Australia v England, 2nd Test, Adelaide, 2nd day December 6, 2013

Robo England suffer malfunction

A team that used to programme calculated destruction of the opposition has been reduced to making flawed, human gambles

There was a time, not even that long ago, that watching England play was like watching a well-organized show dance at a major awards ceremony. Every single person knew their role. The moves had been well practised beforehand. It was entertaining without ever being fun. And behind the scenes you knew there was someone really angry, and focused, with a clipboard and walkie talkie.

It was safe, calculated and effective.

In Adelaide last time, England took wickets with the new ball on a good batting pitch, then kept Australia below three an over until they had picked them off for less than 300. With the bat, Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood batted with ease and put on a score that meant batting twice would probably not be needed. On a flat pitch they waited, used Graeme Swann perfectly and rotated the other end well, until Australia just faded away.

It was their first win of the series. It was their blueprint working exactly how they would want it: magic from KP, stunning effectiveness and professionalism from everyone else.

Now England are not that team. If their batting has showcased that for the last 18 Test innings - during which they have failed to reach 400 - their morning session in the field showed that their whole game was slipping away.

Australia started the day 5 for 276. In no one's estimation were they massively ahead of the game on this Adelaide pitch. Yet England played as if the pitch was completely dead and the only way to get wickets was through improvisation and enterprise. Essentially, England strayed away from the sort of Sensible Solutions cricket they play so well, and went a bit funky.

It very nearly worked. With the new ball still only 12 overs old, Monty Panesar had Michael Clarke dancing down the wicket and spooning the ball into the outfield. It could have gone anywhere. England's decision to bounce, and bounce, Australia with the short ball, also almost paid off as Brad Haddin skied a ball towards a slow-to-react Panesar.

But it is here where you start to wonder what is wrong with England. In their glory years, would they have tried to bounce a batsman out with two fielders in the deep if one of them was their worst fielder? And would they have played two of their attacking options at once, leaving them very little to fall back on with two quality batsman at the crease? It didn't seem like them.

Neither did the capacity to miss six chances in the field. Michael Carberry dropped a catch an eight-year-old would take, then followed it up with a failed run-out that a professional cricketer should have executed. Missing that many chances in one innings on a pitch like this is like headbutting a wall on the hottest day of the year while listening to death metal with the heater on. It's hard to imagine, let alone remember, a time under Andy Flower when they would have missed that many.

Despite Clarke's poor beginning, he soon got completely on top of Panesar and Swann had to be brought on. At the other end, the newish ball was continually brutalised into the pitch by Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Ben Stokes. Haddin and Clarke are essentially designed for pitches like this. England miscalculated and were far from effective.

Cook's captaincy had short covers, two men out for the short ball, a short cover and at times no one behind square on the off side. For Swann it was an in-out field that he rarely, if ever, uses. It was as if Cook was trying to throw every idea he had ever daydreamed about against a wall and hope it stuck. It did not.

If England won the last Ashes by using a formula; they are trying to win this one with random attacking events.

The one thing Cook never really tried was just drying the runs and bowling in the channel outside off. England's staple meal. When an England bowler did bowl a decent length ball in a good area, it looked like it could work. Clarke plainly just missed one and Haddin nicked behind from a no-ball. But that revolutionary tactic wasn't followed through with.

You could argue that they were spooked by Shane Warne's constant abuse of Cook's defensive ways. But despite the column inches and ratings they get, it's doubtful they care about anything Warne says. It could also be a classic case of fear of the flat Adelaide Oval pitch. This is the pitch that more than once turned South Australia's Jason Gillespie and Mark Harrity into giant flapping birds, because of the sheer lack of life in it.

The suspicion is growing that somehow, in a staggeringly short amount of time, England have lost faith in the way they play. It can happen to any team on a tour. Especially a hell tour, which this isn't yet, but which it is hinting it might be. From the professional robotic machine they have turned into flat desperate gamblers.

What is worse for them is Australia have changed too.

