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Australia’s day-night dominance puts England Ashes tactics under scrutiny | Ali Martin

It would be tempting to look up to the heavens for inspiration in the City of Churches but the burden of selection falls chiefly on the shoulders of Joe Root before a day-night Ashes Test that has very quickly taken on paramount importance.

Root was referred to as “player” by the crowd during his first Ashes tour, such was his lack of profile at the time, but eight years on he has won more Test matches, 27, than any other man to lead the England team. By his own admission, however, winning back the urn in Australia this winter will still define how history remembers his tenure and so, sitting 1-0 down, the next five days (and nights) appear to be crunch time.

For all this talk of legacy and the like, Root wears the pressure remarkably lightly. Speaking two days out from the second Test at the magnificent Adelaide Oval he was certainly in a cheerful, upbeat mood, insisting that while his team may have been royally dusted up at the Gabba last week, this camp felt different to the doomed visits of the recent past. He did not sound like a captain being disingenuous.

Less certain, however, was the makeup of a team that need not just to stop the rot, but do so against an Australia team that boast eight wins from eight with the pink ball at home.

Root and Chris Silverwood, the head coach, have found themselves wrestling with whether to pick the most balanced attack by way of variety or simply the best four frontline bowlers at their disposal.

Bar any last-minute injuries – and the sight of Ollie Pope taking one flush in the box on Tuesday underlined the importance of this caveat – changes to the top seven seem unlikely.

It was here where the Brisbane Test was chiefly lost, that harrowing 147 all out on the opening day too damaging to overcome. But while the photographers and TV cameras swarmed when it was the turn of Rory Burns to enter the nets, that first-ball duck likely to haunt him for some time yet, one Test feels too soon for an overhaul.

Stuart Broad talks to teammates during training at the Adelaide Oval. His inclusion is one of England’s big decisions before Thursday’s second Test.
Stuart Broad talks to teammates during training at the Adelaide Oval. His inclusion is one of England’s big decisions before Thursday’s second Test. Photograph: Brenton Edwards/AFP/Getty

It is in choosing the attack where Root might be hoping for a sign. One certainty at least is that Jimmy Anderson will return. He has a point to prove in Adelaide, his second innings five-wicket haul here four years ago unable to reverse a less impressive first, and having sat out Brisbane as a precaution, the 39-year-old is primed and ready to make his entrance to this series in arguably the grandest of Australian cricket grounds these days.

But beyond this comes the issue of variety and perhaps even ability with the bat. Like his old new-ball partner, Stuart Broad is similarly pushing to play after a tactical omission. The question is, which two make way if so? Jack Leach appears the obvious candidate by way of numbers after being repeatedly hit towards Fortitude Valley at the Gabba yet this would leave an all-seam attack (plus Root’s off-breaks). And working on the basis that Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood were the best on show last week, Chris Woakes stepping down would leave a kangaroo’s tail by way of length.

Quick Guide

Second Test: possible teams

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Australia (possible): David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Jhye Richardson, Nathan Lyon
England (possible): Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson

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“I think you have to trust your batters to score the majority of your runs first and foremost,” said Root. “I think you have to [play your best bowlers]. It’s so important to take 20 wickets. It’s something we’ve not always done very well on previous tours. To win Test matches, you’ve got to take 20 wickets. Of course runs are also very important but you ain’t winning unless you bowl sides out.”

As has long been the case in this England team, plenty hinges on Ben Stokes. The all-rounder was clearly undercooked last week, his bowling marred by repeatedly over-stepping and a knee niggle also flaring up. The latter is not a concern, Stokes has since insisted, but rather something that has been managed for a few years. And on Tuesday he charged in to bowl in the nets for a lengthy spell that augured well here.

Logically this should give hope to Leach or Dom Bess, the second spinner on tour; so, too, the 22 yards of earth prepared by the curator, Damian Hough. “Patchy” was the word used by Travis Head, who plays his state cricket for South Australia. “Spin plays a huge role. Whenever we played Nathan Lyon here [in the Sheffield Shield] he’s always been near impossible to hit with the bounce and turn he can get from this wicket.”

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Day-night Test cricket is such a capricious, nascent format though. The early talk that batting would be easy during the day but tricky at night has not always rung true. England were skittled for 58 by New Zealand in Auckland in 2018 and India for 36 by Australia at this ground 12 months ago, yet both collapses occurred in broad daylight. And two years ago David Warner made an unbeaten 335 in a day-night Test against Pakistan during which he treated the evening session as a time to party.

Little wonder therefore that, when asked how difficult he finds selection, Root replied: “Can I tell you after the game?”. It was said with the smile of a seasoned cricketer who knows that even the best-laid plans can be still at the mercy of those up above.

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