England v Australia, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge, 1st day July 10, 2013

England turn up bearing gifts

Instead of sticking to first principles and patiently grinding out a match-defining total, England's batsmen misguidedly attempted to assert themselves
41

Say what you like about England, they are marvellous hosts. Had they greeted each Australia bowler with a garland of flowers, a basket of fruit and an array of balloon animals, they could hardly have been more welcoming. Indeed, if each of their wickets had been wrapped in shiny paper and tied with a bow, they could not have made better gifts of them.

This was a wretched batting performance from England. It was a nervous, flimsy, foolish performance by a side too experienced to be excused for wilting in the spot light. While the identity of several of the players is different, it was a performance that evoked memories of England's capitulation in the final of the Champions Trophy. Then, as now, they froze under pressure.

The most galling aspect of this display was the self-inflicted nature of England's decline. Perhaps only two of the their wickets - that of Joe Root and, by a generous assessment, Ian Bell - could be credited more on good bowling than poor batting, with some of the dismissals - Matt Prior's and Graeme Swann's in particular - donated so ridiculously that they would have a good chance of gaining charitable status.

The root of England's decline was a combination of nerves and the spurious misunderstanding of what it means to play 'positive' cricket. For England on the first day at Trent Bridge, 'positive' cricket meant attempting to score quickly, attempting to hit boundaries and attempting to assert their authority in the most obvious, unsophisticated way.

So, instead of leaving the ball outside off stump, instead of waiting for the bowlers to stray into safe areas, instead of patiently grinding out a match-defining total, England sought the short-cut to success. They allowed their hubris and adrenalin to get the better of them and they chased deliveries that they would have been well advised to let go.

Even Jonathan Trott and Alastair Cook, batsmen with a reputation for their attritional qualities, were drawn into flashing at balls well outside off stump. Even Kevin Pietersen, a man who has a well-earned reputation for thriving on the biggest stage, appeared to falter through nerves and guided a wide ball to slip and even Prior and Swann, men with a reputation of rebuilding all-but-lost causes, managed to steer short balls to fielders as if providing catching practice.

Trott's frustration upon his dismissal was palpable. He shaped to smash his stumps out of the ground but sensibly checked himself just in time but his frustration was easy to understand. Trott has now passed 27 in each one of his last 12 Test innings but, on nine of those occasions, he failed to pass 56. In short, he has built himself the foundations time after time and failed to capitalise upon it. A loss of concentration has been his downfall on most occasions. A batsman that built a reputation upon a compact technique and looked in the ripest of form, paid the price for being flash. He is, at present, too often trying to be something he is not.

It was not always aggression that cost England. Some of their batsmen were punished for faulty technique with Bell drawn into playing at a decent delivery, but one he might have left, and Jonny Bairstow bowled - as he was in both innings of the warm-up game in Chelmsford and now has been in five of his 12 completed Test innings - after attempting to whip a straight ball through midwicket.

There was no need for England's aggressive approach. Without the influence of poor weather, draws have become rare in England. The old Test disciplines - disciplines of patience and restraint and denial and stamina - have been all but forgotten amid new fashions to dominate, entertain and 'express' talent. The game may, on the surface, appear more entertaining, but it has also lost a certain dynamic that differentiated it from other formats. There was beauty, maybe not always an obvious but beauty nevertheless, in the steadfastness and defiance of Geoffrey Boycott and Chris Tavare. While the game has changed for the better in many ways, England would be well advised not to forget such qualities entirely.

England could have well done with a player of Nick Compton's old-fashioned virtues. The idea that you have to seize the initiative in Test cricket is a modern myth that has been perpetrated by the impatient and is shown up for its folly by the success of the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, Hashim Amla and, in a different time, by Trott and Cook.

Positivity does not have to be expressed in boundaries. It can be expressed in a firm forward defensive, in a refusal to be tempted by deliveries away from the body and by an obvious determination to bat, not just for a session or a milestone, but for a day or more at a time. It was that quality that ground Australia into submission in 2010-11 and that quality England will need to rediscover if they are to prevail on this occasion.

There are some mitigating factors. While the winner of the toss had to bat first - this is a flat but unusually dry pitch that may deteriorate - the atmospheric conditions did provide some assistance to swing bowlers. Australia also bowled pretty well, using the crease cleverly and luring England into false strokes.

But England made life far too simple for the bowlers and Peter Siddle, in particular, can rarely have enjoyed a softer five-wicket haul.

It does not matter that England partially redeemed themselves with the ball. That only goes to illustrate what an opportunity they missed with the bat against an attack that was plainly nervous and included a teenage debutant who, for all his abundant talent and athleticism, looks some way short of the quality required for this level at present and an allrounder who could manage only four overs before injury intervened. Had England shown a little more fight and resilience, they could be resuming their first innings on the second day against effectively a three-man attack.

As it is, England face an uncomfortable wait to see how Stuart Broad reacts to a blow on the shoulder sustained while batting. International cricket is a draining business and its participants, especially fast bowlers, are bound to experience the occasional injury. But Broad, of late, appears to be made of crystal and fairies' wings and is developing a reputation of being injured more often than he is fit. In a three-man pace attack, such attributes are unlikely to endear a player to selectors.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sixnout on July 11, 2013, 15:05 GMT

    My 2 Cents. The media has hyped up England so much so that they expected to turn up for the ashes and pocket the ashes 2013. I was watching the "Ashes - the greatest series (2005) video". just to read the reaction and one of the most oft repeated sentence was how the English were agressive and almost Australian. While you could see typical fast scoring batsmen like Treschothick, a young KP, enigmatic Freddie, a brute Harmisson and a in the zone Jones turned up together like the Avengers, the English would be better if they turned up and played dour cricket and then accelerated instead of trying to play like a Sehwag on steroids

  • dummy4fb on July 11, 2013, 14:16 GMT

    "There was beauty, maybe not always an obvious but beauty nevertheless, in the steadfastness and defiance of Geoffrey Boycott and Chris Tavare." In that case, I will always prefer to watch the brute force of David Gower... England batted badly but Australia, in my opinion, is still the underdog for the series. One Test win will not suddenly make them favorites and they will have to sustain this form over the whole series, which will be difficult against England, at least in this series...best of luck to both sides anyway!!

