Ashes Panel #007 – The Spectre of a Skyfall, No Quantum of Solace

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You knew I’d do that with the title, didn’t you?

Before we start, a little cross-promotion. On the Extra Bits, I’ve added another ten pics from the Lord’s Test. Click here.

The seventh edition of the Ashes Panel has taken time to reflect on the result and consider some of the events of the week. We have an esteemed panel, and a sad absentee. We have Hillel, a major tweeter under the EoinJPMorgan label, Man In A Barrel (MIAB) who has been on this blog for a long old while, our Hammer overseas MD Payne, and Philip Chapman (PGP). Sadly, the other invitee, our very own Bogfather has been unable to participate this time around, so I’ve decided I’ll step into his shoes, if not with poetry, but with passion instead….

So, off we go…..

1. We’ve had a few days to digest the result from Lord’s. What was your initial reaction and has it changed?
PGP – Genuine surprise at how poorly we batted. I was at Lords for about 2 hours on Thursday and the pitch was so flat I fancied a bat against our attack. The thing about our team is that it is mentally weak. So they don’t have the mental strength to say “it doesn’t matter what the opposition scored, I am going to bat for as long as I can and go big”. The Aussies bowled significantly better but it was the wickets that Marsh got that hurt us the most.
Hillel – I am rather ambivalent on the Lord’s debacle, as horrified as I was at the time (and remain so) to see the lack of fight that we put up in the second innings; there are correct ways to lose. Lord’s, in the long run, will not be as terrible as many pundits are suggesting. It was not, as we have seen before with England, the revelation of some horrific endemic problem that faces us, but rather an accumulation of far too many relatively minor mistakes which added up to cost us dearly. The pitch clearly favoured swing and pace over seam which massively advantaged Australia; it seems strange that England are the only country which won’t doctor all of its pitches to suit their bowling attack. Even if one disagrees with the point that the pitch favoured Australia over England, it was clear that whichever team won the toss had as good as won the Test. Additionally, England’s batting lineup are on the whole horrifically out of form and one cannot expect Cook and Root to be able to save us every innings. We have to learn to rest Wood as well. Overall however, I don’t feel that disappointed and think overreactions, whilst plentiful, remain futile.
MDP – I live in Australia so went to bed at tea on the 4th day and my emotion was one of ‘same old England’ again. Waking to find we had capitulated in such fashion was a bit of a shock, though. I would at least have expected them to take the game into the final day. Since then fear has crept in that we are looking at another heavy series defeat.
MIAB – Frankly I was overjoyed at the win.  I find it difficult to support England anymore and so any team that beats us so resoundingly feels like another small crack in the self-satisfied carapaces of Clarke, Strauss, Cook etc.  Eventually they will be gone.
DO – I confess, I was wavering. I thought Australia were sending out some real distress signals with their machinations over Haddin and Watson. This was a time to go in for the kill, but Day 1 put paid to any of that over-used cliche “momentum” to take effect. Smith’s 215, Rogers 173. Once that happened it was almost inevitable, as this team of our’s doesn’t seem to react well to scoreboard pressure – they aren’t alone in that. So once we slumped to 30-odd for 4 while I was there I thought anyone with a Day 5 ticket was in trouble.
My initial reaction was one of feeling stupid that I doubted an Australian team’s mental strength, relief I hadn’t indulged in the hyperbole that followed the win in Cardiff, and a bit of affirmation in the trend we have of following up a win with a defeat. Since then I’ve just watched an England team talking a good game for Edgbaston, and wondering if these are the deluded rantings of condemned men, or real belief. I’m really not sure.
2. I’ve seen a lot of pundits saying “it’s still 1-1” and “stop being fickle”. I’m certainly not a fan of the last one. But it doesn’t feel all square, does it?
PGP – See the above after we won the first game the emotions were running high, we took the foot off the gas, as we have done loads recently. So a feeling of frustration as much as anything.
Hillel – It certainly does not feel square, and saying that the score is level is a gross oversimplification. All professional sportsmen (or women) will easily be able to tell you that sport depends a great deal on confidence and momentum, which is undoubtedly with Australia at the amount. Nonetheless, as guilty as the eternal optimists are the eternal pessimists. It is foolish to proclaim this series done and dusted whilst there is still much to play for and, as Australia showed at Lord’s, momentum can swing (pardon the pun) round in an instant: It will all depend very much on how England carry themselves, and whether they are able to dust themselves off and move on or wallow in self-pity. I’m pleased to say it seems likely that this new England side under Bayliss are more than capable of shrugging off a large defeat, returning to play positive cricket, and win the series (or at least give the Ozzies a run for their money).
MDP – No it doesn’t. My mind keeps returning to the 1997 series, when England won the first Test convincingly and it all went downhill from there. Can’t see anything coming from the camp to suggest it won’t happen again.
