Ashes 2013-14: Looking towards the second test

The resumption of the current Ashes series draws ever nearer with the second test beginning in Adelaide on Wednesday and England are under enormous amounts of pressure from all corners after their meek showing in the first test. It is fair to say that England were thoroughly beaten, annihilated, brutalised and pummelled (or whatever synonyms you prefer) in Brisbane. Beaten by 381 runs, with Jonathan Trott sadly leaving the tour due to a long term stress related illness, England appear to be in utter disarray. On top of that, being an England fan in the wake of that defeat was like being in a waking nightmare and for many older than myself a sad reminder of the times when England were regularly hammered into the ground.

England however, have recent form in coming back from bad defeats. These include when England won the 2009 Ashes at the Oval (Trott’s debut incidentally) after being thoroughly beaten at Headingley in the previous test and coming back to win in the 2012 series in India after losing badly in Ahmedabad. There is also some small amount of solace to be found in the fact that the pitch at Adelaide will be a lot lower and slower than the one in Brisbane which was exploited to Australia’s advantage by some vicious short pitched bowling from Mitchell Johnson. The most pressing issue however, is England’s misfiring top order and who fills in at No3 in Trott’s absence.

The most obvious player (to my mind, at least) to fill in there is Ian Bell. He is currently England’s most in-form batsman and he plays at No3 for his county, Warwickshire. However, one could argue that he has done most of his best work for England at five and should stay there to provide protection to an ailing lower order. There is a chance that Joe Root could move up with one of Gary Ballance, Johnny Bairstow or Ben Stokes moving in at No6. Stokes playing makes sense insofar as he provides another bowling option and he bowls at a decent pace. Bairstow may even come in as wicketkeeper considering Matt Prior’s rather disastrous drop in form. The England management however, like continuity and they also quite like Prior so he is almost certain to play. Additionally, none of these three advanced their claims any further in the recent warm-up match in Alice Springs. I hope to see Bell at No3 with Root moving up to No5 with Bairstow moving in at six.

The England bowling is also an issue despite some good bowling performances in the last test, Broad’s in particular. Third seamer appears to be the biggest issue. England have brought along three very tall fast bowlers; Tremlett, Finn and Rankin. The problem is that Rankin is unproven, Finn is utterly lacking in confidence and Tremlett is a shadow of the player that bowled so well in the 2011 Ashes tour. The solution posited by many and the most likely to happen is that Tim Bresnan comes in for Tremlett. He has been suffering from a back injury but took five wickets at the tour game in Alice Springs, his comeback from said injury. As is often the case, Bresnan’s stock has risen considerably in his absence but he always contributes when he plays. Handy with the bat and capable of bowling long spells that don’t go for many runs, he would be a good replacement. It is however not too long ago that England looked to have a plethora of excellent bowling options. The most disappointing aspect of all this is Steven Finn’s failure to kick on and become a fixture in the team. He bowls with genuine pace and bounce when on song but has been beset by technical problems, the most notable of which was his propensity to hit the stumps with his knee whilst running up to bowl. He is however, still young at 24 so there is a chance he will realise his potential.

There also remains the small chance that England will field two spinners, especially if the pitch seems very dry. This would mean Panesar coming in for Tremlett. This is unlikely though. My main hope from this test is that England’s batsmen put on a score and compete. They’ve come back before and perhaps they will again. I just want to look at the score the morning after the first day without feeling close to a brain aneurysm.

My team would be: Cook (c), Carberry, Bell, Pietersen, Root, Bairstow, Prior (wk), Bresnan, Broad, Swann, Anderson

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