Lessons for losers: how to save the series without dropping the keeper

England need to get their act together to prevent the second Ashes Test against Australia going the way of the first. But what can they do? Angus Fraser offers some answers
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The Independent Online

No. It would be a sign of panic. England have been preparing for this series for a long time and at Lord's the selectors picked the 11 players whom they believed could do the job. On this occasion they failed. They remain the best 11 players in the country and they should be given another chance to show they are capable of performing against the world champions.

If the selectors start chopping and changing the team after one defeat it will undermine everything this England side has stood for since Michael Vaughan took charge. Dropping players would have a detrimental effect on morale. Survival would become the instinct of the players and the England dressing-room would turn into the selfish place it was in the 1990s.

In Andrew Flintoff and Stephen Harmison Vaughan has a couple of world-class performers, but they have become the second-best side in the world because they now play as a team. They believe and trust each other, and enjoy each other's success. The selectors can take credit for this because they have shown continuity and have given individuals a chance.

But what about Geraint Jones? He dropped two simple catches, looked ropey standing back and played an awful shot?

He did, and his wicketkeeping is a concern. On this occasion the catches did not prove costly - Australia were 370 ahead when he grassed Jason Gillespie - but there will be a time when they are. The keeper also sets the tone in the field and it is his job to tidy up all the bits and pieces, and to be busy and upbeat.

England's fielders did not help Jones at Lord's. Too many of the throws from the deep were wild, but he still drops far too many balls and this has a deflating effect on the team and the crowd.

Duncan Fletcher wants his wicketkeeper to be able to score Test hundreds, and Jones has the ability to do this. The England coach believes it is easier to turn a mediocre keeper into an acceptable keeper than it is to to turn an average batsman into a player who can win Test matches. Chris Reid is a far better gloveman than Jones but it is hard to see him scoring runs against Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne.

The omission of Jones would change the balance of the team drastically. The batting would end at No 6 unless you dropped a bowler. England now need to bowl Australia out twice in two games to regain the Ashes and the loss of a bowler would reduce the chances of this taking place.

It would also increase Flintoff's workload, thus heightening the possibility of him picking up an injury. Jones, for the foreseeable future, should stay.

Freddie - what's happened to his batting?

There is something about Flintoff that does not look quite right at the moment. Is it a result of the weight of expectation which has been placed on his shoulders? This is the first time the all-rounder has played Test cricket against the Australians and, as this group of players are finding out, it is not easy.

When Flintoff is bowling he is very aggressive - possibly too much so, judging by the wild look on his face when he takes a wicket. Both he and Harmison bowled too short at Lord's and would benefit from pitching up a few more balls in Birmingham.

Yet when the 27-year-old is batting he appears very subdued. It was the same when England toured South Africa, where the home side's fast bowlers bowled short at him and made life uncomfortable. Australia will do the same. Flintoff has looked slightly in awe of McGrath and Warne and he needs to try to impose himself on them in a sensible way.

Even he dropped a catch?

I know, and it was a sitter. England's catching was terrible. If Kevin Pietersen had held on to the chance offered by Michael Clarke when he was on 21 the result of the game may have been different. But he didn't and Clarke went on to score 91. No team can afford to drop seven chances, especially against Australia.

Anyone can drop a catch but the best take the ball softly. Mark Waugh, the former Australian batsman, was brilliant. When he caught the ball it looked as though it was entering a big feather pillow.

Pressure affects concentration. It makes fielders go hard at the ball, and the fact that England dropped so many highlights how they felt while they were on the field. Pressure makes you want to take the chance too soon, causing your hands to go towards the ball rather than waiting for it to arrive.

Pietersen, who grassed three relatively simple chances, cannot wait to get into the action and his hyperactive state helps his batting. But he needs to relax in the field.

How are England's batsmen going to cope with McGrath and Warne?

It is the toughest job in Test cricket. They are relentless and they have 1,097 Test wickets between them. Both are fit, motivated and highly skilled but it is the ability to bowl the ball consistently in the right area which has brought them success.

Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss played McGrath and Brett Lee well in England's second innings. The openers showed good judgement outside off stump and this frustrated the bowlers. Teams have tried to leave McGrath in the past. New Zealand did it during the winter of 2001/02 and he took five wickets at an average of 65 in the series.

The slope at Lord's made it impossible for England's batsmen to do this. When facing a bowler from the Pavilion End you always feel the ball is coming into you, and on a pitch where the odd delivery kept low this tactic was fraught with danger.

Facing McGrath should be slightly easier at the other Test venues but Warne will still be a handful. There is a saying, "Attack a good leg-spinner, sit on a poor one", and it is true.

Good leggies do not bowl many bad balls and this means it is easier to predict where the ball will pitch. Coming down the wicket is risky but you can do it with greater confidence. Poor leggies, meanwhile, are all over the place and this makes it perilous to leave your crease. Bad balls then become wicket-taking balls.

The England batsmen should look at the way Pietersen batted. He was positive in defence and attack, and he picked Warne's variations. They need to spend some time looking at video of the match and talking with him. It would also do them no harm to play some cricket for their counties over the coming week if they can.

The fast bowlers did well, though, didn't they?

They did, and they need to do it on at least four more occasions if England are to regain the Ashes. It will be tough but the Test at Lord's showed they can do it. The pace and hostility of Harmison, Flintoff and Simon Jones troubled the tourists but they do not want to get too carried away with the short stuff. McGrath threatened the stumps and look what he did.