MIAB – It certainly does not feel like 1-1.  Look at the trajectories of the 2 teams – Australia are improving and England got wiped out.  Look at the opening partnership: Australia have made 52 and 19, 78 and 114.  These are impressive figures, especially when you consider that Rogers was deemed too old by certain pundits and that Warner was supposed to be technically fallible.  For all his loathsome personality, he is actually a smart cricketer.  His footwork is quick and his batswing is straight i.e. he has a good technique, certainly much more technically correct than Cook.  He is playing more cautiously than he normally does but he is getting used to the pace and bounce and movement of the ball in English conditions.  He is going to make a big score at some point.  The way that he and Rogers took on the English attack in the 3rdinnings at Lords was superb.  Their certainty of shot, the lack of fuss demoralised the opposition:  you could see confidence draining out of them.  Smith is in good form and he is very impressive technically.  For all his fidgeting, at the point the ball is bowled his head is still.  His backlift is impressively vertical.  He moves calmly into position without any fuss at all and then hits the ball.  He is as orthodox as say Sobers or Cowdrey once the ball is bowled.  Now that he has decided to milk Ali, as he did so successfully in the World Cup, rather than attempt to smash him out of the attack, there is no reason not to expect him to keep scoring big hundreds.  Clarke is getting into something approaching good form.  Nevill and Marsh seem a cut above Watson and Haddin – although it was unfortunate that Watson received 2 such shocking lbw decisions.  The bowling is also getting better and Johnson found his mojo after his 77 in Cardiff.
Looking at England, all you can say is that Stokes is batting well and Broad has remembered how to bowl.  The Aussies seem able to dry Cook up.  Root is about to get the working over that will show whether he really is world-class, as all the pundits have been telling us for the last 2 years.  Wood is unfit.  Ali cannot keep control – there is a rank long hop or full toss every other over – and if the Aussies just keep milking him for 5 singles per over, Cook cannot keep bowling him unless he takes wickets.  There really are not many positives.  Can Cook motivate his team after that debacle?  That will be the acid test of his captaincy.
DO – Anyone who has had the “pleasure” of being in an Aussie cricket stadium when we are getting humped will be used to the chant “Look at the Scoreboard”. Edgbaston is going to be an absolutely fascinating test match, because we need to come out with intent. Someone needs to make a statement of resistance, and play out of their socks. Joe Root did it at Cardiff, but it needs to be more than him. But thinking this is more like 1997 is not being fickle, it’s being realistic. Australia were arguably caught a bit cold at Cardiff, and they showed true colours at Lord’s. England batting first might be a good start. This doesn’t feel like Perth 2011 to me.
3. Gary Ballance paid the price for the Lord’s debacle. Fair or not?
PGP – Fair, although I have no idea why his technical issues haven’t been sorted at some point in the last 2 months. Reflects poorly on the eng coaches.
Hillel – The axing of Gary Ballance is a pathetic yield to public pressure of which England should be ashamed. To set the record straight, the man has not been found out; he is out of form. There are those who will point to his technique and the fact that he doesn’t move his legs, and yet forget that Sehwag didn’t use to move his legs much either. Marlon Samuels barely moves his. It is not technique that matters, but the ability to churn out runs and Ballance has already proven he can do so at international level. The other side to the proffered argument is that Ballance is only being dropped in order to rediscover his form, as of when he can return to the team – the flaw in this argument is obvious, for then why is Bell given the opportunity to rediscover his form in the team, and not be dropped? It is not fair at all to drop Gary Ballance, especially when he is not even being directly replaced by a fellow number 3.
MDP – I think it was inevitable – he has just looked so vulnerable against pace bowling. His technical deficiencies have been exploited by Johnson and Starc and I feel keeping him in the squad any longer could have done long-term damage to his confidence. There certainly are others who were fortunate to escape the chop, mind you.
MIAB – Someone had to pay the price.  I feel sorry for Ballance as he has actually scored more runs this series than Bell and Lyth but the latter deserves a few more matches and dropping Bell would effectively end his career, I would imagine.  So many members of the team have not contributed significantly that something had to change.  Bairstow for Buttler was one possibility but that seems to have been ignored.  It might have been more sensible.
DO – I’d never bought the Ballance ticket, as you know. It’s not personal, because mentally I think he’s the real deal, but I got to see that batting stance and trigger movement in the flesh from side on at Lord’s, and it’s alarming. I’m not a technician, and therefore people may think I’m talking nonsense, but it was always on my mind that when the skill level of the bowlers went up, he’d struggle. That said, the sharks of the media were very keen to circle him, and it seemed rather prescient that they were suggesting he was in the most danger compared to Ian Bell who has been in an even more shocking rut. I also thought we were backing young, fresh talent over older lags if the choice prevailed. So I understand it, but can’t help thinking that this is a little panic measure.
4. Ian Bell’s promotion to number 3 is intriguing. Any logic you can see behind it?
PGP – Bairstow is the form player and has earned his place. He isn’t a number 3. Root won’t do it. Stokes isn’t the right guy. Who is left? Dropping 2 of the top 4 is not a sensible play so bell it is.
