Top voices on the Ashes
Geoffrey Boycott, Paul Hayward and Michael Vaughan
There is plenty of talent in the England dressing room, but ability on its own will not be enough to beat Australia. England need to harness that talent with patience and discipline. There should be no more talk of attacking batting. Nobody says be a boring team of defensive batsmen, but playing smart cricket is imperative.
We nearly lost the Headingley Test because of stupid, irresponsible attacking strokes in the first innings, when England were all out for 67. In the second innings, England gave themselves a chance of winning thanks to a careful, patient partnership between Joe Root and Joe Denly that allowed Ben Stokes to win it with Jack Leach’s assistance.
In this series, the most successful batsmen on both teams have been those who have occupied the crease and been prepared to bat for long periods.
Steve Smith won the Edgbaston Test with 144 and 142, but the important bit is he batted for 11 hours and two minutes, wearing out the England bowlers.
In the same Test, Rory Burns gave England a chance with 133 in seven hours and 53 minutes. Smith again made 92 at Lord’s in four hours and 24 minutes. Even the new boy, Marnus Labuschagne, did
fantastically well at Headingley, holding the Australian innings together with 74 in three hours and 35 minutes and 80 in four hours and 55 minutes.
It is staring England in the face. With so many coaches and backroom staff, you would think someone could work it out. Patience, discipline and concentration. England are desperate for batsmen up front to nullify the new ball and give the innings a sound start and tire out the bowlers. They must stop playing irresponsible shots.
Take a leaf out of the books of the most successful batsmen by not playing at any balls you do not have to. If you leave balls outside off
You will make it difficult to win Test matches if you gift your wickets to the opposition
stump, then the bowlers will get irritated and bowl a bit straighter. Then you pick them off on the leg side, which is the safe side. Accept that scoring runs in an Ashes Test is harder than county cricket because you are facing better bowlers and, therefore, it may take you longer to score your runs.
Shot selection is paramount and you make it difficult to win matches if you gift your wickets to the opposition.
The strength of both teams is the seam bowling. Each set of bowlers have made early inroads into the opposition, but when England’s bowlers meet some resistance, we keep on trying to force wickets.
When that happens, we give away easy runs and lose control. We do not seem willing or able to change and bowl tight, drying up the runs and waiting for a batsman to get himself out.
One of the greatest seam bowlers, Glenn Mcgrath, wrote on the BBC Sport website that the most important lesson for him was to “build pressure. Squeeze the runs. Give the batsmen nothing. Put the ball where they have to play it and just let it nibble around off the track or in the air”.
Keeping control is paramount. Once the game gets away from you, it is hard to get it back. Root should take note: in the first innings at Headingley, England had Australia 25 for two, but, in striving to take wickets with magic balls, the scoreboard was soon whizzing round at over four an over. Joe kept attacking fields and you could sense how frustrated he was.
Luckily, Jofra Archer came on and got David Warner out with the score on 136 and created a collapse. In the second innings, when Stokes started playing shots, the Australians spread their fielders on the boundary, ceding control and finished up in disarray. Mcgrath says “don’t go searching for wickets – let them come to you”.
The most anticipated moment of the Old Trafford Test will be Smith facing Archer. Nobody will want to miss it. Smith knows England will test him out with short balls to see if he can handle them better, and he also knows Archer will crank up his pace. Nobody should wish to see Smith or any batsman get hurt but, in cricket terms, Archer has to go after him. The key question is, has that smack on the head affected Smith’s nerve?
Will he hook or duck? Will Archer hit him again? It will be the contest within a contest. For England, it will be crucial to get Archer to bowl at Smith when he has some “oomph” and energy in his tank. If Root over-bowls him beforehand and Archer is tired when Smith comes in, then it will take away his effectiveness.
Whoever wins the duel can have a psychological effect that lifts their team.