RALLY AROUND COOK
Now the incumbents of the so-called problem positions at No2, No3 and No5 each notched a half-century at the Gabba, the spotlight of concern has homed in on former skipper Alastair Cook. The 32-year-old scored only nine runs in Brisbane and has managed three centuries in his last 54 Test innings. Suggestions of a gradual lessening of his powers and questions over his motivation have arisen. Throwing the nation’s leading Test run-scorer, who is now on his 12th opening partner since the retirement of Andrew Strauss in 2012, under the bus is so typically English – there are just 11,638 reasons why Cook should not have to prove his worth once again.
England had seven scores of 38 and four half-centurions during the first Test, but no century-maker – James Vince was their top scorer with 83. In seven innings during the successful 2010-11 Ashes, England made seven tons and two double hundreds. By the end of Brisbane seven years ago, Strauss, Cook and Jonathan Trott had already gone big. The need to convert starts into centuries, or “daddy hundreds” as Graham Gooch used to say, is imperative for England if they are to post the potentially match-winning scores of 400-450.
TRUST THE TAIL
Jonny Bairstow appeared to panic during the first innings and force the issue once he was stranded with the tail. The inevitable consequence was a top-edge to wicketkeeper Tim Paine off Pat Cummins. Australia skipper Steve Smith trusted the tail in Australia’s first innings and their final four wickets added 119 runs – England’s made 62 in both of theirs. Australia have talked non-stop about attacking the fragility of England’s tail but there is the danger of it becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Are Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon really that much better than Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, Jake Ball and James Anderson, irrespective of short ball worries? Statistics would suggest not.
While they are markedly less potent with the Kookaburra ball in Australian conditions compared to in England, James Anderson and Stuart Broad both returned good economy rates during the first Test. Ball, in particular, and Woakes did not – the pair took a combined 2-228 in the match. Even if wickets are not tumbling, the creation of pressure is vital. Mitchell Starc, during England’s second innings, was the only Australian bowler whose economy rate strayed above three runs per over in the game.
Day/night Test cricket remains an unknown quantity and to an extent clouds the issue of selection for the second Test. There have been calls for Ball to be axed in favour of the uncapped Craig Overton or rookie leg-spinner Mason Crane, while injury-plagued paceman Mark Wood, who is with the England Lions, has also been thrown into the mix. Easier said than done but England have no wriggle room to get their decisions wrong.