Hillel -Once again, England’s fantastic logic is at work: Bell is not scoring any runs at 4, so perhaps moving him to 3 (laughably actually greater exposing him to the new ball) will cause him once again to plunder hundreds for the country. This also points to a wider problem: England have dropped a number 3, and decided to replace him with a number 5, only then to actually worry about who is going to fill the number 3 role; the poor tactical planning in this is so ludicrous it’s actually laughable. It matters not how well Jonny Bairstow is batting if he’s not replacing anyone. Thus it feels less like Ian Bell is intended to be a number 3, and more that he a victim of a team reshuffling to accommodate a number 5 batsman. Furthermore, if we assume if we lose Lyth and Bell early again (for there is no reason to assume we won’t), we are falling into the same trap of asking Joe Root to save the innings, simply at 30-2 instead of 30-3. How helpful.
MDP – Not much, borne out of necessity rather than anything else to accommodate Bairstow. Being first drop when on a bad run of form is a huge gamble. I feel reluctant removing Root from 5 too.
MIAB – I Imagine that the “logic” would be that he wanted to bat at 3 in the Ashes down under when Trott went home but the gig went to Root instead, so let’s bat him at 3 now when he is in terrible form and apparently lacking confidence.  Does he thrive on responsibility?  I don’t really think so.  He seems to prefer it when he is under the radar, out of the spotlight and things are not expected of him.  However, who else can bat 3?  Can you realistically put Ali there the way he is playing at the moment?  Root seems happy at 5 and is one of the few batters to have scored any runs.  Maybe Stokes, but that would be more of a gamble than Strauss and co could take.
DO – I saw Ian Bell make his test best 235 at number three in 2011. I was there, loved every minute of his partnership and thought he made a point. When the chance came to give it to him after Trott’s departure in 2013 from the Ashes tour, they did not change and put Root in to his place. Now this is a decision based on necessity and desperation. They couldn’t drop both Ballance and Bell, because people might question our mighty selection committee’s infinite wisdom, so we come up with this dog’s breakfast. They are flying by the seat of their pants.
5. You are the lucky panel that get the KP question? You are the selector. Yes or no AS OF NOW (i.e. he’s not played first class cricket for a few weeks).
PGP – Yes I pick him. He is one of the top 4 batters we have.
Hillel – We know KP has the class. We know he is still fit enough to play long innings. We know the world won’t explode (nor the dressing room implode) if he returns the team. I may not love the man dearly, but for goodness’ sake, let’s grow up and just select him on merit.
MDP – My position on this is straightforward, is he in the top 6 batsman in the country? If so, he should be picked. I think it’s open for debate whether he is but my feeling is his experience would be invaluable for the challenges ahead. So I’d say yes.
MIAB – Yes.  He has been playing cricket recently after all and I am not entirely convinced that playing for Surrey would be of any great value in preparing to face the Mitches.  I suspect he would do what Nasser used to do after his innumerable broken fingers on tour – set up net conditions and practise as if it were a real match.
DO – When the ECB did him over (and I’m utterly convinced, as I’ve been for a few months now, that this is Giles Clarke’s work) and basically packed him off to T20 humdrum, they cut off an option. An option they should have left open. It isn’t the ECB’s team, it’s our team. The fact that a talent who COULD make a difference, who had just mashed a 355 not out (and stuff those who diminish it), and yes, who would go out there with something to prove, a chip on his shoulder, a passion to make people sit up and notice, would have been an option. But no. We go all prissy about a load of old twaddle, in the old English way. I say no, he shouldn’t be in the team under current circumstances because he’s not played first class cricket for perfectly understandable reasons (a point those who are totally against him ignore), but if he’d stayed here, given a hope to play, and piled on the runs, why wouldn’t you want that option?
We know the answer to that last question. Idiots.
As is his wont, PGP has had a lovely supplemental comment which I think I should share with you…
I really need have a rant about James Whittaker.
Pre Duncan Fletcher selection was typically chaotic. When Fletcher was in charge we had a vision. Steady 3 dimensional bowler, swing bowler, 90mph bowler and a bouncey bowler. Then a mixture of stroke players and hard working players.
With Moores v1 we had a transaction of players to the successful group which flower and Strauss made blossom (sorry). What both these coaches did was identify the type of players and back them. In most cases it worked.
At the end of the Flower reign when Whittaker took over we have seen no coherent selection strategy. No identification of new players other than just picking the current form player. The only exception is Root.
Where is the Strauss, Trescothick or Vaughan? Players picked for the mental strength rather than the run scoring.
I also don’t see how have two full time coaches is a successful approach for selectors.
We have seen multiple players ruined, the treatment of Hales is borderline masochistic. The over bowling of Anderson and Broad is insane. Any reader can have their examples.
Something has to give. Whittaker should have stood up for KP and Carberry in selection rather than just doing as told.  Pathetic. A man with morals would have resigned.
And that was me being gentle.
As usual, my thanks to the contributors, who put in a ton of time and effort and they are great for doing so.
Ashes Panel #008 will probably be sent out in the next day or so and will focus a little more on Edgbaston.
Thanks all. Have a good weekend.