Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne

England embrace a fresh start

Alastair Cook believes England's fresh start extends beyond team selection and offers opportunities to improve on all fronts

George Dobell in Melbourne

December 25, 2013

Comments: 38 | Text size: A | A
Cook admits captaincy flaws

The sight of Jonny Bairstow with the gloves, taking catches from Matt Prior at training, underlined the impression that England go into the fourth Test of this Ashes series embracing a fresh start.

With the Ashes lost, and the winds of change starting to pick up, Bairstow will, barring injury, replace Prior in the England side for match at the MCG. He is far from the finished article with the gloves, but his batting looks in good shape, he has a competitive instinct that should serve him well and, most of all, he is fresh.

That fresh word should not, in normal circumstances, be overly relevant. But as it becomes clear that the current England team is listless and jaded from too many battles, too many journeys and too much time in the same environment, the need for new faces and new energy has become apparent.

So, for the first time since August 2008 (when an England side with Tim Ambrose as keeper and Monty Panesar as spinner defeated South Africa at The Oval), England go into a Test without Prior, Jonathan Trott or Graeme Swann. While Swann has followed Andrew Strauss and Paul Collingwood into retirement, Prior, like Trott, might be considered a casualty of the schedule and the environment in which they have found themselves: fine players prematurely worn by over-use.

Prior's international career, like Trott's, is not necessarily over. He has been dropped before and showed the determination and class to bounce back. He is only 31 and a period of rest and recuperation may work wonders.

But this time it will not be easy. Once a side has moved on to a rebuilding phase and embraced the promise of younger men, it is much harder for those aged over 30 to fight their way back irrespective of how well they do in domestic cricket. Just ask Mark Ramprakash or Alan Richardson. So, with the likes of Jos Buttler progressing, there is a real possibility that, after 75 Tests, nearly 4,000 runs and 230 dismissals, the Prior era is over.

If that is so, he can look back on a terrific career characterised by selfless batting and reliable keeping. While never in the class of Alan Knott or Bob Taylor, Prior nevertheless became a decent keeper and, with his encouragement and advice, the heartbeat of England's fielding unit. Even his DRS calls will prove hard to replace. It was telling that, when all the cameramen and photographers had departed and the rest of the team dispersed after training, Prior hugged Bairstow and wished him luck. His commitment to the team remains exemplary.

Alastair Cook on...

  • Graeme Swann:
  • "It wasn't a big surprise when I spoke to him. Looking into his eyes, it was quite an emotional chat. Graeme gave up a lot for that England shirt and he had no more to give. I thought it was a very brave decision. When somebody gives up playing for England it's a huge decision. He's only 34 in age but obviously speaking to him about his body and his mind, he said he had nothing more to give and he couldn't do it any justice. To me, once a guy is in that situation there was no point hanging around because he will only drag energy from the group, whether you want to or not. No-one forces you to play cricket for England. We're very privileged. He could have just hung on for these two games and, whether he had played or not would have been pretty irrelevant, but he could have stayed, but he said he had no more to give and he felt he had no more left. It's a brave decision. He will be missed as he was a fine, fine cricketer for England."
  • Kevin Pietersen:
  • "He has a huge part to play in the future. He's another guy I've talked to quite a bit over the last couple of days, and his hunger and determination to play a lot more for England and help England win games of cricket is as high as ever. In this series he has hit the ball pretty well, just he's made some mistakes which have cost him. He's desperate to turn it round. He loves the big stage and there's no bigger stage than a Boxing Day Test match."
  • Monty Panesar:
  • "Monty is playing his 50th Test if he plays this game and that in itself is a great achievement. He had a very successful first part of his career and then Swanny came along and achieved what he achieved so quickly. He's played the part of the second spinner when we've needed one. He's a fine bowler. Technically he's excellent, we all know that, and he's got the chance to try to establish himself as England's No1 spinner."

