England face tricky selection dilemma
LONDON – The selectors have much to ponder after England slumped to a crushing 405-run defeat by Australia in the second Ashes test at Lord’s on Sunday with calls for change in the top order coming a week after the team were lauded for their first-test victory.
After producing an excellent all-round performance to pull off a surprise 169-run win over their arch-rivals in Cardiff, England were completely outplayed on a similarly flat pitch.
What was the same in both games, however, was England losing top order wickets cheaply — the difference at Lord’s being that the middle order did not come to the rescue.
Batsmen Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell and Joe Root failed twice and although Root’s place is not under threat following his brilliant century in Cardiff, the inability to get off to a good start is clearly a major concern.
England have traditionally been renowned for making knee-jerk changes to the team but under new coach Trevor Bayliss they will be reluctant to go down that route again.
However, loyalty only goes so far and Jonny Bairstow, who has been in prolific form for Yorkshire, could be brought in with Root perhaps promoted to number three.
“I am not really sure,” said England captain Alastair Cook when asked about potential changes to the order.
“It is something the selectors might have to look at. It’s down to the players, I don’t think it is where people bat. People have got to get stuck in and we did not quite manage to do that in this game.”
Since scoring a century against New Zealand in May, Lyth, Cook’s latest opening partner, has done nothing to suggest he could be a long-term solution after Michael Carberry, Nick Compton, Sam Robson and Jonathan Trott failed to cement their places.
“Over the last few games now, we have been three-down for 40-odd, and it’s hard to always expect the middle order to get us out of trouble,” Cook said.
“That is obviously an area of concern.”
There are question marks over the bowling attack too.
James Anderson, England’s leading test wicket-taker, failed to claim a single victim at Lord’s, the first time that has happened since the match against South Africa in Johannesburg in 2010.
Anderson needs pitches with more life than those prepared at Cardiff and Lord’s, though Cook insists England have not been asking groundsmen to prepare flat, slow wickets.
Stuart Broad did bowl well, pitching the ball up more than Anderson or Mark Wood and earning his reward with four wickets in Australia’s first innings.
Ben Stokes also failed to take a wicket as the fourth seamer and England may be tempted for a left-field call-up of uncapped Mark Footitt, who has genuine pace and would provide left-arm variety, in place of Wood.
Australia were not afraid to make changes following their loss in Cardiff, bringing in all-rounder Mitchell Marsh for the more experienced Shane Watson and wicketkeeper Peter Nevill.
The energetic Marsh chipped in with key wickets at Lord’s while Nevill had a fine match with the gloves and scored a useful 45 in the first innings.
England will mull similar moves but the smart money is on an unchanged side taking the field in the third test at Edgbaston as they seek to establish continuity and stability at the start the Cook/Bayliss era. -Reuters