Sunday, July 19, 2015

Relentless and better led Australia on course for 4-1 Ashes series win

In their last three Test series, including the current one against Australia, England has gone one up and immediately lost the next Test for the series to be levelled. In the West Indies it was ignominious - the performance in Barbabdos was a disgrace and England slunk away without apologising to the 10,000 of us who travelled to watch them and deserved better. At Headingley against New Zealand they were better but ultimately pretty spineless and a defeat by 199 runs did not flatter the Kiwis. And this weekend at Lord's the depths were plumbed again the lost by 405 runs was England's sixth worst defeat ever against any opponent when chasing a total in the fourth innings.

These three successive serious reversals may of course be a coincidence, but I don't think so. The wins that preceded them were commendable. But far from the momentum being maintained the reversal was swift and complete. It may be that the Windies and New Zealand made an extra effort to try and get back after a defeat and there is  certainly no doubt that that is exactly what the Australians did. But England seem to be able to reverse the cliche of being "on a roll". Highs and lows are alternating worryingly. 

At Lord's we should take nothing at all away from Australia. They played with determination and skill and thoroughly deserved their victory. Their bowlers gave lie to the idea that the pitch was too flat and lifeless. And their batsman in application, technique and (mostly) commonsense were in a different dimension from England's (mostly) spineless bunch.

The heart of England's problems this year is with the top of the order. Here are the runs totals at which England's third wicket has fallen in their thirteen Test innings in 2015

34; 52; 164; 38; 18; 25; 74; 238; 62; 43; 73; 29; 12

That's an average of 66, boosted by the only two totals over 100. All too often when Root came in at number five England was in serious trouble. Bad batting which when you're up against an attack as good as Australia's was at Lord's creates a position from which a decent recovery is nigh on impossible.

England jettisoned their Coach after the Caribbean and by the time Trevor Bayliss arrived there were some positive signs. The win in Cardiff was praiseworthy but the loss at Lord's will have given him food for thought. Lyth, Bell and Ballance look vulnerable but it would perhaps be a bit panicky to drop all three. Buttler doesn't look safe either and, Broad aside, it's hard to make a persuasive case for the rest of the attack. Say it softly but Anderson was ordinary at Lord's and Wood and Stokes won't be giving the Aussies any sleepless nights. It won't happen but I would replace Cook as Captain. He's frankly very ordinary - let him concentrate on his batting. Bayliss hasn't got the authority to do that but if he's going to recommend braveness now is the time to do it! 

I rarely make sporting predictions. So my gut feel that the series will be won 4-1 by Australia is not a forecast. We will see. But at the moment Cardiff looks to be the aberration, not Lord's 

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