10 years ago, in front of 18,000 spectators (16,000 of which were English) the bowling of Michael Beer signalled a first English victory on Australian soil for almost a quarter of a century.
For the travelling Barmy Army it was a moment of sheer joy and catharsis, not just because it had been so long since England won in Australia, but because of the manner of their previous defeats.
At the time, England’s 3-1 series win was seen as a changing of the guard, unfortunately it was merely a temporary transfer of power. Since that glorious day in New South Wales, England have played 10 Tests in Australia, losing 9 and drawing 1.
In the second week of December, Joe Root will lead out a new look England team looking to lay to rest the demons of the last two tours. OLBG’s cricket betting experts tell us that they will have a difficult task on their hands, with the odds predicting a 71% chance of an Australian series victory.
In this article, we analyse the areas of weakness in the England squad that Joe Root and the selectors will need to address if they are to have any hope of halting another landslide Australian victory.
(England’s 3-1 series win over Australia in 2011 was supposed to be a sign of things to come, instead it was a blip in period of otherwise dominance for Australia in Ashes Test on home soil.)
The words ‘batting collapse’ and ‘England’ have been indelibly linked with one another for the better part of a decade now. When rash shot selections from Kevin Pietersen were almost causing Geoffrey Boycott to spontaneously combust in 2013, England’s batting fragility was almost funny.
8 years on the fun has long gone, leaving England fans to ruefully wonder whether the days of cautious, battling English batsmen has gone forever. In the Fourth Test in Ahmedabad against India earlier this year, England needed 160 to make the hosts bat again.
They quickly found themselves 10-2, 20-3 and 30-4 before crumbling to 135 all-out despite Dan Lawrence’s best efforts. It was déjà vu for England fans, who have grown all too accustomed to seeing their side skittled out in a session.
In Australia, with a partisan crowd on their backs and the pressure of Steve Smith hitting century after century, the pressure will really be on England’s fragile batting order. If they can stand up to that pressure, England may have a chance, revert to type though and the visitors are doomed.
(Raunak Kapoor, Sanjay Manjrekar and Ian Bell discuss England’s batting collapse in the Fourth Test against India.)
Spinning Out of Control
England’s undoing in India was an inability to deal with spin, which in of itself is no great shame. Traditionally, some of the best batsmen that the game has ever seen have crumbled on spinning Indian wickets.
The problem for England though, is that they have had a weakness when facing spin long before a trip to the subcontinent. In 2019, despite a couple of ropey spells, Nathan Lyon managed to absolutely terrorise the England batting line-up.
On occasion, Root and Stokes both stood up to Lyon and played him with aplomb, but in the main England rolled over for the 33-year-old off-break spinner all too easily. In December they will need to find an answer to Lyon and find one quickly, lest the series could spin out of their reach.
Spinning Out of Control Part II
England aren’t just poor at facing spin, but they are also poor at bowling spin as their recent exploits in India have shown.
In the First Test, England’s go-to spinner Jack Leach was launched over the ropes by Rishabh Pant time and time again posting figures of 8-0-77-0 in the first session. Eventually he fought back through consistency and hard work to become England’s top wicket taker, but he was hardly in imperious form.
Dom Bess and Moeen Ali, who both stepped in to help out during the series fared much worse, with the latter conceding 226 runs at close to 4 an over on some of the most spin friendly wickets on the planet.
Whilst spin will not be as essential in Australia as it was in India, it will still play a role in the outcome of the series. Not being able to face it is one issue, but not being able to bowl it adds a whole other dimension of worry for England.
(Dom Bess, like Jack Leach was in good form when England took on Sri Lanka but his form fell off a cliff when he faced India.)
Just last week Australian captain Tim Paine took a swipe at India for their perceived ‘antics’ when they visited Australia last year and left victorious. Paine admitted that his players became too easily ‘distracted’ by the behaviour of their opponents.
Rather than viewing these comments as sour grapes from a losing captain, the England team should be reading between the lines. This current Australian team, whilst talented, is not the force that it once was.
In the 1990s and early 2000s there was not a more relentless and imposing sporting outfit on the planet than the Australian cricket team. This current incarnation are a long way off being described in the same way.
Over the past couple of years, just like England, Australia have demonstrated a propensity to take their foot off the gas. If England are to win Down Under, they will need to play good, common-sense cricket, the type that would delight Geoffrey Boycott.
If England can bat for a long time and diligently plough away with the ball whilst maintaining a good economy, this Australian team will give them more than enough chances to win. Although we will concede, asking England to bat with concentration and bowl with discipline for 5 days is a tough ask…