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The Ashes: After having decisions questioned, England must now make more calls ahead of Adelaide



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Nasser Hussain looks at what changes England might make for the second Ashes Test as they look to bounce back from their Brisbane defeat

Nasser Hussain looks at what changes England might make for the second Ashes Test as they look to bounce back from their Brisbane defeat

England’s decision to bat first and omit their two most prolific Test bowlers of all time were always going to be hotly debated – but, if we are honest, not the reasons they lost the Ashes opener.

The nine-wicket defeat at The Gabba – another harrowing experience for the tourists at a ground where they have still not won since 1986 – was down to batting collapses and sloppy fielding.

Sure, Root’s calls were debatable but not absolute howlers.

While it was green underfoot and overcast ahead when he won the coin flip on Wednesday morning, previous England captains have been scarred when seeing Australia bat first in Brisbane – Nasser Hussain in 2002 a prime example. He sent Australia in and they piled on the runs.

Australia skipper Pat Cummins said he would also have batted had he won the toss, while, as Hussain said after day one, a captain’s job is to think of the whole game, not just the first morning. Hussain’s fellow Sky Sport Cricket expert Michael Atherton also insisted that England being rolled for 147 on day one was principally down to bad batting, not conditions.

Mike Atherton says it was 'completely understandable' to leave out James Anderson and Stuart Broad in Brisbane given the lack of preparation time

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Mike Atherton says it was ‘completely understandable’ to leave out James Anderson and Stuart Broad in Brisbane given the lack of preparation time

Mike Atherton says it was ‘completely understandable’ to leave out James Anderson and Stuart Broad in Brisbane given the lack of preparation time

With regards to the other decision – leaving out Broad and Anderson – that had logic, too, outside of just saving them for the pink-ball second Test in Adelaide, which starts on Thursday.

Broad has not played since suffering a serious calf injury in August. Anderson, as Atherton understands it, may have started this Ashes tour with a slight calf niggle.

They are 35 and 39 respectively, there are five Tests in six weeks, and neither had been able get overs in their legs with England’s warm-up games wrecked by rain brought about by weather pattern La Niña.

Ollie Robinson, seen as the tourists’ equivalent to Josh Hazlewood, looked tailor-made for Brisbane, Mark Wood provides the pace and Chris Woakes can swing the ball and also offers lower-order runs. All three bowled well in Brisbane, with Robinson probably the pick.

It is also easy now, after Jack Leach’s chastening Test, to say that England were folly to go in with a specialist spinner but did they really need five seam bowlers?

Australia opener David Warner enjoyed a number of reprieves before going on to score 94 in the first Test at The Gabba

Australia opener David Warner enjoyed a number of reprieves before going on to score 94 in the first Test at The Gabba

Yes, there is the perfectly valid argument of starting a series with your most experienced bowlers and that Broad having had Warner on toast during the 2019 Ashes – he dismissed him seven times – may have helped them remove him in Brisbane.

But they should have removed Warner way earlier than for the 94 he ended up getting, with Ben Stokes bowling him off a no-ball on 17, Rory Burns shelling a routine slip catch when he had 48, and Haseeb Hameed fluffing a run-out opportunity when he was on 60.

Though, of course, when you suffer a heavy defeat having your decisions questioned is par for the course – especially if your calls in the recent past have also confused some.

Rob Key told the Sky Sports Ashes Podcast: “For the last year, I don’t think England have made great decisions. I think they have made it hard work for themselves.

“They will blame Covid for it but very rarely has Root had the team he has wanted, the best squad available. A lot of the decisions have been made out of his hands, out of his control.”

Joe Root does not regret his decision to bat first at The Gabba despite England being rolled for 147 on day one and going on to lose by nine wickets

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Joe Root does not regret his decision to bat first at The Gabba despite England being rolled for 147 on day one and going on to lose by nine wickets

Joe Root does not regret his decision to bat first at The Gabba despite England being rolled for 147 on day one and going on to lose by nine wickets

Hussain added: “Sometimes over the last year, I think England have tried to outsmart themselves.

