Ashes 2013-14: Four talking points ahead of second Test
Ashes 2013-14: David Taylor looks at four talking points ahead of the second Test in Adelaide on Thursday
The usual slow start or a deeper decline?
England’s run of slow starts to recent tours, especially in India in 2012, have offered fans a small crumb of comfort in the run up to the second Test in Adelaide. Many are comparing the mauling England received in Brisbane to the 10-wicket defeat in Ahmedabad last year and hoping the team will bounce back in a similar fashion. There are, however, some obvious flaws in this argument, not least the fact that England had a far better attack than their hosts during that series. They do not have that luxury this time around with their bowlers looking toothless and Australia holding all the aces so far.
England’s batting lineup is of even more concern going into Adelaide. The tourists have now failed to score 400 or more in their past 17 test innings and the recent departure of Jonathan Trott only adds to the question marks over the top order. The Adelaide pitch has traditionally been a batsman’s paradise, with England’s last two visits producing first innings totals of 551-6 and 620-5. If England fail to capitalise in the next couple of days, it could be a sign of a deeper decline and a long hard winter to come.
Getting the right Ballance
The big question for England is who will bat at three with it coming down to a straight choice between Joe Root and Ian Bell. The importance of this role cannot be underplayed. Both Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen – the two finest batsmen on either side – have both fiercely resisted moving up to three, highlighting just how difficult a role it is. Bell looks the best suited to this pivotal position. He is now a vastly experienced player and comes off the back of a summer where he dominated the Aussies. He has looked the most assured English batsmen at the crease in the last year and plays the short ball well – a tactic the Aussies are sure to try and reproduce, no matter how benign the Adelaide pitch. Root on the other hand is still unproven at this level. He has had some wonderful moments in his short Test career but looked vulnerable in the summer – his 180 at Lord’s covering up an otherwise unremarkable series. He needs time to find his way and batting at five will give him a better opportunity to do this. With Gary Ballance looking likely to bat at six, this will mean a very inexperienced middle order, but this is a risk England must take. If Bell can reproduce his best form higher up the order, it could help change the momentum of this series and put the Aussie attack on the back foot.
Damian Hough, the curator at the Adelaide Oval, has been under the spotlight this week with everyone wanting to know how the new drop-in pitch is likely to play. He has promised a typical Adelaide Oval pitch, and if he is true to his word, it will be an important toss to win on Thursday morning. Traditionally, bowlers have had to make the most of the new ball or face a prolonged spell in the field. If England lose the toss and field they will be hoping for a repeat of their last start at the ground in 2010 when they had the home side three down in the third over. They went on to win by an innings and 71 runs. There has been a lot of talk of this test being destined for a draw, with the only two Sheffield Shield games played on the drop-in square so far producing high-scoring stalemates. However, 18 of the last 22 tests in Adelaide have produced results and the first session may be key to shaping the way this test match goes. If history is anything to go by, the pitch will offer something for the spinners later in the test. Graeme Swann will be keen to prove he is still the best finger spinner in the world – a title the Australian media seem keen to hand on to Nathan Lyon, despite meagre evidence so far. There has also been speculation that Monty Panesar may be called up with Ben Stokes played as a third seamer. Australia have named an unchanged side and Mitchell Johnson may again prove the decider here. He has been omitted for the past three Adelaide tests but there was no danger of a repeat this week. The Aussies will be looking for him to reproduce his form of 2008 and 2009, where in three tests, he took 19 wickets at less than 24 apiece at the South Australian ground.
The Aussie media have gone into overdrive since the Brisbane Test, with three series-worth of hubris spilling over into newspaper columns and on to sports channels. During the last few Ashes series, you’d struggle to find cricket in the Australian press but now it’s hard to avoid. England have been quick to downplay the latest storm, which involved Stuart Broad, Kevin Pietersen and Jonny Bairstow pictured in a nightclub at 3.30am earlier this week.
Indeed, fans might be surprised and cheered to see Broad and Pietersen out on the town together after the much-publicised problems over the KP Genius Twitter account. This media frenzy can go one of two ways for the England team. Ideally they will close ranks and it will give them extra focus for the battles ahead. It may however add an extra layer of pressure to a team already at breaking point and exacerbate the Aussie gloating. Let’s hope the next England performance can relegate the cricket results to a footnote on the back pages rather than seeing it continue as headline news Down Under.