England seek fast answers after Ashes loss

December 19, 2017

The loss of the Ashes after just three Tests of the 2017-18 series has prompted the inquests to begin already - with many fearing England could now lose 5-0 for the third time in four visits.

While Steve Smith's batting dominance has piled up the runs for Australia, it is their fast bowlers who have made the biggest difference. Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood have all played starring roles on pitches where it is sheer speed, rather than guile and swing, that makes the difference.

Their successes against the English batsmen - in six innings only Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow have made centuries - have contrasted with the relative failure of England's attack. While James Anderson has taken 12 wickets at 25.83 so far, that included his 5-43 in favourable conditions with the pink ball in the Adelaide dusk. Otherwise, the near-absence of swing in Australia's drier conditions with the Kookaburra ball has robbed England of a key bowling weapon. Deprived of the kind of conditions in which they have thrived with the Dukes ball at home and lacking pace, they have struggled with the red ball under the hot sun. 
While it is also true that Australia's off-spinner Nathan Lyon has massively outbowled England's Moeen Ali - who has just three wickets to his name so far - there has been a major focus on the lack of English bowlers with the pace to match Australia's firepower.

England have certainly been unfortunate in terms of injuries when it comes to their faster bowlers. Steven Finn went home with a knee injury and Liam Plunkett has not been considered because of hamstring trouble and a recent lack of red-ball cricket. Mark Wood injured his heel in the summer and has been working his way back to fitness with the Lions. Quicker than Hazelwood, if not Starc and Cummins, Wood may return in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne.

Finn told Cricinfo this week he is concerned about the effect of slow pitches and the grind of county cricket on aspiring pacemen, but this series may now spur the selectors into seeking to do more to nurture the quickest bowlers in England. Given that not so long ago England had the fearsome trio of Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones, it is quite possible another battery of express bowlers could soon emerge.

Indeed, fans booking corporate hospitality for next summer's final Test between England and India at the Kia Oval may see several young pacemen get a chance in the side to add an extra dimension. The likes of Ollie Stone, Jamie Overton and Tom Barber have all been mentioned. Could the selectors take a gamble on raw pace against an Indian side whose recent prolific run-scoring has all been made on slow subcontinental pitches? 

Apart from the bowling, there have been major concerns over former captain Alastair Cook, England's all-time leading Test run-scorer, who made his 150th test appearance in Perth. His poor form - just 83 runs in three Tests - has led to speculation he may soon call it quits. 

Surrey fans will expect Mark Stoneman to get an extended run on the side, but after years of England seeking an opening partner for Cook after the retirement of Andrew Strauss, it may be another opener is needed soon. Candidates could even include his colleague at the Kia Oval, Jason Roy.

Image: Gareth Copley/Getty from Keith Prowse subscription

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