NASSER HUSSAIN: More Groundhog Day than Boxing Day, ANOTHER woeful England batting failure goes deeper than the poor shots and technique… this problem is endemic with no quick fix
- England were all out for 185 in their first innings of the Boxing Day Ashes Test
- The top order failed again and even Joe Root played a poor shot on 50 to get out
- There is no overnight fix and the system is currently failing to produce batters
- You have to feel for bowlers, who hardly ever have comfort of runs on the board
For England supporters this was more Groundhog Day than Boxing Day. It was the same woeful batting performance we have become accustomed to throughout this year.
England tried shuffling the pack and brought in two new batters in Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow but that could only have a limited affect. The problem has been endemic in their batting for a long while.
Yes, it was a good toss to win. Yes, there was cloud cover. Yes, there was more grass on the Melbourne pitch than for a long time in Test cricket and, yes, there was bounce and movement. But for anyone watching in the UK it must have felt like the same old story.
Haseeb Hameed was out for a duck after edging Pat Cummins behind early on
England are up against it again and yet another batting failure shows the problem is endemic
Another opener in Haseeb Hameed recorded a duck – that’s 50 for England in the calendar year – and England managed a score of fewer than 200 for the 12th time in 28 innings in 2021. If it were a one-off you could blame the sub-par total of 185 on the pitch or the toss but it is happening all too often.
As we said before the third Test, Crawley and Bairstow have had no red-ball match batting for some considerable time so it is a very big ask to expect them to walk in at the MCG on that pitch and against that high-quality attack and expect them to make big runs.
But the biggest concern was the mixture of poor technique – Hameed was rooted to his crease and played with low hands and Crawley’s bat came across the line – and poor shots, especially from the senior players. Notably Ben Stokes trying to ramp Cameron Green over the slip cordon and Jos Buttler coming down to Nathan Lyon in the over before tea.
It did look like a plan. The moment Jack Leach came on to bowl on a green top in Brisbane Australia went after him and now England went after Australia’s off-spinner on a similar surface. But the difference, as Buttler found out, is that Leach doesn’t get much drop on the ball and Lyon does.
Jos Buttler holed out before tea and the tourists ended up posting a sub-par 185
Buttler wanted to go over long-on but because the ball dropped on him he ended up hacking it to deep mid-wicket and it looked terrible, not because of the shot but the timing of it just before the interval. They should have been getting to tea and then re-grouping.
The batter who has been the best for England this year by a country mile will be the one most disappointed with the way he got out. Joe Root has tried to eliminate that flirt outside off-stump from his game, especially after he has reached 50, and he has largely managed to do so.
Just look at his scores this year and you can see Root’s efforts, that have included practicing with a fourth stump to leave the ball better, have been successful. But an old problem resurfaced after Root had got to his half century again and you could see how annoyed he was with himself when he punched his bat in frustration afterwards.
I saw a list of the averages of the England batters who have made their Test debuts in the last six years during play and of the 14 of them only Ben Foakes averages more than 31 and only two more, Rory Burns and Dawid Malan, average more than 30. Whoever England pick they are having to keep their fingers firmly crossed.
Even Joe Root played a poor shot, flirting with a ball he shouldn’t have gone near
The England skipper knows it will be an uphill battle to stop Australia running away with it
There’s clearly an issue with our system and there’s no quick fix. We have to look at the quality of batting coming through. In defence of county cricket it should be said that when England are playing well they take the credit and when things are bad it’s the fault of the counties but England addressed their problems with the white-ball game in 2015 to spectacular effect and now we have to do the same with the red-ball game.
It’s a fact that, with the Dukes ball and English pitches, the averages of England players are going to be lower than elsewhere and when you throw in the extreme spinning pitches in India earlier this year you can see why stats will be this way in 2021. But it is up to each individual batter to work it out for themselves and find a way to score runs.
Yet again England were left on the first day with the bowlers needing to bail them out of trouble and you can see why Jimmy Anderson bristled at criticism of the attack bowling too short at Adelaide.
Jonny Bairstow ended up on the turf following his dismissal, falling for 35 in the end
James Anderson and Co do not feel the freedom to attack with so few runs on the board
They are constantly bowling without runs on the board and when that happens there can be a tendency for bowlers to become a bit defensive and not want to go for boundaries. Or then suddenly go searching for wickets because they are chasing the game.
England’s issues were not totally centred around the batting on the first day. There was also a lack of attention to detail in their short session in the field.
It’s a pitch with bounce and they had a bowler in Ollie Robinson who gets that bounce but for much of that session they did not have a short leg. I find that remarkable. There was at least one and maybe three catches that would have gone there.
It was because England only had 185 on the field that Root immediately became defensive. If they had managed even 300 they could have attacked that much more but I do feel for the bowlers. A Boxing Day I’m afraid to forget for England.