With so many changes enforced upon England, there may be few other alterations. Panesar looks certain to play, as does Stuart Broad, while Boyd Rankin has been impressing in training and has made a strong case for inclusion ahead of Tim Bresnan. Any plans England may have had to drop any more senior players, even Kevin Pietersen, have been shelved. Fresh blood is important, but experience is also required for a game which will attract more than 90,000 spectators on the first day alone.

"It's all well and good saying 'the future, the future', but you've got to believe those players are ready to play as well," Alastair Cook said. "So there is a bit of a balancing act. We are so lucky with the support we've got, we owe it to them to try and put in a good performance."

The next age of England cricket extends beyond selection. Cook also admitted that results ahead of this series - the draw in New Zealand and the victories in the English summer - might have 'papered over cracks' in the side and that the fresh start provided an opportunity for improvement at all levels. Not least, according to Cook, there is a need for him to examine and improve his captaincy.

"When you win games of cricket it papers over some of the cracks that have been developing lately," he said. "And when you lose it hits you with stark reality exactly what you think needs to improve. There is no hiding place because you can't hide behind the fact that you are winning.

"So yes, I do believe [this situation] it is a chance for me to really stamp my authority. I think it will take time, as always. I've always tried to do the best job I can do, and maybe, by losing 3-0, I've really had to look into myself and see where I need to improve as captain.

"Previously, before that, we had won against New Zealand, we won the Ashes at home and won away in India, which is a great achievement but maybe that papered over some of the cracks in my captaincy as well.

"After these two games we have a bit of time off Test cricket - I think five months - and it's a real good chance to get very clear about exactly the direction I want the side - or we want the side - to go.

"When you lose games of cricket, you have to look at yourself first and what I could've done better. As a captain, I haven't had too much captaincy experience before I got the England job. There's always going to be a huge amount of stuff to learn and I've always said that, but we've always managed to win, so you always tend to look at yourself even more after losing games of cricket and see where I need to improve."

What England need most from Cook, though, is runs. It was his runs that led them in India and his runs that provided the platform for England's success here in 2010-11. Leadership comes in different forms and for Cook and England, a return to batting form from their captain would prove more influential than any field placing or inspirational speech.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by JG2704 on (December 26, 2013, 10:13 GMT)

@HatsforBats on (December 25, 2013, 23:00 GMT) Cook is captain and most/more of his dismissals have been out to top bowling. He's out of nick and short on confidence but IMO it's worse when a player is in and giving his wkt away with lax shots. He seemed to try to do this today and was lucky CN overstepped. I also said about them resting Jimmy in another post so I'm not singling out KP. It is possible to rest/drop a player for a game if only to recharge the batteries you know.They dropped Prior who was our player of the year last year and has been a mainstay of our side for a long time. To me if they drop/rest other players it's not seen as singling out Prior.KP may score a ton in this match but I'm sticking to my guns on this one

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on (December 26, 2013, 5:13 GMT)

England already playing for the draw at 2 an over? Root, Cook, failed again. The only surprise here is that Australia won the toss and are fielding. Otherwise normal Ashes service as we know it.

Posted by Lmaotsetung on (December 26, 2013, 1:52 GMT)

Prior was one of the most vocal critics of England's lack of IPL opportunity. No surprise here that when it's all said and done, he and Swanny might be available for a full IPL season next year with new auction coming up in Feb. along with KP. I guess he's used all the luck he had left on that "ball hitting the stumps without dislodging the bail" in NZ and since then has been in horrendous form. I'm a big JB fan...ever since he made his debut in that ODI against India a few years back and I'm rooting for him to succeed.

Posted by wapuser on (December 25, 2013, 23:33 GMT)

1 cook 2 carberry 3 bell 4 kp 5 ballance 6 stokes 7 bairstow 8 bresnan 9 broad 10 rankin 11 Finn I think everyone who has toured should play due to our poor results. Root, Prior, Anderson all look in need of a rest and I hope they bat at a better tempo and speed up the over rate. Without Anderson playing, Cook won't have to endure a conference before each over. Good luck to the lads .