The flawed side who tried hard in the UK have (with help from England) started to look like the sort of aggressive beasts of doom they were in their heydays. Ryan Harris made a king pair in Adelaide in 2010, this time he blitzed a not-out 50. Doug Bollinger's career was all but ended the last time in Adelaide; he could be back next week in Perth. At this rate, Xavier Doherty will be a shock inclusion for Sydney and take a ten-wicket haul.

Mitchell Johnson was rested/rotated/dropped from this Test three years ago. Today it took only one over from Johnson to turn a jolly crowd into the angry mouth-breathers baying for blood from days of old. It was glorious. It was unscientific. It was brutal.

In one ball, Johnson beat Cook in almost every way possible. Last time in Adelaide, Cook made 148. This time he missed the ball by what seemed like 148 metres.

Adelaide is different from three years ago. Australia are different from three years ago. So, too, are England.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Pankaj on December 7, 2013, 6:26 GMT

    @humdrum, if England are to rise to the occasion, they had better start rising. Australian lead is above 450 and unless England can bundle them out before lunch tomorrow - which in 50 overs is a big ask - that lead will be closer to 600

  • parjanya on December 7, 2013, 5:55 GMT

    Actually,this is a devilishly cunning plan to lull the Aussies into a false sense of complacency and security.The grand revival will start anytime now and we will witness one of the game's grand spectacles as the English steamroll the Aussies and Clarke will realise he has been done by a master of the game.

  • Pankaj on December 7, 2013, 5:00 GMT

    And now we wait for the usual litany - bad travel plan, bad lodging, bad food, bad wind direction, inefficient sunrise and sunset mechanisms ... at least its good that Australia are batting. Watson and a couple more might go quickly and give them an illusion of potency

  • parjanya on December 7, 2013, 4:30 GMT

    Well,rattled by sheer pace on a flat,flat 'belter'.Blown away with the wind. The only things on fire are the pants of the eng batsmen.

  • Heath on December 7, 2013, 4:26 GMT

    Finn and Bresnan should play in Perth. KP has been very disappointing.

  • Vikram on December 6, 2013, 23:41 GMT

    England surely look like they are coming off of an IPL season. They can surely do better than this with the resources at their disposal.

  • Dummy4 on December 6, 2013, 22:55 GMT

    "entertaining without ever being fun" pretty much says it all about English cricket

  • Dummy4 on December 6, 2013, 20:58 GMT

    I have to say that England started behind the eight-ball here with their team selection. Stokes was picked on the tour for as a development project and for the one dayers - the rest of the squad must have been bemused by his selection in front of a specialist batsmen.

    As for the selection of Monty Panesar, mmm. This bloke was very accurately described by Shane Warne as having played 30 first tests. His inability to learn anything from past experience is epic. Whilst I like him as a character, a third seamer would have been a better option. (Finger spinners tend to struggle in Australian conditions anyway)

    From the point of selection, everything has unravelled. You'd have to say that the evident disunity in the team has seeped into their performance - a lot of backbiting in evidence in the field. The captain and coach won't be able to fix it - 5-0 beckons!

  • naresh on December 6, 2013, 20:44 GMT

    Would be great if KP and Bellsy hammer 150s. And the rest get runs too - then we will see how many OZ bowlers get through without an injury.

  • Gopalakrishna on December 6, 2013, 18:42 GMT

    England captain was for sure spooked by Shane Warne's comments about him. Cook started to fill in the shoes not for him. England under him and his predecessors was not known for aggressive brand of cricket but clinical brand of cricket and yielded results on that. When ever you try to prove something to world that you are not what you are, that is when the problem starts. Cook absolutely was a great captain when he adopted clinical, methodical cricket. But Aussies sowed a seed of doubt in him with their pre-series comments that he may not have success with his approach. That is what they very cunningly call mental disintegration. Aussies have successfully done that. From here on only some heroic acts only can save England from defeat is what my gut feeling. Otherwise they are half lost this test match as well.KP or Bell one of them should step up and prove the world wrong.

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