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Analysis

England's fight fails to mask their failings with bat and ball

Root admits his attack bowled too short and that mistakes were repeated

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
20-Dec-2021
In the end, England found the will to fight, and dragged the Adelaide Test kicking and screaming into the floodlit session of the fifth and final day. But for all that their 113.1 overs of resistance encouraged a few fleeting thoughts of survival, their all-out total of 192 told a more realistic tale.
Not only was it the lowest total of the match, and fewer runs even than England's eventual margin of defeat, it was also the 11th time in 27 innings this calendar year that England had been bowled out for less than 200.
It's an extraordinary collective failing, especially when you consider that Joe Root, England's captain, has twice made more runs than that in a single innings this year, en route to his stellar haul of 1630 at 62.69.
But with the Boxing Day Test looming in six days' time, and England already 2-0 down in the Ashes having lost in Australia for the 11th time in 12 matches, Root knows that the lessons of these opening two Tests must be absorbed urgently if they are to avoid this tour heading in the same bleak direction as each of its two predecessors.
"I'm actually very proud of the way that the guys fought today," Root insisted. "The attitude, the desire - that's how we need to go about whole Test matches. You can't just leave it to the last day and expect to pull off an enormous feat, which is what it would have been today."
After the agonies, literal and otherwise, of his final-over dismissal on the fourth evening, Root was particularly pleased for Jos Buttler, England's embattled wicketkeeper, whose glaring errors behind the stumps had been compounded by his duck in the first innings.
Buttler avoided a pair on the final day when his counterpart, Alex Carey, blemished an otherwise superb display by failing to react to an early edge off Mitchell Starc, but seized on that let-off with a doughty 26 from 207 balls - the second-longest innings of his career, behind his century against Pakistan in 2020.
"Jos's innings was outstanding," Root said, "ably supported by others, Woakesy [Chris Woakes] in particular. But ultimately that is the attitude and the mentality that we have to harness for five days if we're going to win here.
"The disappointing thing about this week is that we made the same mistakes as last week," Root added. "We just can't afford to do that. That's going to be the most frustrating thing about this game, looking back."
Buttler's innings ended in bizarre fashion, as he stepped back to steer Jhye Richardson into the covers and trod on his own wicket, 12 balls into the final session of the game. And while Root admitted that the team had been "devastated for him" after such a committed effort, he said that the strength of character Buttler had shown was reminiscent of his crucial half-century in the 2019 World Cup final - the sort of big-game mentality for which he had been recalled to the Test team in the first place.
"Anyone that can handle a World Cup final - read the situation of the game, and be as composed as he was throughout that - can manage situations like this one within a Test match," Root said. "He should gain a huge amount of confidence from the way he played today, not just in performing out here in these conditions but in his defence. Hopefully he can take a lot from this into the rest of this series."
While England's batting was a recognised concern coming into this Test, Root acknowledged that the bowling had been every bit as culpable in Australia's first innings. Despite reuniting England's senior seamers James Anderson and Stuart Broad with a view to exploiting the purported movement of the pink ball, the lengths from all of England's five quicks were consistently too short to target Australia's outside edges, as they racked up a formidable 473 for 9 declared.
"We need to be braver, and we need to get the ball up there," Root said. "We were a little bit short with the ball. We didn't challenge them enough, and they left very well again, which was something that they did in Brisbane as well."
Having witnessed Australia's success with a fuller length in their own first innings of 236, England's quicks fared better second time around, particularly on the fourth morning when three wickets tumbled in the first hour. "That's almost the benchmark for us," Root said. "We need to look at those passages of play, and do them for longer, and exploit the conditions as well as we did in that period of the game."
Overall, however, England were outbatted, outbowled, and outfielded on a consistent basis from the first ball to last.
"That's the game," Root said. "You have to be able to put the ball in the right areas for long enough, you have to be able to score big runs, and when you create those chances you have to take them.
"I think the frustration within our dressing room is that we did not quite execute very basic things well enough for the second game in a row. First of all, we need to learn, and we need to learn fast. We can't make the same mistakes that we have done so far."
Despite the 2-0 scoreline, and the knowledge that no England team has ever fought back from such a deficit to win the Ashes, Root remained adamant that all is not lost, and that the gulf between the teams need not be as big as it has seemed in the first two Tests.
"With the bat, we have got the ability," he said. "I don't think that Australia are that much better than us in these conditions. We are better than how we've played and we'll front up in Melbourne, and put in a performance which is a fairer reflection of the ability in our dressing-room.
"We've got three massive games with the Ashes on the line now. And if that's not motivation enough to go there and put performances in, I don't know what is."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket