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England's recurring first-Test failure may this time point to more ingrained issues
George Dobell in Brisbane
November 24, 2013
Had you never seen England play Test cricket before this match in Brisbane, you would be forgiven for concluding that they had no hope of fighting their way back into this Ashes series.
This defeat was as emphatic and complete as any in recent years. Indeed, only five times in history have England lost a Test by a larger run margin. It is understandable that some are suggesting that this game may be remembered as the start of a new era. An era in which Australia hold the upper hand.
But we have seen England play before. We know that they have experienced similarly crushing defeats - Leeds 2009, Perth 2010 and Ahmedabad 2012 - and bounced back to win the next games and the series in which they were played. Perhaps they can do the same thing again?
Certainly that was the view taken by Alastair Cook. England's captain conceded that his side had been "outplayed" but then insisted that "there's plenty of time to fight back".
"We've done it a lot of times in the past and that's what we're going to have to draw upon now," he said. "In Ahmedabad everyone was looking at us and wondering how we could play cricket and we bounced back to win an amazing series in India.
"The first thing we have to do is remember we are a very good side and there are some very good players in the dressing room. We've had a bad game and we can hold our hands up and say that. But we've got 10 days now. We'll stay strong as a unit and we'll come back fighting."
Whether that proves to be wishful thinking remains to be seen but it would be a mistake to dismiss the Test as an aberration. A team that has failed to score 400 for 18 consecutive innings is not in a barren run; it is in a famine. A team who continually start poorly in series and rely on their bowlers to bail them out of tough situations are not unlucky; they are flirting with danger. This result has been an accident waiting to happen.
Just as worryingly, England have only played two Tests on quick wickets in the last four years - here and in Perth - and they have lost them both heavily. It bodes ill that Perth, perhaps the fastest wicket in the world looms again just around the corner in the third Test.
By reputation, Adelaide, the location of the second Test, is something approaching a batting paradise. It might, in normal circumstances, be expected to provide a tonic for England's beleaguered batsmen. But no-one is quite sure how the fresh drop-in pitch will play and it would seem oddly hospitable of Australia to offer anything other than another pitch of pace and bounce. There may be no respite in store.
The headlines will be dominated by Mitchell Johnson and England's batsmen's struggles against pace and bounce. Probably quite rightly, too. Even his poor deliveries - and there were a few - proved beneficial as they left the batsmen unsure what to expect from his slingy, low action. His success was another example of the benefits of unorthodoxy in cricket. The debate over whether such a player could emerge through the English system can wait for another day.
There were other issues at play apart from Johnson. England also played the offspin of Nathan Lyon like novices; the lack of an effective third seamer saw them unable to exploit Australia's position of 132 for 6 on the first day and Graeme Swann, arguably the best spinner England have ever had, was out-bowled by his Australian counterpart.
The individual form of a couple of players is causing concern, too. Jonathan Trott appears most rattled by Johnson's pace and, in his last nine Tests, has a better bowling average than batting average: 21.50 with the ball and 31.94 with the bat. Matt Prior has averaged 15 in the eight Tests he has played since May and only 17.50 in first-class cricket since the start of the last English season. He has passed 50 only once in 24 innings.
England will be loathe to abandon their consistency of selection policy, but there was just a hint that changes could be made. Ironically after a defeat due to poor batting, it is the position of Chris Tremlett, the third seamer, which is most under threat, but Trott, too, is looking as insecure as at any stage in his four-year Test career.
"We are going to have to be very honest with ourselves in how we go about trying to play Johnson," Cook said. "You can't brush the issue under the carpet, he's hurt us in this game and we're going to have to come back show our ability in the next game.
"We all need to be honest with each other as a group. It's not just those three who haven't had a good game - all eleven of us really need to improve if we want to win this series.
"Trott has had a tough game and he knows that. But you have to remember the guy is class. He is a very good player. He's had a little blip in these last couple of games but he's a class player and class players bounce back.
"I know he's been working incredibly hard at playing the short ball and anyone who has seen the net sessions can see he is trying to work on it. It is just a matter of him trying to take that into the middle. When the emotion and the pressure of the game is on, it can be quite tough to think as clearly as you need to."
In the long-term, Trott has a good chance of finding a method to deal with the line of attack with which he is confronted. He will know, too, that his captain endured a similarly grim run of form in 2010 and benefitted from England's loyalty and patience. But if the team management feel that Trott is, for now, mentally shot, he may not win a reprieve for Adelaide. It may be to his benefit that none of the squad's reserve batsmen - Jonny Bairstow, Gary Ballance or Ben Stokes - is hammering at the door of the team.
England can take consolation from one area: they know they have prevailed against Australia - with Johnson - on several previous occasions. Indeed, Trott's debut century was against an attack that included Johnson.
"We've got to look at the way we're going to play him," Cook agreed. "He's bowled well in this Test. He bowled well in Perth last time and he hurt us there.
"But there have been times in the past when we've played really well against him. We can draw on that. You can't brush the issue under the carpet, he's hurt us in this game and we're going to have to come back and show our ability in the next game."
Perhaps most damaging of all for England is the fact that this result will encourage an Australian team who have been starved of success for almost a year. Motivated and now full of confidence, they may prove hard to stop.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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