Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook hopes grass is now greener for England

Captain wants 'a good wicket' to help team bounce back in third Test at Edgbaston after Lord's thrashing

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The Independent Online

Recent evidence suggests that England should take the lead in the Ashes series in the next few days. After the abject performance at Lord’s in which they were mauled by a relentless, rampant Australia who put their foot on the gas on the first morning and kept it there, this might come as a surprising proposition.

But this is the way things have gone for England this year. The results in their most recent six Tests since the beginning of April now read: win, lose, win, lose, win, lose. Although no team has extended such a sequence of up and down, ebb and flow, beyond six matches, it would be typical of this bunch led  by Alastair Cook to become the first.

The events at Lord’s were all too predictable but knowing what has gone before, England, after dispersing for a few days, have regrouped in chipper frame of mind. They see this year’s ups as playing to their potential and the equally regular downs as the inevitable consequence of a squad still finding their way.

Perhaps it does not bear to think too hard about this. Australia were seriously dominant in levelling the series and have no intention of allowing England back in the third Investec Test which starts at Edgbaston on Wednesday, considering that their lesson was learned in Cardiff.

Despite the overwhelming nature of the results so far – England by 169 runs, Australia by 405 runs – there is not much between these sides. England probably have the superior overall batting (whatever the tendency of their upper order to subside), Australia have the stronger bowling attack.

 

England’s intention is to make the most of their relative strength in one department and compensate for their comparative weakness in the other. They did this on a slow, characteristic pitch in Wales, which granted them just enough help, but not in London, where the tourists came to relish a docile  surface of which they had first  batting use.

The signs are that there will be more life and fewer runs in the surface at Edgbaston. When the covers were eventually removed in mid-afternoon there was much heavy brushing by the ground staff. But there was a uniform green hue to the business area which is not likely to disappear by this morning. It looked English, as indeed it should.

Cook is professing to be tickled pink by all this talk of pitches. “I just want to see a good wicket,” he said. “There’s so much talk… it’s amazing after being involved in a few Ashes series what everyone starts talking about. This time it’s about the pitches. But let’s remember the best side won the first game and the best side won the second game, so I don’t see any difference in this game – whichever side adjusts to the wicket well enough.”

But Cook, bless him, is kidding no one. England would definitely prefer something on which their bowlers have a chance of taking 20 wickets. Jimmy Anderson, the veteran leader of the attack, is due to make a decisive intervention in this rubber. It is then up to their capricious batsmen to give them a sufficient advantage. If the top order can contribute properly there is enough in the lower-middle section to suggest this is eminently possible.

England like playing at Edgbaston. Of what might be termed the traditional Test match grounds of the country, it is the venue where they have been most successful, winning 24 of the previous 47 Tests, losing only eight, which includes two of the most recent 16. It is the sort of record that gets passed on from one team to the next down the generations.

“I think it’s just knowing the noise and the crowd do get behind us,” said Cook. “When you do get on top, it feels like an extra man playing for you just because of the noise. It’s a different atmosphere to anywhere else we play.

“I have seen Spider-Man climbing up the stand, I have seen Bananaman being chased. It is fantastic entertainment but you can only cheer a side which is playing good cricket.”

Cook seemed to doubt whether England could draw direct inspiration this week from the most famous Test match of all played on this ground. It will be 10 years next week since England, after  losing at Lord’s, prevailed by two runs against Australia to level a series which they went on to win.

“As a side and as players we’re involved in a situation now,” said Cook. “You know it’s possible, you know all the permutations but as a side we just concentrate on getting our stuff right this week.

“It would be a fantastic anniversary of those 10 years to win here after losing at Lord’s. It would be brilliant to go 2-1 up and it’s certainly an inspiration in one way to know it’s possible.”

For the two players who survive from that epic encounter, Ian Bell and Michael Clarke, this is an important match. Bell, promoted to No 3, might not exactly be running out of time but he has been entrusted with a responsibility he dare not shirk.

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Clarke is an out-of-form player in a side that needs his runs. At present they are largely reliant on their top three, David Warner, Chris Rogers and Steve Smith without much assistance coming from elsewhere (or, it has to be said, without much often being needed).

In 2005, it was Clarke’s dismissal late on Saturday evening to a cunningly disguised slower ball from Steve Harmison which opened the way for England.

Four years later it was Clarke’s century which ensured that Australia escaped with a straightforward draw. In the same match, Bell made one of his three fifties  in his seven Test innings at  his home ground. Here and now they both have the opportunity to reignite their careers.

In the unlikely event that England’s 2015 sequence continues throughout these Ashes they will win this, lose in Nottingham and triumph at The Oval next month. “Even for the stress levels,” said Cook, “I’d take 3-2.”

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