Posted by HatsforBats on (December 25, 2013, 23:00 GMT)

@ JG2704, but by your reasoning, Cook (who hasn't been doing it either) should also be dropped. And Anderson. You can't just drop your best players, after years of excellence, when they are struggling. That inspires no faith of reward for performance or confidence in team stability. Players keep looking over their shoulder for their replacement. Its just as damaging, if not more so, as dropping new players after less than stellar debuts.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on (December 25, 2013, 22:02 GMT)

Posted by Henrik Lovén on (December 25, 2013, 14:34 GMT), nice to see you here buddy, your very confident pre-series predictions are quite handy now.

Posted by landl47 on (December 25, 2013, 21:23 GMT)

It will be interesting to see what changes England makes. I believe Carberry has shown what he is- England's Ed Cowan. In 8 test innings he's reached 30 6 times but only made 50 once. I'd like to see Root back as opener and Ballance in as #5, with Bell moving up to #3. Bairstow for Prior is a good change, Prior hasn't been keeping well. Having Stokes in the side and Broad being fit allows England to pick Panesar.

My side would be Cook, Root, Bell, KP, Ballance, Stokes, Bairstow, Bresnan. Broad, Anderson, Panesar.

Those calling for Root to be dropped are crazy- he's 22, just came off an excellent 87 in the test before last and even when he hasn't been scoring has been developing his defence and ability to play in Australia. He needs experience, not sitting on the bench.

Posted by cloudmess on (December 25, 2013, 20:41 GMT)

England are dropping Prior prematurely. You have to be careful whenever you feel a teams needs a little rebuilding - you can end up throwing the baby out with the bath water. England have only played badly for half a series, in a part of the world where only England and SA have triumphed in the past 20 years.

Posted by page8383 on (December 25, 2013, 20:35 GMT)

I agree blinks - Bairstow isn't a huge trump card, but the English have to do something here and I think the selection is the right one. I am keen to see Balance play, he looks like a very good first class player and I think deserves his shot. Selection headaches everywhere for England, but I would choose: 1. Cook 2. Carberry 3. Root 4. Pieterson 5. Bell 6. Ballance 7. Bairstow 8. Stokes 9. Broad 10. Anderson 11. Panesar If you're going to roll the dice, now is the time to do it.

Posted by blink182alex on (December 25, 2013, 18:14 GMT)

As an Aussie fan i will be more than happy if they drop Prior for Bairstow. Bairstow caused us no problems with the bat a couple of months ago in England, and really has only had 1 good test match against SA at Lords.

Prior kept poorly in the last test but he is still a better gloveman than Bairstow. If Broad isn't fit then Eng have no vice-captain as well.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2013, 18:10 GMT)

Cook, Carberry, Bell, Pietersen, Balance, Root, Bairstow, Broad, Finn, Anderson, Panesar for melbourne, gives balance, bairstow and finn a go and gives bell a go at 3

Posted by   on (December 25, 2013, 15:55 GMT)

Cook, Carberry, Bell, KP, Ballance, Stokes, Bairstow, Broad, Finn, Rankin, Panesar would be the way to go for the last two tests. Plenty of opportunities for Carberry, Stokes, Balance, Bairstow, Finn, Rankin & Panesar to establish themselves as well as for Bell to cement the no 3 spot for England.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2013, 15:28 GMT)

Cook, Carberry, Bell (Wasted at 5), Moeen Ali (Spin option with Root), Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Broad, Anderson, Finn, Rankin - Time to use the basketball lads now the series is dead

Posted by JG2704 on (December 25, 2013, 15:05 GMT)

@Henrik Lovén on (December 25, 2013, 14:34 GMT) Agreed and I've said it before. I was dubious of the squad balance as it was but to not play any of the 3 lankies in 2 of the tests is mind boggling. Still I suppose it's not as though we're struggling without them. Seriously , if getting battered all over the place is not the right scenario for trying these players then what is?

Posted by JG2704 on (December 25, 2013, 14:59 GMT)

Re KP , I'm all for dropping him - even if it was just for one test. Yes he has the X factor and potential to turn games blah blah blah , but he hasn't been doing so in this series. For me it would at least send a message that no player is too big to be dropped and won't be picked on reputation alone. He's looked good at the crease which IMO makes it worse because he's not capitalising on it and getting out to lazy/careless shots. Also he's not really dominating the bowling and has by and large got bogged down before he starts to play shots to relieve the pressure rather than to look to set the tone himself. IMO England don't have the bottle to drop KP. If they drop Prior they know he'll more than likely fight to get his place back and I think they're worried that if they drop KP he'll quit the scene altogether

Posted by   on (December 25, 2013, 14:34 GMT)

Unless England play two of Finn, Rankin and Tremlett in the remaining two tests, this will go down as one of the biggest English selection cock-ups of all time, definitely bigger than Tate's Test or the incontinent plethora of test caps awarded under Peter May. Obviously considered the three best pacemen after Anderson and Broad, with Bresnan out injured and the mystifying non-selection of Onions and only ONE test between them??? Ridiculous!

Posted by   on (December 25, 2013, 14:06 GMT)

Trott gone (temporarily)! Swann is going! Who is next! Failure of a team in a "team-sport", creates collateral damage to 'individuals'! What an irony! No wonder, occasional selfishness surfaces!

Posted by xtrafalgarx on (December 25, 2013, 14:01 GMT)

I'm quite excited to see how the young poms go, even as an Australian supporter. I would go with Cook, Root, Bell, KP, Ballance, Stokes, Bairstow, Broad, Finn, Anderson, Panesar. Not a lot of experience in the middle though, so they might keep Carberry in and chuck Bell down at 5 to spread it around.

It will be interesting to see how these blokes go over the next 18 months actually. The one positive about being in transition is the excitement of watching new young players making a name for themselves.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on (December 25, 2013, 14:01 GMT)

Why the calls to drop Carberry? He's looked pretty good. Root will go another 12 innings without a score over 20, there isn't a more over-hyped player in either side. I'd like to see plants of changes, Anderson, Prior, Root, all out and bring in some of the fresher guys. They won't be able to compete with the Aussies but I think it is only fair the mental scarring that this whitewash will cause is shared around equally by the ECB. They do have a duty of care after all.

Posted by xtrafalgarx on (December 25, 2013, 13:51 GMT)

I think over the past two years England have been playing a ridiculous amount of cricket. I used to think it is a positive as you can have a test veteran in 24 - 32 months as they would have played 30 to 40 tests! But the negative side is beggining to show.

I can't believe Stuart Broad has played 70 odd tests at 27, Cook a 100 at 28, Pietersen only took 8 years to get to 100 too, that's ridiculous. Legends of the game, like Langer/Hayden played that many in their whole career!

Posted by don35 on (December 25, 2013, 13:08 GMT)

@Paul Rone-Clarke - what do you mean 50% more tests than any other team? Looking at the cricinfo stats for the period 2009-2013 England played 64 tests and 105 ODI's whereas India played 48 tests and 143 ODI's and plenty of IPL

Posted by   on (December 25, 2013, 12:44 GMT)

Looking at how many more days of cricket these guys have played over the past 4 years (since the 2009 Ashes) than any other team.

It's staggering. 20 tests against Australia alone! Almost 50% more tests in total than the next closest team. 28 days more cricket per year than the next closest - and the amount of time spent away from home with either one 5 month "mega" tour or two 10 week tours every Winter covering October to the end of April most years then straight back to the 1st home test sometimes less than 12 days after coming back from a tour?

No other side comes close to the amount of travelling these players do. Not Oz , not India, not even the cricketing nomads of Pakistan.

17 tests per year is too many. We used to play 10 or 11. 5 in the summer and 5 in the winter. How has it got to 17?

