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News

Graham Thorpe calls on England's batters to save Sydney Test

Bairstow, Buttler and Stokes backed to battle through injuries to play their part

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
08-Jan-2022
Jonny Bairstow walks off after making 113, Australia vs England, Men's Ashes, 4th Test, 4th day, Sydney, January 8, 2022

Jonny Bairstow walks off after making 113  •  CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Graham Thorpe has called on England's batters to save the Sydney Test and prove that they have absorbed the lessons of a tough campaign, as he backed the team's walking wounded of Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes to do everything they can to be ready for what could yet prove to be their final appearances of the tour.
Neither Bairstow, who sustained a blow to the thumb during his first-innings century, nor Buttler, who struggled to grip his bat while making a duck in the same innings, took the field on Saturday after being sent for X-rays, leaving Ollie Pope to step up behind the stumps - a role he performed with aplomb with four catches to equal the record for a substitute fielder.
And while Thorpe insisted both men would be ready to bat when required -as would Stokes, who remained on the field despite suffering a side strain on the second day of the match - England were grateful for an extra night's rest for each player, as openers Haseeb Hameed and Zak Crawley made it through to the close on 30 for 0 after 11 overs of resistance.
"With some of the injuries we've got, we're going to need two, three or four of our players to really stand up and bat for a long time," Thorpe said. "I want us to play positively, with a good mental approach, and I was pleased with the way Zak and Has went about it tonight.
"They moved well, and you could see their intent, defending well and being able to put away the ball which came along to actually score off. That's important too, because scoring runs is important for your confidence, even when you're trying to play for a draw."
In a measure of England's struggles with the bat in this series, the pair's partnership has already exceeded England's previous best for the first wicket - 23, between Hameed and Rory Burns at Brisbane. And though it wasn't plain-sailing to the close, with Crawley gloving a lifter from Scott Boland over the slips for four, Thorpe said that the mental fortitude to roll with such moments was a vital part of any batter's armoury.
"The odd one is kicking up off a length, so the guys have got to have a clear mind that that's going to happen from time to time and, if you're unlucky, you're unlucky," Thorpe said. "Zak got a little bit of luck tonight but he needs to keep that really positive attitude to the game tomorrow.
"It's been challenging for some of them technically and mentally," Thorpe added. "And that's the biggest thing for the younger players who are trying to establish themselves and own a place in the team. They've got opportunities tomorrow to do that. To stay in the team, you have to perform [like] Jonny, who played fantastically in an innings of great courage and skill.
"That's the same thing we want to see again in our second innings. It was a good start tonight. But we need a hell of a lot more of it again tomorrow."
England have had one near-miss in a rearguard already this series, after Buttler's doughty 26 from 207 balls was unable to carry England to safety on the final day at Adelaide. It remains to be seen whether he'll be capable of performing to that level again after bruising his hand while keeping on the second day, but Thorpe was hopeful that the commitment he showed in that innings would rub off on his team-mates.
"Each individual can assess how they play," he said. "You saw how Jos went about it in Adelaide. I still like people to be positive in the way they're thinking and the ability to score runs as well, because it puts you in a better place. But it's about little blocks of time as well tomorrow. Ten overs each, trying to work together as partnerships.
"We've obviously got some blows to some fingers, but I'm sure the lads will take whatever they need to take to get themselves into a position where they're capable of performing tomorrow," he added. "So they'll all bat and they will do their very best. I know that."
However, with 98 overs scheduled on the final day, Thorpe believes that England will need to improve their decision-making if they are to avoid slumping to their fourth defeat of the series. He singled out England's captain, Joe Root, as an example of a player who could have done better in the first innings, after edging to slip for a duck during England's collapse on the third morning.
"It was a poor shot in the first innings, and we played some poor shots, pushing at balls which you don't need to push at," Thorpe said. "They're aware of it and they kick themselves when they come in. But that is the game. You have to make those decisions and get them right on the pitch.
"I do believe that some of the young players in this team will have very good and long Test careers, but they have to be able to front up and accept some of their failings - whether it be technically or mentally - in periods on this tour.
"I know that they're trying to correct it. And I'm hoping that some of these younger guys will be far better players down the line with their awareness, their smartness, their decision-making absolutely key.
"Everyone goes on about technique, but you've got to make good decisions constantly when you're out in the middle and that requires a good temperament. And that's what players are always being assessed on, whether they're going to be good enough to do that down the line."
With the ball, England showed spirit in adversity - reducing Australia to 86 for 4 in their second innings before Usman Khawaja and Cameron Green took the game away again in a fifth-wicket stand of 179.
"It was very tough," Thorpe said. "At the beginning of the week, we said 'let's try and show a good attitude'. Let's keep trying to turn up. Test cricket is hard sometimes, and you need individuals. I thought our bowlers kept going - Mark Wood has been incredibly unlucky at times, I thought he's bowled fantastically well on this trip, and it was good for Jack Leach as well just to pick up [four] wickets for himself.
"But this is the harsh end of the game, and our batters have also seen that as well. Tomorrow's another opportunity."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket