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Why England are 0-2 down in the Ashes

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Ashes_England_Australia_cricket_TestBefore the latest Ashes between Australia and England began, many pundits felt that Australia would steamroll England, with some even predicting a 5-0 whitewash. England were always going to be up against it, especially with the absence of their talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes.

Australia are now sitting pretty, 2-0 up in the series, and look likely to take back the urn at Perth. However, it hasn’t been a bed of roses for Australia, as England have matched them for certain periods and were even in the ascendancy a few times.

So why does the scoreline reflect 2-0 in Australia’s favour?

Nathan Lyon has comprehensively outbowled Moeen Ali.

Moeen Ali is an underrated spinner. During England’s last home season, he took 30 wickets at 21.3 in 7 Tests against South Africa and West Indies at an economy rate of just 2.32. However, in the first 2 Tests against Australia he has taken just 2 wickets at 98 and a strike rate of 189. He has been extremely expensive, conceding 3.11 runs per over.

In contrast, Nathan Lyon has been able to bowl long spells and has picked up 11 wickets at 22.72 with a wicket every 10 overs, and has been miserly conceding just 2.29 runs per over. Lyon has done everything one can ask of a spinner: allowed the pace bowlers to bowl short spells, so they don’t get tired; he has taken wickets at a very good economy rate; he has extracted impressive turn & bounce, giving very few loose balls for England to feast on.

Moeen has been nearly 36% more expensive than Lyon and hasn’t got anywhere near the same turn and bounce. If England are to fight back, they need a big improvement from Moeen.

England have failed to seize the big moments.

It hasn’t all been one-way traffic in this series. England have had their moments, but they’ve been unable to capitalize and press home the advantage. In the first Test at the Gabba, they had Australia on the mat at 76/4 and then 209/7, but let the Aussies recover and score 328.

In the second Test at Adelaide, they reached 176/4 at stumps on the 4th day and looked set to mount a strong challenge on Day 5. However, they lost 2 wickets for just 1 run when play resumed on the last day and were never in the hunt. Against a team like Australia, one has to make one’s opportunities count.

Australia have an impregnable record at home.

No matter what the quality of the visiting teams, Australia are formidable opponents at home. They have hosted 76 Test series at home over the last 50 years and have lost just 12 of those. 7 of these have been against the West Indies and South Africa. Even England have been whitewashed 5-0 twice in their last 3 visits. Just as India are hard to beat at home, the Aussies rarely come second best in their own backyard. That way, it’s no surprise that Australia are dominating.

Joe Root’s inexplicable decision to field first at Adelaide.

Joe Root won the toss at Adelaide and elected to field first. Perhaps he was swayed by the fact that the last two Day-Night Tests at Adelaide have been won by the side fielding first. It turned out to be a poor decision as it handed Australia the initiative, which they never relinquished except for a brief period when Root and Chris Woakes put on a stubborn partnership for the 5th wicket in the second innings.

England dug their own grave by bowling badly with the new ball and were then playing catch up for the rest of the Test. Batting first would have put scoreboard pressure on Australia, and Root’s decision seemed defensive.

Not a single English batsman has scored a century.

England’s highest individual score has been 83. That doesn’t cut the mustard at the Test level unless the conditions are overwhelmingly in favour of bowlers. The only two centuries scored in the Ashes have come from Aussie batsmen.

No matter how good a team’s bowling attack, their batsmen need to put runs on the board. Cook has had a poor series by his own high standards and England have scored just 5 half centuries in their 4 innings so far. Even though the adage ‘Bowlers win matches’ is true, batsmen need to set up games with runs on the board.

Test cricket is played over 5 days and 15 sessions.

A Test match is a true test of one’s abilities. One has to be on the mark for the entire duration of 5 days. Even a single bad session can cost a team the game.

A team needs to be mentally switched on for the entire duration of the game and have the fortitude and mental resolve to perform for the entire 5 days, not just small periods of time.

England’s lower order seems intimidated by pace and has been outscored by their hosts.

In an earlier article, this author had mentioned that England’s lower order from wickets 6 to 10 had averaged 31.69 runs per wicket from 1st January 2016 till the commencement of the Ashes. In comparison, the Aussies were right at the bottom with 18.11. That was one area where England were said to have a huge advantage over the hosts.

In this series, it has been a totally different story. Australia’s last 5 wickets average 34.84 while England’s last 5 wickets average just 16. The main reason behind this is that Australia’s bowlers have genuine pace and have been able to intimidate and blast out England’s tail, whereas James Anderson and Stuart Broad are fast medium at best and cannot bounce out Australia’s tail.

Moreover, Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc have not insignificant ability with the bat and cannot be prised out as easily as England’s lower order, who look like rabbits in headlights.

England need to get their act together, or they will face a third 5-0 drubbing in Australia.

 

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