Not sure why KP is being hailed as a hero though. Has anyone looked at his overall record over the past 2 years? A couple of big innings and other than that an average that is heading South

Posted by RednWhiteArmy on (December 25, 2013, 12:31 GMT)

My team for MCG 1 Cook 2 Root 3 Bell 4 KP 5 Ballance 6 Stokes 7 Bairstow 8 Bresnan 9 Broad 10 Anderson 11 Panesar/Borthwick

Posted by don35 on (December 25, 2013, 12:31 GMT)

This argument that England are mentally and physical jaded is poor. Players like Swann and Prior play very few ODI's and neither play in hectic tournaments such as the IPL. There has been a argument that newer players like Root and Carberry have done much better because they are more fresh, but did they really do much better than players like Cook and Pietersen. Root and Carberry have only scored one fifty each while Cook has scored two. If anything the Aussies should have been more mentally jaded after their 4-0 loss to India and 3-0 loss to England.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2013, 12:29 GMT)

Talk of teflon Bairstow? Oh no! He's not good enough with the bat and not good enough with the gloves. Looking at him I doubt he will ever be a test player.

Where is the chat about Rankin and Finn? The tour now has three specialist spinners THIS IS A TOUR OF AUSTRALIA FFS.

I despair at this. Spin is largely irrelevant in Oz unless you are a genius like Warne. So why have England now got 3 specialists and yet have not played their tall quicks in a single game yet? Why are they on the tour at all if they aren't being played?

Posted by looloogun on (December 25, 2013, 12:11 GMT)

xi should be 1,ballance 2.pietersen 3.cook 4.carberry 5.bell 6.bairstow 7.stokes 8.broad 9. bresnan /finn 10.panesar 11.borthwick/tredwell

opening challenges pietersen , cook n bell can handle the middle order ,finn can give those bouncers , the rest will have nothing to loose win toss bat first ' game half won thay say in austarlia

Posted by crockit on (December 25, 2013, 12:08 GMT)

Cook says all very well looking to the future but the players have to be ready. If they are not ready why are they in the squad? Its hard to see what more Rankin could have done to have shown himself ready than put in those good performances in ODIs against Aus at end of last summer. They say he and Finn bowl too short. But does anyone look at Broad's pitch map? Loads of stuff short and short of a length. Sometimes too much but to an extent effective when you have decent pace and height. Anderson, on other hand is probably the least hit the surface type quick on either side (ignoring Watson) and he has not had much success. They say Finn is really out of sorts and if so no point picking him but you will learn quite a bit by giving Rankin a go now (resting either Anderson or Bresnan). I would also be inclined to give Ballance a go but its not obvious how you can drop one of the top 4 at this stage. Bairstow for Prior - with Prior to come back next summer if he is scoring runs.

Posted by Gaswell on (December 25, 2013, 11:33 GMT)

If England do not pick Rankin and Finn, the Australian batting will flay them alive. Anderson is looking a spent force on this tour and where he`s concerned"It don`t mean a thing if it aint got that swing". And in Australia, he aint got that swing. They picked tall quicks for the Ashes tour then don`t play them. It`s bizarre. English medium pacers usually get flogged in Australia. Learn from the past. Pace and bounce will work better than workaday medium pace.

Posted by SagirParkar on (December 25, 2013, 11:30 GMT)

why is the schedule again that is held responsible for England's lack of performance ? why cant Dobell accept the fact that other teams have improved whereas England have stayed static and lack imagination...

Posted by JG2704 on (December 25, 2013, 10:49 GMT)

Re JB - have no issues with him coming into the side. Obviously he's an unknown for England with the dual role but there's only one way to find out how good he can be. Sure Aus won't be quaking in their boots but can't see them doing so with Prior out there either. At least it's a fresh face and I'm all for freshening it up. JB has averaged better with the bat than MP in the last 2 series both played and better than Cook in the last one and while he has technical flaws his inclusion surely can't make the team any worse. If Rankin is impressing in training then he should definitely come in. I'm starting to think for Jimmy rather than Bres. Is it not possible we can REST players rather than DROP them?

