England’s coaching staff are in isolation, the extended contingent too found themselves in a tangle. They are already 3-0 down and there are no signs of any batter picking up the pace. The same goes for their bowlers, who despite showing comparatively better fight than their batters, have lacked the spunk to pick wickets on regular intervals, conceding over 400 runs twice already. To add insult to injury, Ollie Robinson, their best bowler in the series so far, is out of the Sydney Test due to a shoulder niggle.
Thus from the looks of it, there is nothing that suggests England can break the shackle in Sydney. Perhaps, this, if nothing else, is a testament to their degrading prowess in the longest format of the game as much as an indictment of their system that prioritizes limited-overs cricket over the white-clad boys.
However, the board members would still argue that England play more Test matches than any other country in the world. They have a robust top-level structure that provides all sorts of muscles to boost the unit. They have specific players, with specific roles and specific knowledge. If all of that doesn’t produce a decent result for almost a year, the exact reason has to be deeper than that. Dissecting that and executing a formal tackling framework is the need of the hour, which hopefully, this Ashes defeat would do.
But then again, that is hope against the tide. A tide so strong that has already dismantled the base to leave the abyss in a doldrum. Australia know it, the Sydneysiders know it, and before the Poms could make any sense of it, they would probably be holding the ground by an inch, if not being blown away once again. When Root was asked to offer an answer, he gave a rather sordid one, that spoke more about their desperation and cluelessness than actually living up to the hype of the contest.
“We can dwell on what has happened but we need to take opportunities as they present themselves now and move forward as a team, prove we’re learning from the experiences we have faced on this trip. That is the biggest challenge for us. Can we make sure we are showing improvement and able to stand up to that pressure and put performances in on this stage after a couple of difficult defeats? It can be the making of a side and that is the approach we have to take,” Root said ahead of the Sydney Test.
Australia, on the other hand, are pretty solid and sorted in every single aspect of the game. Notwithstanding Marcus Harris’ travails as an opener, David Warner offered stoicism at the top, followed by Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith’s feistiness. While Smith hasn’t scored as much as he would have liked, his presence has added that extra sense of security which wouldn’t deter them much even if it means losing their highest run-scorer of the series to Covid-19. Travis Head’s absence has disturbed a bit of their balance but Usman Khawaja has got the experience to fill in.
A Test average of 40.66 tells you that Khawaja is no pushover in the format, especially at home. He averages 52.97 in Australia with balls per dismissal ratio of 105.0. At the Sydney Cricket Ground, Khawaja’s Test average bolsters to 70.4 and the balls per dismissal ratio rises to 154. It is that spunkiness that the Aussies would hope to add to their arsenal in order to further crush the Englishmen.
Khawaja’s addition will, however, mean that Mitchell Swepson, Australia’s second spinner, sitting in the dugout once again. With Scott Bolland doing what he did at the MCG, there is no way Sydney, despite being favourable to spinners than other Australian venues, will be able to accommodate Swepson. But that will be Australia’s least of the problems.
"I don't think anywhere in Australia I've played on in the last few years has dictated two spinners," Cummins pointed out. "We'd love to have that option, he's (Swepson) a class bowler, itching to get him in the side one day. We think he will debut at some stage, most likely with the amount of subcontinent tours we've got coming up that's going to be his opportunity. You never know, we might turn up one day and have a dust bowl here, but I'd say overseas is most likely."
But the English fans would look at this conundrum with a bit of jealousy - especially at a moment they are scratching the bottom of the barrel to find some ideas in order to go back home with a bit of respect. It is not an ideal campaign but the Kangaroos wouldn’t leave a stone unturned to make it one for them. Over to Sydney. Happy New Year.
The visitors have announced that Stuart Broad will be back for the Sydney Test after impressive Ollie Robinson has been ruled out due to a shoulder niggle. It is a huge blow for them as Robinson has already pocketed 26 wickets in the series so far.
England XI: Haseeb Hameed, Zak Crawley, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Mark Wood, Jack Leach, Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson.
Australia have also made just one change to their plans, with Usman Khawaja replacing Travis Head who is recovering from Covid-19. Josh Hazlewood and Jhye Richardson are still not fit.
Australia XI: Marcus Harris, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith, Usman Khawaja, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Scott Boland, Nathan Lyon