Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, 4th day November 24, 2013

Deeper problems than first-Test nerves for England

England's recurring first-Test failure may this time point to more ingrained issues

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 ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on November 26, 2013, 7:41 GMT

    As an England fan, I can draw some solace from the fact that England have proven to be slow starters of late and have been able to come back on a number of occasions. That said, there have also been occasions where they have not come back but continued to slide. The fact that they have been slow starters is in itself a problem too. We'll certainly know more after the next game. If England play as poorly again then there's a fair chance that it will be that way for the series and, if the Ashes are not already gone by that stage, they soon will be. If they bounce back and match or better Australia then the momentum will have shifted somewhat and they can hopefully ride that through. They'll need more from pretty much everyone in the next game, with Broad being pretty much the only one who can genuinely hold his head high. Maybe if the Australian crowd was to boo the rest of the team too...

  • Jay on November 26, 2013, 0:19 GMT

    I seriously think England can make a come back BUT this was said of the 2009/10 Aussies but they failed to come back igniting England's dominant Ashes position since then. Honestly, some is REALLY wrong with England. The players all look uninterested, unperturbed as if they don't care. Perhaps England are in decline ? For the sake of their fans, hopefully not. But funnier things have happened in cricket.

  • Suman on November 25, 2013, 23:45 GMT

    @heathrf1974, and here we are. The poms just lost one test and we are onto the excuses list already? OMG...

  • Graham on November 25, 2013, 20:32 GMT

    Blue-collar; Did you ever pass Maths at school? Can you try and explain your logic again. You do realise if the series stayed at 1-0 Australia would get the urn. Thus Australia are in front.

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2013, 18:08 GMT

    Srini_Chennai - hats off to you Sir!!!! you said it " It is ironic that most of the English fans calls India as FTB but now they're praying for featherbed in Adelaide. Loving it!!" The funniest thing is that England always claim to play well against 'fast' bowling.. What they really mean by 'fast' is medium pace!! It will be easier proposition to face Umesh Yadav and Mohd.Shami in 2014!, one would think...

  • Michael on November 25, 2013, 15:49 GMT

    To be honest, this has been on the cards for a while. The 3-0 Ashes win at home papered over several cracks, but there were plenty of warning signs.

    For me, we have three major problems:

    1) We're not as good as we think we are. See Pakistan away, SA at home and New Zealand away for evidence.

    2) We're far too negative - we bat too slowly and allow the opposition to settle in and seize the advantage. Field-placing and bowling changes are unimaginative.

    3) We haven't got an out-and-out pace bowler to blow teams away, like Johnson did to us. We haven't since Flintoff and Harmison were at their peak.

    Flower's cautious approach seems to have translated into attritional, negative cricket and we don't stand a chance against the rejuvenated Aussies unless we change that pretty quickly. I think this will be Flower's last series as coach, whatever happens.

  • Dummy4 on November 25, 2013, 12:55 GMT

    Prior seems to be passing under the radar but has he scored more than 40 in any innings for Country or County since March? He looks nervy at the crease. It's the batting that is a major worry. Without significant run on the board it will be hard to put pressure on even a fragile Australian line up. Without Trott there is now huge pressure on Cook to deliver as well as captain

  • Robert on November 25, 2013, 9:20 GMT

    I am not so sure things are so gloomy for England.... - Of the top 6 for Aust, 4 are not making runs and their positions are not secure. Normally 1 or 2 would be acceptable to be struggling a bit. - In Englands top order, 4 of the 6 were reasonably comfortable with pace in Brisbane (Cook, Carb..., Bell, Root)

    England just had a shocker in Brisbane, reports are distorting reality.

  • Saurabh on November 25, 2013, 8:16 GMT

    Tue that England have prevailed against an Australian side that included Johnson before,but the Johnson on view these days is a vastly changed quick bowler.Johnson looks a far more relaxed cricketer now.He looks a lot more calm,a lot more assured of his place in the side,and very aware of the role he has to play in the bowling unit.It was on Cricinfo that I read recently about how he was in a happy space with a far more settled personal life, and with only cricket to worry about he looks a transformed bowler.I think English batters will do well to play out Johnson safely and be a bit more aggressive against the other bowlers.

  • ian on November 25, 2013, 8:02 GMT

    Losing the first Test is nothing new. It's the way England clears the throat before launching into a sublime aria that transports the team & their supporters to a triumphant series win. That's the way Cook & Flower may well choose to view this abject performance, but if they do they'll be kidding themsleves. There is a world of difference between what went on at the Gabba &, say, Ahmedabad. There, Eng fought hard (4th inns 406 in 154 overs) while carrying an ineffectual & unfit Broad through cracked selection-thinking. That defeat came with honour; this one didn't. Broad may be back, Root looks as if he has the ticker & Cook still fights hard. But the sum of the parts really amounted to very little. England's banker mid-order bats, Trott, KP & IB aggregated 135 in 6 inns. No side in history wins with that sort of contribution. And the solution for sub 200 scores? Probably drop Tremlett for X! This drubbing is more than 1-0; it's yet another exposure of Eng's lack of batting technique.

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