The Investec Ashes 2015 July 20, 2015

Bayliss confronts systemic problems

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Five things we learned at Lord's

The honeymoon was beautiful, brief and spent in Cardiff. But it is over. Trevor Bayliss must now understand the extent of the challenge facing him in his new role as England coach.

Seeing his batsmen dismissed for 103 on a surface on which Australia looked as if they could have batted into October, seeing his bowlers rendered impotent where Mitchell Johnson looked ferocious and watching his slip fielders catch as if they flippers rather than hands, he now knows why England have slumped to No. 6 in the Test rankings and what a task he has to drag them back towards the top.

His initial reaction to defeat was to suggest the Lord's pitch "played into the hands of Australia" and to hint that changes of selection are "on the mind". Both of which are fairly natural responses. He will understand, too, that such fluctuations of performance are the hallmark of a young side in development. He knew there would be days like these.

But it is, perhaps, his ability to look beyond the immediate and suggest underlying issues that might prove most valuable to England. It is his ability to hint at long-term reform that will render him so valuable.

Bayliss has only been in England a few weeks. He hasn't had the opportunity to watch county cricket and work out which players can feature in England's future. He cannot play much of a role in selection.

But he has noticed that England has a problem with pitch preparation. He has noticed that the talk of aggression, an agenda that was largely led by Shane Warne's repetition on the subject (truly, if they turned the volume up to max on Warne's commentary and played it to prisoners of war, the UN would ban it), has led to a generation of batsmen who react to adversity by trying to thrash their way out of it. And he knows such an approach is entertaining but has the logic of driving home quickly in fog so as to spend less time in it.

"Speaking to a few of the county coaches," Bayliss said as he reflected on defeat in the second Investec Ashes Test, "are the pitches the county players are playing on away from Tests so different to what we're actually playing on out there?"

"There are always a lot of low scores in first-class cricket here. Is that preparing our batters to actually bat for a long time? Possibly not."

It is not that county pitches are inherently bad - though some certainly are - it is that they increasingly bear no comparison with international surfaces. And not just international pitches around the world, but international pitches in England.

While England will struggle to disprove the myth that they asked for such surfaces to negate the pace of Mitchell Johnson and co, the truth is that the groundsmen at Test grounds are generally instructed by their employers - the counties - to prepare surfaces that last for five days. Like just about every decision in modern cricket, it is predicated on the principle: what will earn most money in the short term?

So while quite a few county surfaces encourage medium-pace bowlers who nibble the ball around in helpful conditions - it remains unhelpful that bowlers such as Darren Stevens and Jesse Ryder claim so many first-class wickets in England - batsmen learn that, sooner or later, they will receive an unplayable delivery and play positively to combat it. The solution to such problems - centrally contracted groundstaff - has long been discussed but has never been implemented.

"Probably the one shot we didn't employ against him today was the leave"
Trevor Bayliss on facing Mitchell Johnson

"Ordering a flat wicket is to our detriment," Bayliss said. "I'd like to see a typical English seaming wicket against the Australians. That would suit our bowlers. I think the flatter and slower the wicket is actually plays in to the Australians' hands. Their big, tall fast bowlers can get good bounce and variations out of the wicket because they hit the deck hard."

Meanwhile, rules have been changed to render it more difficult for experienced players to remain in the game - counties are given incentives for fielding young, England-qualified players - and it is ever more difficult to register overseas player or Kolpak-qualified cricketers. As a result, the quality of the domestic game has been diluted and gap between it and the international game has grown.

The situation will only worsen. At the end of the season, the ECB will announce a new domestic structure - it will claim it is in a consultation period, but the decision has been made - which will see the number of Championship matches reduced from 16 to 12 per side and ever-more emphasis on white-ball cricket in peak season. It will do nothing to help produce wicket-taking spinners, fast bowlers or batsmen prepared to graft for a living. The emphasis, ever more, is on limited-overs skills.

Bayliss picked up on this issue when he reflected on England's shot-selection against Johnson. "Probably the one shot we didn't employ against him today was the leave," he said.

It's a comment that goes to the heart of much of the recent talk that suggests that anything defensive is bad and anything aggressive is good. For what England have missed most in recent months is a pair of opening batsmen who can see off the new ball and shield the attacking middle-order from the conditions at their most difficult.

Yet when they meet to pick the side for the third Test on Tuesday, it seems most likely they will select another aggressive middle-order batsman in Jonny Bairstow. He is a fine player in supreme form. But that is like installing a new fire alarm to combat a flood. He is the answer to a different question.

There are other options from within the current squad. Joe Root could move back to the top three - a move that weakens a strength but may be the less of several evils - while Moeen Ali could make the same journey. It is where he bats in county cricket and ODIs, after all. The way he was dismissed by a Johnson bouncer in the second innings at Lord's did not instil a huge amount of confidence in him facing a newer ball and fresher bowlers, though.

But those are short-term solutions to a longer-term issue. When Alastair Cook complains of batsmen not facing bowling of Test pace at county level and Bayliss complains of poor pitches, they are talking of longer-term fixes. If England want to enjoy more than fleeting success, it may pay to listen to them.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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