James Anderson and Stuart Broad share 899 Test wickets between them. Not a lot of fast bowling pairs in modern day cricket boast of such outrageous numbers in Test cricket. The sheer experience they bring to the table was expected to fill in for the absence of the dynamic Ben Stokes.
There is a thing about cricket. Unpredictability. It is this single factor which makes the game intriguing, puzzling and enthralling all at the same time. Only a few months ago, the duo of Anderson and Broad were ripping through the Proteas batsmen in a home series.
The Ashes, though, is an altogether different ball game. Aside from the chaos of Steven Smith’s tongue, David Warner’s cheekiness and Mitchell Starc’s taunts, there is Nathan Lyon’s chirpiness and Peter Handscomb’s intellectual sledging to content with.
The mind games can sometimes transcend the boundaries of gentlemanly which is the very essence of the game.
But can it disturb the experience and maturity of 899 Test wickets?
England have bowled a stunning total of 329.3 overs in the series already spread across three innings. On the contrary, Australia, have bowled less than 200 overs although they are yet to complete three innings’.
The England seamers were expected to be a handful for Australia’s vulnerable batting line-up. The Aussie selectors were apparently so worried that they chose age over experience and experience over talent when they picked Tim Paine and Shaun Marsh to shore up their batting shortcomings.
But the move has so far been a masterstroke courtesy some rather ordinary bowling by the visitors. That England’s best bowlers in the Adelaide Test thus far has been Craig Overton and Chris Woakes further validates the point that Anderson and Broad have not only been unsuccessful but also rather poor leaders.
But is this a newly emerged concern?
In their last seven away Test matches, England have bowled an average of 155 overs in the first innings.
Rajkot – 162
Vishakhapatnam – 129.4
Mohali – 138.2
Mumbai – 182.3
Chennai – 190.4
Brisbane – 130.3
Adelaide – 149
While five of these seven Tests have been in the Indian sub-continent, the England of old had been much more penetrative the last time they toured India. In Australia, England bowlers have always found the going tough with the length variation needed being a tough factor to get accustomed to.
While Stuart Broad has a rather decent record away from England, the likes of James Anderson and Chris Woakes have been mediocre at best outside their country.
|Bowler||Away Tests since 2015||Wickets||Average|
The table illustrates the kind of pathetic performance England have churned out in Tests outside home.
At Adelaide, Joe Root, weaving little magic and making as big a blunder as Ricky Ponting’s the 2005 Ashes series match at Edgbaston, sent the Aussies in to bat on a flat surface. Root must have thought that his veteran, 899-wickets between them bowlers, would rip apart the Aussies with the pink ball.
Instead, the experienced duo bowled 61 overs between them, grabbing just three wickets and looking largely ineffective. That just one ball in the first 12 overs of Australia’s innings would have hit the stumps show the kind of looseners England delivered.
What of Moeen Ali then?
The largely admired off-spinner, suffering from a finger injury, but declared fit for the Test, sent down 24 rather ordinary overs, barely looking threatening and largely making Mason Crane’s exclusion a grave mistake.
Craig Overton and Chris Woakes, to an extent, deserve an excuse. Overton, for the sole reason that he sent back the defiant Steven Smith, deserves accolades. Woakes did his part by dismissing David Warner. Together, the duo form the cream of Australia’s batting.
But what would concern England fans is the effortless manner in which Australia’s glaring weak point – the lower middle order – resurrected their innings in the midst of all the chaos.
There was little intent and effort behind England’s bowling as they appeared clueless in terms of tactics and strategies. Overton and Woakes kept things tidy as did Anderson and Broad to an extent.
But where did all the effort balls vanish? Where was the uncomfortable lifter? Where was the odd delivery that would turn a mile and put the batsman in a tangle?
England bowled without a plan, much like how they have done all through their recent away games in Test cricket. Without regular breakthroughs, England seem to have a problem in maintaining attacking lines and probing batsmen on a consistent basis.
England’s bowling attack is a one-trick pony. There are few enforcers in the absence of Ben Stokes and the lack of pace is sorely missed, particularly against tail-enders like Pat Cummins.
Michael Vaughan, the former England skipper, was astute in his judgement when he pointed out the lack of pace in England’s bowling attack. “England’s bowling attack doesn’t have enough variety of potency to get rid of the Australian tail. They lack the fear factor and the Australian batsman know that the tailenders will always hang around. It’s not about hindsight and saying anything we didn’t say three or four months ago when the tour party was selected. Most of us looked at the tour party and said there wasn’t enough pace.”
The visitors miss the likes of Mark Wood and Liam Plunkett and the lack of raw pace played a role in Australia escaping the hook in Adelaide. They have little time to get back into the series and playing catch-up game isn’t helping the cause either. If England do not polish up their bowling skills and resources, this Ashes, like the last one Down Under, is set to be another lop-sided contest.