England’s batting at Lord’s was obviously a cause for concern – no team can hold their heads up high after being dismissed for 103 – but as much of a worry for me was the bowling unit’s inability to get much natural or reverse swing consistently. They managed it in Cardiff and exposed Australia’s leading batsmen to the new ball – and we know what happened there.
But even with the slope at Lord’s to provide a bit of assistance there was very little lateral movement, though it was clear the team were working very hard on shining the ball in between deliveries.
The bowlers had the same problem in the recent series in the West Indies, where the home paceman Jerome Taylor swung the ball more consistently than England’s bowlers. This could prove to be a problem for England throughout the series even though the batting problems have grabbed all the headlines since Lord’s and have resulted in a change to the team.
However, there are two words which are important for England’s management to cling on to ahead of the third Test next week: perspective and reality. The Test and one-day teams have performed admirably over the course of the summer leading up to Lord’s.
This performance should not be taken out of context. Sure, there are some concerning, recurring common themes: the fallibility of the top order has resulted in the omission of Gary Ballance and the promotion of Ian Bell, but now is not the time to dismantle much of the good work of the last few months.
The reality is that Australia started the series as favourites and both sides have played some of their best and worst cricket over the course of the two matches.
Having said that, the selectors had little choice but to tinker with the batting line-up, although it’s not ideal to move the batting position of your best and most in-form player in the middle of a series. I would have promoted Joe Root to No 3 and considered moving Ballance to No 5, which would have been more like their batting positions for Yorkshire.
Ballance’s footwork came under scrutiny and ultimately got him dropped but he also needs to go back to Yorkshire and work on his bodyweight: I don’t mean get down the gym, I mean getting his weight forward further while he is at the crease. It seems the extra pace of some of the Aussie bowlers is making him lean back.
Fast bowling can do funny things to your mind and, above all, it can make you predetermine a short ball. In essence, as a batsman you try and give yourself as much time as possible by moving early into position. Actually, this can be the worst and most ill-advised movement. You can end up guessing what ball is bowled instead of watching the delivery and playing it on its merit.
Ballance made a tremendous start to his Test career and scored a gritty half-century in the opening Ashes Test, which is why I would have considered moving him down the order to get some breathing space.
However, Jonny Bairstow – who has just scored his fifth first-class century of the season – does deserve another crack and has done all that could have been asked of him this summer.
The tempo of the team’s batting may also need lengthy discussion. It is all right to try to take on a bowling line-up and knock them off their lengths but only when the timing is right.
Faced with such a sizeable first-innings total as they were at Lord’s, consolidation was more the approach required. I have admired the intent and desire to get on top of the opposition as England’s batsmen have done this summer. But the simple facts are, a team like Australia will not regularly let you off the hook if you fall to 30 for 3.
The best news as far as the top order is concerned is the problems don’t involve the captain, Alastair Cook. His sensible approach was a guide for those around him. His batting is back to providing a comforting effect on the team. The problems for England after this performance would be magnified if the captain was not scoring runs.
There is not much worse for a dressing room than a captain under fire. Thankfully for Cook and the players, he seems back to somewhere near his best.
How quickly things have changed for Michael Clarke. After Cardiff he was under pressure but his short, unbeaten and much-needed stay at the crease in the second innings at Lord’s will fill him with some confidence, although he will be disappointed to have fallen cheaply against Derbyshire.
Still, with Steve Smith in his ranks he won’t find sleep too hard to come by before the third Test.Reuse content