a year – but he has a firm hand on his team. Root is still earning his stripes, but he needs to show the kind of strength and leadership Du Plessis provided in the few days leading up to the second Test.
There are plenty of questions for Root and the England selectors to answer. One of those may be taken out of Root’s hands after reports filtered through yesterday that x-rays on Gary Ballance’s left hand confirmed a broken index finger – courtesy of a vicious ball from Morne Morkel.
Root’s made no secret of the fact that he called for Ballance’s selection in this series. However, scores of 20, 34, 27 and 4 are not the kinds of returns expected of a No 3 batsmen and there was a grim inevitability about his second innings dismissal to Vernon Philander at Trent Bridge. The technical shortcomings with his weight on the backfoot, which sees him stuck on the crease, have been brilliantly exploited by Philander and Morkel.
Keaton Jennings is another who is battling and talk is that he could drop down to No 3 – Ballance would’ve been considered at No 5, but it now seems that Tom Westley will be given a chance, possibly at No 5, with Mark Stoneman set to be Alastair Cook’s 12th opening partner since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012.
As far as their bowling is concerned, it seems that Liam Dawson will retain his place in the squad, but whether he starts is dependent on England wanting to play two spinners at The Oval. It’s no longer the fast bouncy pitch of yore, but carrying two spinners is a luxury and Dawson in particular is not worthy of such.
Mark Wood is another whose position will be under the spotlight. While Chris Morris stepped up for the Proteas at Trent Bridge, it was glaringly apparent how much the pressure on the South African batsmen decreased when Wood was brought on to bowl.
England coach Trevor Bayliss’s described his team’s performance at Trent Bridge as a “shocker.” The onus is very much on the hosts and their young captain to show the kind of bold leadership South Africa displayed in the short turnaround between Tests one and two. England have a lot longer to consider their next step – the third Test only starts in eight days time.