Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide December 4, 2013

Cook looks to senior players to up their game


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.

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 Australia 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."

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 has denied two more stories circulated elsewhere. Firstly it rejected the suggestion that the England 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, it has also rubbished the suggestion that England are unwilling to play in Brisbane on future tours. It had been suggested that the ECB was so unimpressed by the hostile atmosphere experienced in the city that it 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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Neil on December 7, 2013, 2:57 GMT

    And he's got nothing from Pietersen, out to a disgraceful shot, totally needless. Or Root, who also threw his wicket away. And Prior. This is a debacle, there are no excuses and heads must roll.

  • W on December 6, 2013, 9:17 GMT

    Well he didn't get anything from the bowlers nor himself at the close of day 2. The catching was terrible and they failed to dismiss Australia again.

  • John on December 4, 2013, 20:00 GMT

    @Daire Vickers on (December 4, 2013, 14:28 GMT) So by that logic we should then also drop KP and Bell too?

  • Graham on December 4, 2013, 19:54 GMT

    5 - 6 players have to stand up is pretty much the leadership model that England have been running for sometime. Under Cook, they captain by committee and if a field placing or bowling change occurs Cook needs to have a committee meeting with Prior, Anderson, Broad, Swann and Pietrersen. This model leads to a lot of downtime for viewers and pathetic over rates. I just wish Cook could make a decision by himself and you would find England's over rates return to a decent level.

  • Alan on December 4, 2013, 19:42 GMT

    @bumble 23 lol Bresnan high 140s yeah righto in his dreams mate

  • Android on December 4, 2013, 14:28 GMT

    one thing everyone is forgetting about is Anderson. he made little contribution at all in Brisbane. Rankin or Finn should be playing for him

  • Aamir on December 4, 2013, 14:20 GMT

    Wat's d fuss abt dropin wickets! Looking forward to it, be it fast, damp, dry, slow or flat facing 150 kmph still remains a challenge and dont forget Harris' accuracy and Siddle's big heart compliment Johnson very well. For me Australian attack is better than English, yet i am a fan of Anderson. This could be the most competitive match of this series, cant wait for tomorow morning to come.

  • Siddesh on December 4, 2013, 14:07 GMT

    England's come back will be very hard...Becoz, Mitch can produce his magic in any pitch with his current form.. and Siddle is all set for his Marthon spells.. you can find Australia's confidence by which they retained same players for the second test..

  • Dummy4 on December 4, 2013, 13:02 GMT

    Well, I guess if I'm gonna stay up all night any night this series, tonight's the night. Massive day ahead. England need to win the toss, bat, and put on 350 by the close for loss of no more than 6 wickets. Heart says play two spinners, but head - and this is what England will do too - goes for Bresnan in for Tremlett. Just hope he is really fit and doesn't break down... we've already forced one semi-fit player to play this tour (Prior). Will be a huge toss, this.

  • John on December 4, 2013, 12:51 GMT

    @Drakester Bomber on (December 4, 2013, 9:56 GMT) You may be right re another loss but Eng haven't even named their side yet. I guess if they make changes it will be seen as panic measures and if they don't it'll be seen as lacking faith in the back up guys?

    @Bumble23 - Might Rankin be a compromise. A guy who can be a little hostile but also a guy who's not as prone to leaking loads of runs if things aren't going his way?

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