England’s World Cup euphoria lasted all but three weeks. Forgotten are Stokes’ heroics with the bat, Archer’s super-over and that ball which should have been two but somehow went for six. Instead, a familiar sense of deja vu looms over English cricket once again. For all Strauss’ superlative work in relation to limited-overs cricket, recurring issues within the Test match format have been consistently neglected for some time. A batting line-up guaranteed to collapse in the face of any pressure situation, a captain with question marks over his ability to actually captain and a bowling line-up who can seemingly only take wickets in specific conditions.
Undefeated at Edgbaston since 2008, undefeated in the first test match of a home Ashes series since 2001 and undefeated in a home test match series since Joe Root’s tenure as Test captain began, the first match of this series looked to be heading only one way. With Australia 122-8 in their first innings, the Eric Hollies were as boisterous as one would expect from the sixteenth most intimidating stadium in world cricket. In this way, to somehow still lose by over two-hundred and fifty runs must surely rank as Root’s worst defeat as captain, but how did It all go wrong?
Critics have been quick to lambaste the English top order for their poor shot choices. Jason Roy was labelled ‘brainless’ by Geoffrey Boycott, whilst former Australian captain Mark Taylor declared Joe Denly selfish for his inexplicably bad DRS referral. Joe Root’s captaincy has also been cross-examined. Why was the new ball not taken sooner? Why was the field so defensive towards the world’s best Test batsman? For all these question marks, the fact remains that had England selected the right team in the first place, the entire situation could have been oh so different. Though the selection of James Anderson can be somewhat forgiven, other selection calls were utterly ludicrous. On a spinner’s dream wicket, Moeen’s bowling was so profoundly useless that Root chose to persist with the part-time options of Denly and himself. Added to this is Jack Leach- the country’s best spinner and future opening batsman (bit far maybe…) who’s twenty wickets in five test matches, and match-winning knock against Ireland were completely ignored, in favour of a man who’s apparently funny in the dressing room. Who’s next? Joe Denly- a man who made his England debut over a decade ago, and was then dropped because he wasn’t good enough. The only thing that’s changed now is the severe lack of any middle-order player wishing to make the step up, hence Denly was rewarded with an unlikely call-up purely because the selectors couldn’t deal with the embarrassment of having to call up Gary Ballance again.
Australia’s team selection for the first test further exemplifies how badly England went wrong. All sides can be susceptible to a batting collapse, as Australia seemed to be early on day one, yet the right choice of personnel helped them turn the Test on its head. Cameron Bancroft and Peter Siddle were rightfully recalled due to their success in English conditions recently, whilst Matthew Wade’s outstanding domestic form translated into his first Ashes hundred after he was picked as an out and out batsman. Resting Starc and Hazlewood who were not fully fit, was questioned by many, but both are now likely to play at Lords, whilst Anderson watches from the side-lines. All these decisions were not without risk, but Australia showed the nerve to drop big names in a way England should have done, but chose not to.
So how do England win at Lords next week? The answer is relatively simple- pick the right team. Pick on form, pick on ability, definitely pick on fitness. The Ashes is not the series for finding form, building for the future and picking thirty-three-year-old part-time leg-spinners at number four. It is five matches that matter more than any other. For Lords I would stick with Burns and Roy. Teammates at Surrey and best friends off the field, there are certainly more important problems to address than those two. I’m sticking with Root at three, but would love to see Stokes make the leap to number four. Recently appointed vice-captain, he is technically our best-batsman aside from Root and in better form than Buttler, Bairstow, Denly and pretty much everyone else. Completing my team I’d have Bairstow at five, Buttler at six, Woakes at seven, Sam Curran at eight, Jofra in at nine, Leach at ten, and Broad as a very capable eleven. With six proper bowling options to choose from and a tail which can all swing a bat, this is the team myself and ironically Piers Morgan both wish to see and who would ever disagree with him…