If batting is an art, then Test cricket is the perfect canvas. With the oldest Test rivalry – the Ashes in progress, there could hardly be a better platform to witness some mesmerising performances.
England suffered a disheartening defeat at the Gabba in the series opener as Australia took a healthy 1-0 lead in the five-match series. The pressure was always in England as Australia were red hot favourites going into the series, but the visiting side did put up a fight in the first innings.
Prior to the start of the most looked for Ashes, all the talks revolved around the intimidating Australian pace attack. And one wouldn’t be wrong in terming the pace troika of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins as a fearsome force to be reckoned in this format. They render bowling a joy to behold.
England’sbattingg floundered in the second innings and didn’t let them achieve fruitful dividends. The pressure of making a comeback is certainly on the visiting side and will have to come out hard in the Day-Night Test at Adelaide. English bowlers did a fantastic job in the first innings and brought their back into the game, but it is their batting that needs to step up if England are eyeing to bounce back.
England’s batting is quite one-dimensional. They either have accumulators or aggressors in the batting line-up. The likes of Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Dawid Malan are all accumulators. Joe Root is an exception to this as he has the ability to transfer the pressure back on Australia. While the the likes on Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes are more of aggressors. Such a set-up helps Australia formulate plans and strategies easily in order to checkmate their opponent on the field.
At this level, weaknesses such as this is brutally exploited in the long-run and one can’t afford to step a foot wrong. For instance, when England won the series Down Under in 2010-11, they had so much of variety in their batting. There was an apt mixture of solidity and flair. All of them were so different from each other.
England’s current top-order has accumulators, and a misfiring Alastair Cook, is only adding to their trouble. Although James Vince, Dawid Malan and Mark Stoneman did well in the first innings, yet there are few weaknesses that Australia would look to exploit in Adelaide. One wouldn’t be wrong in saying that Vince, Stoneman and Malan are essentially one player trapped in three bodies.
All three are very rigid, and unable to rotate strike well. And one does not need to speak about the importance of rotating the strike well in this format, especially at the top of the order. The ball is new and does a lot of thing early on, which brings rotation of the strike into play.
Let’s take a look at their performances in the first innings. Stoneman confronted 159 deliveries for his 53 while Vince played 170 balls for his 83. Malan, on the other hand, saw 130 deliveries for his 56. The number of dot deliveries only speaks the kind of pressure Australian bowlers maintained over them. Although bidding time in the middle is useful and needed, but if batsmen from both the ends are accumulators, it only makes it easy for the bowler and his side to settle down.
Compare this to the 2010-11 English side, they had an in form Cook and a firing Andrew Strauss at the top. In the middle, they had the elegance of Ian Bell and belligerence of Kevin Pietersen along with Jonathan Trott while Matt Prior had its own charm. They had a perfect blend and had attacking options around them.
In the series opener at the Gabba, mostly Vince, Malan and Stoneman let Nathan Lyon settle down and were unable to find singles. Lyon bowled marathon spells and did a wonderful job in keeping the English batsmen under check. One just can’t afford to let a spinner settle down and just bowl on Day 1 of a Test match, that too in Australia. Even though they did well in that innings, in the long run, it’s not good enough.
England need to spice up some variety in their top-order and add some flair, perhaps, shuffle the batting order. Also, all three batsmen are not very good converters. They got emphatic starts in the first Test, but none of them managed to convert them into a daddy hundred. Test cricket not just demands hundreds, but daddy hundreds. Although Vince was unfortunate to have been run out on 83 in the first innings, but he didn’t convert any of his starts into a ton in the Tour matches either.
It’s criminal to not capitalise and convert a solid start into a big one. Steven Smith’s hundred in the first innings could be a fine example of how a century can help the side. It will be interesting to see how the trio fare in the games to come as England can’t afford to lose the Adelaide encounter. So far, Vince, Malan and Stoneman have shown similar attributes. Are they one player trapped in three bodies? Although it would be a bit early to judge them, but the signs are quite clear for now.