The England and Wales Cricket Board will complete a meticulous review of what’s required to succeed in Australia in 2021 – and the opening two days at the MCG have given insight into what’s needed.
While there is an Ashes rematch on the swinging decks of England in 2019, the ECB will also have an eye towards its next trip here and what skill base its squad must have to be a chance of toppling a robust opponent at a time when home-ground advantage may never have been stronger.
ECB chief executive Tom Harrison said while the cricketing calendar was crowded, there was still opportunity to thoroughly prepare for a marquee series.
“I think it’s about understanding where the margins can be gained. Obviously, that is a complex issue with respect to our particular structure. It’s about pitches that you play on, it’s about the kind of conditions and the kinds of players that you are creating, out of your own environment,” he said on ABC radio.
“So we’ll go back and have a look at that. As I’ve said we have a thick plan in place for both white-ball and red-ball cricket, so I will go back and have a good look at it but, hopefully, come back better prepared in four years’ time.”
A prerequisite will surely be heart and resolve, something England showed in dismissing Australia for 327 on Wednesday, including claiming 7-67 from the moment Steve Smith dragged a wide delivery onto his stumps and became the maiden Test wicket of Tom Curran.
In reply, the tourists will resume day three on 2-192, with Alastair Cook unbeaten and having celebrated his 32nd Test century, and skipper Joe Root (49 not out) intent on building a big lead on a flat drop-in pitch.
Curran, after the disappointment of having David Warner dismissed off a no-ball on Boxing Day, deserved his reward but it was veteran leaders Stuart Broad and James Anderson who finally delivered in tandem.
Broad, with only five wickets through the opening three Tests, would reap four, while Anderson would finish with three and maximise reverse swing. That three Australians played on prompted the debate over whether it was more the batsman’s fault rather than canny bowling that reaped the wickets, but it did not matter.
What Broad and Anderson reinforced is how important it is that the team’s leaders show the way in a series when the spotlight is at its fiercest.
Broad said he had fallen into a “mental trap” of not wanting to concede runs in the Perth Test when he was wicketless and conceded 142 runs, but had adopted a more aggressive mindset here. He said he deserved criticism in Perth and conceded he might have been playing for his future in Melbourne.
“I have worked incredibly hard this week physically and mentally. I did some work on a few days off looking at certain things and then running hard in the nets trying to get a feeling of that rhythm back. Today, we got lucky with a couple of chop-ons and a couple of wickets Australia were probably disappointed with but we were delighted with,” Broad said.
“It’s been a pretty tough couple of weeks really but it makes playing and taking wickets very rewarding.”
Cook and Root then got in on the act with an undefeated century stand. Cook, profiting from a life on 66 when dropped by Smith at slip, broke out from his tour-long funk to deliver an innings neither he nor the 67,882 fans on hand will forget in a hurry.
This was Cook at his best, with sublime cover and straight drives and pull shots. The absence of Mitchell Starc was felt and Pat Cummins was ill, sleeping through the entire tea break, but Cook scored more on this day than he had in the previous three Tests combined. Had England’s greatest Test run-scorer found touch earlier in the series, the summer could have taken on a different complexion.
“I think every time you step on the field you are pretty much playing for your career really – that’s the pressure of international cricket,” Broad said.
“You never know how things will go – you just need to focus on making sure that your mindset is right, your work ethic is right, you are doing everything you can to be at your best.
“It shows a huge amount of character to be under that scrutiny and pressure and come out and deliver any sort of performance, let alone a hundred like Cooky has just done.”
Regardless of the result in Melbourne, there will be much for the ECB to discuss.
A lack of a pure speedster has been one reason given for the tourists’ troubles, for it’s meant they cannot consistently attack with the short ball in a bid to at least unsettle their opponents. Australia, with three pure quicks in Josh Hazlewood, Cummins and, for the opening three Tests, Starc, have been able to trouble batsmen through swing and seam when pitching up and also through intimidating short-pitched deliveries.
“Australia have been very good here. You look at most of the [Ashes] series – a lot of the home teams have won. Since ’05, we have won at home,” Broad said.
Harrison said the ceding of the Ashes urn had been “hugely disappointing”, with Root’s team unable to dominate the key moments.
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