There has been a lot of talk about the pitches in this Ashes series. The first two were criticised heavily, the third has been complimented, but let me be clear: The Edgbaston pitch wasn’t quick. It may have been fractionally quicker than the one at Lord’s, but it certainly wasn’t a quick pitch. It had a fair covering of grass, which helped the seam bowlers, but that’s all.
What was also clear was that the pace and bounce were consistent for almost three days that the game lasted, hence the compliments.
If England are going to be successful in this series, these are the pitches they need to produce – pitches with grass, which will help their bowlers get some lateral movement. England haven’t got the pace of Mitchell Johnson or Mitchell Starc, so pitches with a bit of grass will help them. Those conditions certainly suit the English bowlers more than the Australians, who prefer bouncier pitches.
But that is no excuse for the Australian fast bowlers, who have been disappointing at various times during the series. At different times, they have bowled well. Within each Test match – even those they have lost – there have been good short spells, but they’ve struggled with consistency. Even Josh Hazlewood, who we thought would have been the man to create problems on this surface at Edgbaston because of the way he hits the seam on a regular basis, didn’t offer a lot.
That’s the gamble England have to take – produce pitches that their bowlers can take 20 wickets on and then hope to outbat the Australians because, as we saw at Lord’s, England struggle to get wickets on non-seaming pitches and the Australians can use their natural pace to blast England out.
There are not a lot of batsmen around the world at the moment that can handle swing and seam very well. On recent West Indies tours, we kept hearing the flippant comment that West Indians don’t know how to play swing and seam; now we’re finding out that the Australians don’t either. But they’re not the only ones in that boat. In true English conditions, even England’s batsmen struggle as well; have a look at their statistics over the years at Headingley, where the ball tends to move around more than most. So it’s not a matter of where you’re from – it’s a matter of the individual, how well you bat in challenging conditions.
One batsman whose form, or the lack of it, has invited a lot of flak is Michael Clarke, but there’s nothing you can pinpoint and say he’s doing right or wrong. Ricky Ponting, who would know more about batting than myself, highlighted that Clarke was moving quite a lot before the ball was released. Perhaps that is causing him to make a few mistakes because he’s not getting into the right position when the ball actually gets to him.
If I were to bowl at Clarke, I would be able to tell he’s not in good form, and as a bowler I would want him to play as many deliveries as possible. If the batsman is standing there and watching the ball go by, he will grow in confidence as he spends more time at the crease.
I don’t agree with shuffling him down the order just because he is failing at the moment. If the other batsmen were making runs and he wasn’t making runs, then you could think about that. I don’t know if people like Adam Voges or Mitchell Marsh will play the next game, but those guys aren’t making any runs either. So it’s not a matter of moving Clarke. It’s a matter of trying to make sure he gets some runs. But, saying that, he has a better record at No. 5 than at No. 4, so maybe, just psychologically, the move may help.
There is nothing wrong with Clarke the captain though. There were no fields he set that you’d think wouldn’t work. There were no bowling changes that were ridiculous. I would disagree with his choice to bat first on the Edgbaston pitch considering the grass and overhead conditions, but Alastair Cook said he would have done the same so, although I disagree, Clarke wasn’t the only one who thought that decision was right.
What went wrong in the field in the first England innings was all down to the Australian bowlers.
When you’re under pressure and defending just 136 runs, the bowling team can sometimes go into almost panic mode, unable to relax or concentrate on getting the job done. It seemed almost as if the Australian bowlers were trying to get a wicket off every ball, because they knew that they didn’t have any runs on the board. It was not the right approach and, of course, England cashed in.
However, the next Test won’t be easy for England. They will miss Jimmy Anderson, especially at Trent Bridge, because he always gets a lot of wickets there. The ground is conducive to swing – exactly why I don’t know, maybe because of the way the stands are built and the breeze they get there – and Anderson certainly knows how to get the ball to swing around.
Any team that loses their top bowler – and Anderson is England’s top bowler – will miss him terribly. Whoever replaces Anderson will have huge boots to try and fill.
England’s consistency is a real issue. You can’t play seven Test matches and keep winning and losing and winning and losing. Australia haven’t been consistent either: They lost the first match terribly, won the second one very, very easily, and lost the third match terribly. Both teams are playing inconsistent cricket, but at least in Australia’s case it’s only this series. They both need to have a good look at their game.
It’s 2-1 to England now, but this Australian team is good enough to come back from this defeat, as we saw after the first match. Australia have made a few changes already from that game and they may make another after this loss, but they shouldn’t need to keep on making changes after every match they lose; that smacks of indecisive selection policies in my opinion. And with no Anderson in the England team, they already have a big plus in their favour.