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News

England's batters seek the right balance before it's too late

Dawid Malan said it was important players did not go into the shell but some were learning on the run

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
23-Dec-2021
Dawid Malan admitted England's players are "hurting" after the drubbings in the opening two Ashes Tests but added that it's vital that they do not become too defensively minded and still aim to put pressure back on Australia's bowlers.
Malan, who had a long net session on Thursday, is one of only two England batters, alongside captain Joe Root, to make half-centuries in this series but neither have converted into three figures and the team has yet to cross 300 in four innings.
One aspect that has been highlighted is the ability to leave the ball - something that can often be done on length and not just line in Australia because of the extra bounce - and while Malan acknowledged the success of David Warner, Steven Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, who have all shown excellent judgement, he believes the key is finding the right balance.
Conditions may also warrant a slightly difference approach at the MCG although the pitch is likely to be far removed from the turgid strip on offering in 2017-18 with the surfaces having improved significantly since then.
Malan is one of only three of England's top order who had previous Ashes experience in Australia - Jonny Bairstow would make it four in Melbourne if recalled - and with the lack of preparation ahead of the series he said the less experienced batters were having to learn on the run.
"Everyone is up for the challenge, everyone is really keen to face up to Australia," Malan said. "We do it in white-ball cricket, we take them on… so hopefully we can get that mindset and not go into our shells and just try to survive, take the game to them.
"We are almost learning in Test matches because we haven't had that preparation. A lot of the guys haven't played in Australia so are trying to find ways of facing bowlers they haven't faced before but also to get used to bounce here. This wicket might be slightly skiddier so we don't want to go out and leave and get bowled or lbw now, but it is about learning.
"I know there's a lead-up to dismissals and how bowlers set you up, but a lot of our dismissals were probably soft in the sense that we could have left them. You still have to score, but it's about making the right choices under pressure, myself included. If you look at the way they have batted, the ones who have done really well, they've left really well so it's a good learning curve for us. Hopefully it's not too late."
Mark Wood termed the meetings had in the wake of the Adelaide defeat as a "kick up the bum" while there have been reports that Ben Stokes was especially vocal. Malan insisted morale in the squad remained good and that the onus was on the players rather than the coaching staff.
"We've done a lot of talking," he said. "When you lose there'll always be reports that people are at each other. There definitely isn't. One of things we've been doing this series is a lot of chat amongst the players and encouraging players to challenge each other on a lot of things. We've had good discussions with the coaching staff and without the coaching staff. It's vitally important that we as players take responsibility.
"Ultimately we are the ones who walk onto the field. We get all the preparation and all the knowledge we need, it's up to us to put it in place. We haven't done that well enough. When we have those honest chats as players we feel we learn a lot more. Now it's about not talking anymore, it's about putting it into play."
Bairstow and Zak Crawley are in contention to come into the batting order although there is no form to judge them on. Bairstow has a century in Australia, scored alongside Malan in the 2017-18 Perth Test, while Crawley is viewed as a batter who has the potential to succeed in Australia with a strong array of back-foot shots and having made some technical adjustments since he was dropped earlier this year. In truth, however, it feels like Hobson's choice.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo