Joe Root and Dawid Malan underline the big English problem

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18 Dec 2021 | 12:11 PM
authorAakash Sivasubramaniam

Joe Root and Dawid Malan underline the big English problem

England batting faltered on day three which yet again underlined their glaring issues

David Gower, Alastair Cook, Geoff Boycott, Kevin Pietersen and now Joe Root. All of them have one thing in common, leading by example Down Under. As India showed last year, batting in Australia isn’t a one-trick pony, it requires grit, determination and batt(l)ing long periods of time without much runs. 

Batting in Australia isn’t easy but it isn’t impossible. 

Time and again, this English team, at home or in Australia, have made batting look impossible. It isn’t tough to believe but what makes it ridiculous is they do it time and again in conditions that are suited for batters.

But it wasn’t about Adelaide, it wasn’t about the tinge or the pink-ball, it was about England batting. The question always remained, can the English batters miraculously get themselves out of the scourge. Every time that question arose, Joe Root was the only plausible answer.

Root is England’s captain, he is their second highest run-scorer in Test cricket but he isn’t a messiah. As their rivals Australia only recently understood that Steve Smith alone wasn’t enough to carry a batting unit. As India understood, the middle-order is a crucial component of a Test setup. It isn’t the results that make a team formidable, it is the overused and often misunderstood word ‘process’ that changes the proceedings. 

If cricket doesn’t teach England this, their football team in the past and FC Barcelona led by Lionel Messi all must have come as a parallel lesson. On Saturday, England’s problems were highlighted, for the nth time not because of the collective failure of the rest of the unit but the success of just two individuals – Joe Root and Dawid Malan. 

On a surface that still had true bounce, against a relatively new Australian attack, England did an England and even the desperation from Malan-Root could not save them. Even though, over the last year they have been coached by Marcus Trescothick and now Graham Thorpe, the problems persist. 

England’s batting turmoil

Coming into this series, all eyes were on England’s bowling unit, whether James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson could take clues from India’s bowling books. But the vital component – the batting – always went under the radar. As time and again exposed this year, in Sri Lanka, India, at home against New Zealand and then later, against India, England’s batting has become a ‘laughing stock’. 

Sadly, the solution can’t be found just in County Cricket. Time and again, this issue props up when the team goes from a good situation into a shell-shock in just a few overs. They did that in Galle, Ahmedabad, Nottingham and most recently, Brisbane. The issue might not just be technique, personnel but rather the attitude. 

"If we don't believe, we're beaten already,” said Stokes after second day’s play in Adelaide. 

However, since the start of the year, England have scored 6071 runs in Tests, averaging 25.29 with the bat. But in terms of average runs/wicket, only Zimbabwe and West Indies have a poorer record than England with the bat. It isn’t just that, on an average, England lose a wicket every 51.3 deliveries, only Zimbabwe have a worse record. Out of the 6071 runs, Root alone has 1606 runs, that’s 26.24% of the runs scored. 

When you look at the top five run-scorers for the Three Lions this year – the problem only becomes more evident, alongside Root, there is Rory Burns and Ollie Pope. The stark difference in averages – 36.68 and 41.49 – shows the underlying problem. Pope and Burns are arguably two of the best talents in the English county, yet when it comes to the top level, they have succumbed under the pressure. 

For instance, in this beehive of dismissals this year, Burns has fished at nine times and got out, of his 15 dismissals in the entire year. Similarly, Pope’s aggression against Lyon was unwarranted and shows his biggest weakness against spin, with his 13th dismissal against spinners since 2020. Three out of those dismissals have been his own undoing, stepping down the crease.

It all boils down to simplicity, which when Australia employed worked efficiently and effectively for them, whose top six batters at an average have had a control percentage of 75.37, with David Warner leading by example (84.3%). However, on the flipside, England have had a control % of 80.88. So, where’s the problem? 

However, when you dissect the control %, you would find that three batters – Stokes, Root and Malan – have control percentages of 85.70, 86.90 and 79.50, which is one of the key reasons for the figure showing at 81.19. 

Malan and Root stand out

Since last Ashes in Australia, England have only batted through a session without losing a wicket three times and in all three occasions, Dawid Malan was involved. This series, with Joe Root, Malan has forged an inspiring partnership for the Three Lions. England have scored 300 runs for the third-wicket partnership, averaging 100, with two hundred-run partnerships.

Meanwhile, for the rest of the partnerships, England have scored just 387 runs in the series thus far, averaging 14.1, with just a fifty-run stand, which elucidates the problem. The overreliance on Malan and Root has been immense. But the key issue still lies in places that England know the best – batting. 

As much as it is not just an issue of calibre but an issue of technique, mental strength and grit, that England batters barring Root, Malan and Stokes have struggled with. The road to recovery though is tough, perhaps tougher than if it was a technical challenge. 

If the team doesn’t align in the same path, it would be a long series for England.

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Australia vs EnglandEngland tour of Australia, 2021/22EnglandJoe RootOllie PopeRory BurnsHaseeb HameedBen StokesDawid Malan

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