“The problems are evident in the English line-up and have only risen in six weeks time”.
Not many gave England a chance to win the Ashes Down Under, and after weeks of intense battle, all the predictions have come true. Australia have regained the Ashes by sealing the five-match series 4-0. England have had a tough time Down Under and the problems continue to haunt them and have only broadened in this series.
England did well to save the Melbourne Test and avoid a whitewash, but Australia dominated the series by far. Coming to Australia, England did have a lot of issues to be addressed and made some surprising selections in the squad. While the side were unfortunate to have missed out on Ben Stokes and some key players due to injury, the failure of the core players affected them the most.
For a while now, England’s predicament was to find Alastair Cook’s co-star at the top, but the southpaw’s vulnerable form has only added to the trouble. Barring the double ton, there was nothing of substance from the most experienced English campaigner. He struggled to get going at the top and got out at crunch situations.
Stoneman and Vince, starts never converted into productive ones
Mark Stoneman got starts but his failure to convert didn’t help him achieve fruitful results. England needed daddy hundreds at the top, which did not come (barring Melbourne). Stoneman garnered 232 runs at 25.77 while Cook averaged 47, but that also had an unbeaten 244, which made all the difference to his average. It will be interesting to see if England stick with Stoneman and Cook at the top. And one wouldn’t be wrong in saying that England’s opening woes has only increased.
At Brisbane, James Vince justified his selection and silent the critics with a tenacious 83. He was unfortunate to have been run-out but did not manage to replicate similar magic in the games to come. He crossed the 50-run mark on just a couple of occasions across nine innings. Vince too got emphatic starts but failed to convert, which is criminal at this level. He made 242 runs at 26.88 but failed to shoulder the responsibility of a reliable No. 3.
In Test cricket, the top three play a key role in team’s fortune, the onus of getting big runs and wear out the new ball is on them. But England were not fortunate enough to witness a lot of runs flowing from their top-order. Australia was always going to be a challenge, but this was also an opportunity where England could have turned their weakness into strengths. But it wasn’t to be.
While the middle-order looks relatively settled, with the presence of Joe Root, Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow, it is their top-order that needs to fire. The return of Ben Stokes will only add fire to their middle slot, but England need to save them against the new ball. The fall of the top-order is exposing them too early.
Moeen Ali let England down
All-rounder Moeen Ali’s form in the series was questionable. Being an off-spinner, Ali was nowhere close in bringing the kind of impact Nathan Lyon brought to the table. He was expected to do a lot more with the ball than what he eventually did. With just five wickets in his basket, Ali certainly didn’t live up to the expectations and failed to deliver. At home, Ali averages 33.47 while on away venues, he averages 51.64. But in this series, Ali’s poor average of 115 with the ball affected England massively.
With the bat, Ali had a nightmare in the lower middle-order. Nathan Lyon kept getting the better of him with his wily off-spin and one wouldn’t be wrong in saying that Lyon made him his bunny. He got the better of Ali seven times in nine innings and didn’t let the southpaw find his feet. Ali has played a crucial role in this English line-up, chipping key wickets and scoring vital runs, but the magic went for a toss in this series, further adding to England’s problems.
Bowling was not up to the mark
Talking about England’s bowling, the deadly pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad failed to deliver Down Under. They are widely reckoned to wreak havoc and run through batting line-ups, especially at home. Australia didn’t have a dominant batting line-up and the loopholes in their batting were quite visible, but English bowlers fail to capitalise on it.
Australia were outstanding with the ball, while England were mediocre. They let Australian batsmen settle down and were nowhere close in having the kind of impact Australian bowlers had. Yes, there were occasional sparks of brilliance from English seamers, but the situation demanded consistency, which was rightly shown by Australian seamers.
Anderson and Broad shared 28 wickets between them. Anderson was the pick of the English bowlers with 17 wickets at 27.82 while his partner had 11 at 47.72. The problem of a third seamer also continues, which should be solved with Stokes’ return. But, English bowlers need to step up on away venues.
Australia, on the other hand, were walking on the same path. They didn’t have a settled top-order, seam bowlers had fitness issues, middle order was yet to stabilise. But they resurrected most of their problems across five games and did well to win the series. The problems are evident in the English line-up and have only risen in six weeks time.