  • dummy4fb on July 11, 2013, 12:47 GMT

    Cyril_Knight. How wrong you are. Note the 14 run lead to Australia at lunch. And brusselslion - while we're analysing poor performance, if the last 90 minutes of play before lunch were the best that England's bowling attack can do, it probably will be a series win to Australian. Matt Ryan - yes, earning wickets will be the key difference between the teams in the series, and England's attack was found wanting when it was time to 'earn' a number 11's wicket. Finn was bowling rubbish, and what did your captain do about it - push the field back.

  • dummy4fb on July 11, 2013, 10:08 GMT

    Excellent piece. Apart from the wicket of Watson, who was (typically) similarly keen to play 'positive, imposing cricket', the difference yesterday was that the Aussie bowlers were given wickets, and England's earned them. This, I suspect will be a key difference in this series.

    I will refrain from harping on about how England seem completely incapable of starting a series well. Despite all the bluster about how this will be/has been addressed, nothing changes.

    It is true that solid defensive blocks and dismissive leaving are also positive, and these virtues were employed perfectly (especially by Cook) in Australia last time out - resulting in an historic win.

    As for Trott, I only hope the 'get on with it' brigade have not got inside that less than hirsute head of his.

  • dummy4fb on July 11, 2013, 9:56 GMT

    I agree 100% with your analysis. There was zero application from the England batters we said "here you are Peter Dibble, take our wickets" and he duly obliged, not through talent, but through perseverance. The rest of the Aussie attack didn't really click into gear. England's batsmen cannot continue to rely on the bowlers to bail them out. They won't do it in every match. More gumption and intelligence is needed. If England can rip out the Aussies today, they need to show a much improved performance with the bat to hammer the Aussies out of the game. The jury is out if they can do this.

  • H_Z_O on July 11, 2013, 9:48 GMT

    What a ridiculous article! Apart from Cook and Prior none of the wickets were truly "thrown" away. Root got a snorter, Trott was worked over with Siddle realising that bowling on his pads wasn't a good idea and going wider of off-stump was. Yes, that was probably a ball that normally wouldn't get the wicket (Siddle himself said so in his interview with Sky Sports) but Trott cracked under the pressure. Cook cracked a bit under pressure but it was less from the bowlers and more from the hype around England as favourites.

    Pietersen was loose and probably could have left that but it was in the right area. Bell's wicket was the angle Siddle took on the crease, it was brilliant bowling and while Bell could have left it, the point of going wider on the crease is to trick the batsman into playing. Job done.

    Bairstow closed the face, but Starc bowls a mean yorker. Broad got worked over by some very good bouncers.

    Pattinson and Starc had some testing spells, Siddle was a threat throughout.

  • brusselslion on July 11, 2013, 9:26 GMT

    If that's the best that the Aussie quicks can offer then I don't think that England have too much to worry about, providing they engage their brains before taking guard. Root, Bell, KP (at a push) got decent balls. The rest gave their wickets away.

    As for this idea that the Aussies bowled to a plan and build pressure. Well, if the plan was to bowl 1/2 bad balls an over then it worked. England piled the pressure on themselves by playing 2020, not Test, cricket.

    Having said all that, I think that the Aussie attack could be pretty good and can do better then yesterday's showing.

    Yesterday was exciting but quality wise, it was a poor day's cricket.

    @disco_bob on (July 11, 2013, 6:32 GMT): Agree 100%

  • zoot364 on July 11, 2013, 9:20 GMT

    Looked to me like a typical nervy start to an important series - on both sides. The contrast with the England batting on the first day against NZ earlier this summer was interesting. Then they were far too cautious. I think Dobell does underestimate Australia's efforts. They may not have been perfect, but they were certainly working to clear plans for many of the batsman and have identified clear vulnerabilities that need to be addressed. All told it looks like a low scoring series so be wary if you have 4th day tickets.

  • AussieSam on July 11, 2013, 8:52 GMT

    @Bodders70: Well said, mate.

    Although this was clearly a bad performance by England's batsman, its not just root and bell that can say they were out due to good bowling. Australia's performance wasn't that amazing, most of the good bowling was only delivered by two members of the attack, Pattinson and Siddle, but as others have pointed out, i think probably all of the England batsmen fell according to the plan that the bowlers had set to get them out. It was obvious they were trying to get Trott out by playing wide outside off, that is probably the main reason he was so angry with himself, he fell into their trap... became impatient and wafted at one he shouldnt have, which also happened to be very well bowled too, and it wasnt out there by accident.

    Seems this lineup might not be as great as the barmy army would like to believe, here's a damning statistic from Rajah:

    "For the fifth time in six Tests in 2013, none of their top four batsmen got a half-century in the first inninings."

  • siltbreeze on July 11, 2013, 8:52 GMT

    This is not unfair on Australia's bowlers at all; they were erratic at best yesterday - some wicket-taking deliveries, but very inconsistent lines and far too many four balls. Dobell is quite right that most English wickets were gifted - for all the excitement it was not a high quality day of Test cricket.