Posted by   on (December 25, 2013, 10:37 GMT)

It's Monty who worries me. He's back as no.1 spinner by default - we were keen to replace him for obvious reasons 5 years ago, now he's back. If we don't think Prior is the future, heaven forbid we think Monty is

Posted by real_gone_gadd on (December 25, 2013, 9:47 GMT)

Shame that we didn't take a genuine back-up keeper-batsman like Davies rather than Bairstow; he can't even get into our shaky line-up as a batsman and isn't technically good as a gloveman, so am not sure how he can be the answer as a replacement for Prior.

I'd like to see new blood in 2014 but Pietersen is one of only 3 experienced players in our top 7, so it would be madness to drop him for the sake of it. Maybe the first test side for Sri Lanka should look like:

Cook, Root, Carberry, Bell, Pietersen, Ballance, Davies, Broad, Anderson, Panesar, Onions.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2013, 8:48 GMT)

Jonny Bairstow! The Aussies will be shaking in their thongs. He couldn't buy a run as a specialist batsman in the last Ashes and now they expect him to keep as well - he himself would admit he isn't anywhere near the finished article with the gloves. Why they didn't take Davies of Surrey as back up I just don't know.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge-Needs-A-Hug on (December 25, 2013, 8:05 GMT)

I've no idea why people would want KP dropped, he is one of the best batsman playing the game let alone in the England team. I think Prior is finished, bringing Australia's career scalp tally up to 3, the kind of thing that @FFL used to fantasise about. There's more to come too. I would like to see Rankin play, he has to offer more with the ball than Bresnan who offers nothing at all. Australia will likely dominate but if England can get a few gritty performances out of individuals (like they did from Stokes) it will give them some confidence and ideas going forward. Normal Ashes service has resumed but England have time to get their act together and be ready for their summer.

Posted by shabmost on (December 25, 2013, 7:11 GMT)

In reply to VillageBlacksmith on KP, he is best bet England has at this moment. KP has the X-factor combined with a rare breed of tenaciousness - which is exactly needed to face a fearsome pace attack in front of a 90,000 Boxing Day crowd. England needs KP's killing instincts to fight off the beasts that they are are surrounded by Cook and Bell might also contribute, but I doubt their current mental abilities to make huge turnaround to snatch away the game from the jaws of opposition especially after loosing three tests in a row. Ballance, Taylor are Robson are far from being ready, and none probably will ever become a KP. Fresh blood calls should be made to rejuvenate the English bowling attack, where two positions are vacant, Swann replacement and the 3rd pacer/seamer. They need to find someone as good as Mitchell Johnson or Morne Morkel. Perhaps Boyd Rankin should be given a chance.

Posted by gramedgar on (December 25, 2013, 5:52 GMT)

That all makes good sense, how great is Matt Prior? Seems like a genuinely good guy and I hope he uses this as a spur to maybe get in the ODI side for 2015, as that would be a fitting climax to his career, however I would like to see Bairstow do well and therefore Prior to have ended his test career.

Good words from Cook, I have said all along In Cook We Trust. He is twice the man the snarling, mouthy, matey Clarke is and by the next Ashes I hope he gets England back together so we can snap the urn out of their hands and make it 4 in 5.

If anyone can get the best out of KP now I think Cook is the man.

Posted by   on (December 25, 2013, 5:21 GMT)

I am not sure Bairstow, Ballance,Carberry and all can together create the same impact as KP does alone(if he clicks). He is a genius, England havent maximized his potential for various reasons. After coming this far in the series, why decide premature? Let him play the next two, see if he still has the impact, If not drop him. Dropping him mid way is making 5-0 road clear for Aussies. So, KP-retire calls are just pointless for the moment.

Posted by VillageBlacksmith on (December 25, 2013, 3:53 GMT)

it cannot be a fresh start with kp still there… flower says he can make the hard decisions, so lets see them… kp is not justifying his place at all & like swanny is not here for the Odis so he shd go home… and with the series already gone it is the right time to blood the next bat… cook, carbs, root, bell, ballance/taylor/robson, JB, stokes, bresnan, broad, anderson, monty…

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