“They do seem to plan ahead a bit too much, saying ‘we will have you for the day-night Test in Adelaide, you for the day-night Test in Ahmedabad, we’ll do this and we’ll do that’.

“There seems to be a long-term thing – how about the short-term thing of this game? Don’t be too smart, keep your thinking fairly simple.”

It’s decision time again for England now as they look to bounce back in Adelaide.

You would imagine that after all the hullabaloo of them being benched in Brisbane, that Anderson and Broad will return for the day-night encounter. The issue of a lack of game time remains, but the better weather in Queensland last week allowed the pair to bowl at length in the Gabba nets.

The bowlers that have been bowling in this Test have now got overs in their legs, so they are the best ones physically to go and play the next one. Broad and Anderson haven’t bowled in anger in a match for months now and with their ageing bodies, can you get them both in?

Nasser Hussain

As for who they come in for, Mark Wood and Leach seem likely candidates.

Wood’s electric place may be less vital in a pink-ball Test when there should be more lateral movement on offer and he could rest up ahead of going again in Melbourne from Boxing Day.

If England decide they still want his rockets – there will be spells where cricket is not contested under the lights, remember – then that probably makes Woakes vulnerable because it seems unlikely that Robinson will be the man to make way.

As Hussain has stressed, it is simple to say who you want in the England side but a bit more difficult to say who you want out.

Leach definitely looks at risk, though. He was creamed for 102 runs from his 13 overs in Brisbane and with doubts over how much bowling Ben Stokes will be able to do after jarring his knee, it could be an all-seam frontline attack in Adelaide, with Root’s part-time spin there if required.

There is also the option of off-spinner Dom Bess, who would spin the ball away from Australia’s left-handers – the hosts have four southpaws in their top seven.

England are 'in a real bind' with their spin bowling, says Atherton, after Jack Leach was targeted by Australia

England are ‘in a real bind’ with their spin bowling, says Atherton, after Jack Leach was targeted by Australia

Atherton said: “The issue with Leach was the way Australia took him down and England are in a real bind now.

“Australia have got all these left-handers but how much confidence do England have in Bess, who took six wickets across the England Lions game against Australia A but struggled a bit last winter. That is a real problem.”

Former Australia seamer Jason Gillespie told the Mail on Sunday: “If Bess comes in, he can expect the same treatment as Leach. I can’t comprehend why wrist spinner Mason Crane wasn’t picked for Australian conditions.”

Batting-wise, there are unlikely to be any alterations.

Rory Burns could, in theory, be in jeopardy after bagging a sixth duck this year when he was bowled by Mitchell Starc from the first ball of the series and then falling for 13 second time around at The Gabba.

Zak Crawley is next in line to open but, like so many of England’s reserves, has played no meaningful cricket since the end of the home summer. James Bracey scored a century at No 3 for England Lions but has opened at county level for Gloucestershire.

Hussain says England's batters must give Joe Root more support after they collapsed again against Australia

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Hussain says England’s batters must give Joe Root more support after they collapsed again against Australia

Hussain says England’s batters must give Joe Root more support after they collapsed again against Australia

Key said: “Burns does okay and is a bit of a streetfighter. He is 31 and he averages 31 from 30 Tests.

“I am not saying England should drop him – I would give him another Test – but at some point and with stats like that, you may as well have a youngster come in and do that.”

It’s not just decisions that England need to make, it is runs, too.

While Root had support from Dawid Malan during the second innings in Brisbane, he has received little across the year from his fellow batters.

The England captain has scored 1,544 Test runs in 2021, which is 638 more than his nearest rival, Rohit Sharma of India, and over 1,000 more than the next Englishman, Burns (492).

Of the seven Test hundreds scored by England this year, Root has six of them, with Burns notching the other. Root and Malan are the only England batters to average over 30 in 2021.

Whatever decisions you make, if your batting is that flimsy, you are not going to win many games.




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