• The Ashes

Cook looks to senior players to up their game

George Dobell
December 4, 2013 « Fellaini has found it tough - Moyes | Chartbeat test »
Alastair Cook has demanded that his senior players step up to the mark © Getty Images
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It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this Ashes series could be sealed in Adelaide over the next few days.

So crushing was Australia's victory in Brisbane and so great the fall-out from Jonathan Trott's departure from the tour that the sense grew that the balance of power had changed between these old rivals. It was only one game, but if Australia win again in Adelaide, it is hard to envisage England clawing their way back into the series. With the bounce and pace of Perth to follow, even a draw here might be considered a disappointing result.

On the face of things, this could be a tough place for either side to force a win. Not only is the pitch expected to be flat, but the weather forecast is not wonderful. There are various imponderables - such as whether the new stands might aid swing and how the new drop-in pitch will play - but the biggest question remains: how deep are the scars of England's injuries from Brisbane?

England looked fragile in the first Test. A batting line-up that looks strong on paper, collapsed as if made of the stuff, leaving Alastair Cook, the England captain, to demand more from his senior players.

"Our skills let us down in Brisbane," Cook said. "We were totally outplayed and our skills weren't up to it. The senior guys have to lead the way. We are lucky that we have players with a huge number of Test caps and people who have delivered before, not only against Australia, but on this ground as well. We are going to have to draw on that and the five or six of us who are the senior guys in the team are going to have to stand up and lead from the front."

While the normal, safe England formula would see Tim Bresnan come back into the side in place of Chris Tremlett and Gary Ballance bat at No. 6, it is clear that other options are being seriously considered. Admitting they are "desperate" for a victory in this game, Cook said picking two spinners was "a realistic option." That might, in turn, necessitate picking the all-rounder Ben Stokes to ensure they still have some depth in seam bowling and batting. Stokes would bat and six and fill the role of third seamer.

England train at the Adelaide Oval ahead of the second Test © Getty Images
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It would be a high-risk strategy, but has some logic. Even if the Adelaide surface - which looks dry - does not offer much turn, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar should offer England some control in the field. That might, in light of Australia's commitment to an aggressive approach, force their batsmen into mistakes.

Whether Panesar is in the frame of mind to play Test cricket remains to be seen. He endured a modest season in county cricket and has not played a high-profile game since the late-night incident which briefly led to his suspension. It is only a year since he played a huge role in helping England to victory in India, though, and with 48 Tests behind him, he has the experience to cope.

England have not fielded two spinners in a Test in Australia since 1990-91 when they teamed up Eddie Hemmings and Phil Tufnell in Sydney. They conceded 518 in the first innings but the spinners shared eight wickets second time around and the Test was drawn.

Swann, meanwhile, has taken the opportunity to talk to former Australian spinner Ashley Mallett. Mallett has been something of a mentor to Swann for some time and he had a fine record on this ground, with 25 wickets in six Tests. No finger spinner has taken more in Adelaide. While reluctant to go into details, it seems he advised Swann to bowl a more attacking off-stump line to the right-handers and use more over-spin. Swann made good use of Doug Bollinger's footmarks to claim five wickets in the second innings to help England to victory here in 2010-11.

But bowling is the least of England's worries. They bowled very well in the first innings in Brisbane but were then forced back into the field far too quickly due to the inability of the batsmen to exploit the decent pitch. England's weakness, at present, remains their batting. To have failed to reach 400 in 17 successive innings and yet still won many of those games illustrates the continuing contribution of the bowlers.

"We know that if you want to win games of cricket, you have to score big runs," Cook said. "And we haven't been doing that. We didn't do it last week and we lost the game heavily. We need to do it, simple as that. There's no point talking about it - the stats say we haven't got 400 and we need to get past that total."

Propaganda war continues

  • In the latest episode of a relentless war of propaganda, the ECB have denied two more stories circulated elsewhere. Firstly they rejected the suggestion that the team "failed to turn up" for a South Australia Cricket Association dinner on Monday night, pointing out that such appearances are arranged months in advance and no such agreement had been made. More seriously, they have also rubbished the suggestion that they are unwilling to play in Brisbane on future tours. It had been suggested that they were so unimpressed by the hostile atmosphere they experienced in the city that they approached Cricket Australia with a view to avoiding Brisbane in the future. An ECB spokesman dismissed the notion in the strongest terms.

England's problem in Brisbane, at least, was that they collapsed so quickly, they failed to force Australia's attack into the extra spells that would have sapped their energy. If they are to have any hope of fighting their way back in this series, the batsmen have to fully exploit Adelaide's famously flat wicket.

"In a spell like that you know it can't last forever," Cook said. "In these conditions, you know the third and fourth spells of guys like that will not be as quick. So you have to put miles into their legs."

In the latest episode of a relentless war of propaganda, the ECB have denied two more stories circulated elsewhere. Firstly they rejected the suggestion that the team "failed to turn up" for a South Australia Cricket Association dinner on Monday night, pointing out that such appearances are arranged months in advance and no such agreement had been made.

More seriously, they have also rubbished the suggestion that they are unwilling to play in Brisbane on future tours. It had been suggested that they were so unimpressed by the hostile atmosphere they experienced in the city that they approached Cricket Australia with a view to avoiding Brisbane in the future. An ECB spokesman dismissed the notion in the strongest terms.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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