Adelaide has traditionally been a good surface, the kind a batter might look at and think: “I fancy that.” A good pitch with consistent bounce should provide the right balance between bat and ball, providing a good game of cricket – which is exactly what England need to play if they are going to get back into the series.
I remember going into the day-night Test as batting coach four years ago and there was concern that the twilight period would be difficult, the transition from bright natural sunlight into evening. Batters can be a fragile lot, and there was some worried talk about the ball darting around under floodlights. I’ve no idea what the science says, but sometimes it also feels that as the sun sets and temperatures drop, the pitch speeds up and the ball skids on.
In the end in 2017, I remember the wickets being reasonably evenly spread over each session, but the batters didn’t seem to have enough trust in their defence and failed to back themselves to bat for long periods of time. The impact was that they wanted to be proactive, trying to score quickly before they got a good ball. Even though the surface looked excellent, both teams played an aggressive game, scoring runs at a reasonable rate but with wickets falling regularly.
In many ways it’s not an ideal mindset, but in fact I think it might help England – because it’s the same one they might adopt in typical English conditions, where with the ball darting around the lower order would enjoy licence to play a few shots while the better batters would look to be busy, seeking quick singles, latching on to any width or anything short and trying to put bowlers under pressure.
But this approach does fly in the face of the template that England supposedly use, which is the only sensible explanation for Joe Root’s decision to bat first in Brisbane: bat big in the first innings, put their opponents under pressure, and then bowl them out twice. Maybe it’s one they have anyway been forced to rethink.
England simply have to play the conditions in front of them, and to their strengths. In Brisbane Root won the toss, took in the green pitch and the heavy cloud cover, and got his decision horribly wrong. If he had been confronted with an identical surface and forecast at Edgbaston he would have bowled first and chosen a seamer-heavy attack; in Australia he left out the best part of 1,200 Test wickets in Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, chose a spinner who can’t get a game in England, and decided to bat.
I would have thought the decision would have involved a series of discussions with the experienced coaching staff, senior players and analyst. We have been told regularly that this Ashes campaign has been two years in the making and yet despite all this England completely blew the advantage of winning the toss and briefly grasping the initiative. If the team does not recover, those involved must take responsibility.
Wrapping two senior bowlers in cotton wool in preparation for the day-night game is a dangerous gamble, because they come into it undercooked while players who have got useful match experience might be forced out. There is a weight of historical evidence that suggests if you go 1-0 down in Australia you’re in big trouble, so to do anything but select your best possible team for that game is extremely foolish – and without doubt England did not play to their strengths, which is seam bowling.
They need a new strategy to give them the best chance of winning this Test match with the players they have available. In the old days, when I played there in 1994-95 and 1998-99, Jack Leach would definitely have been picked on pitches that were quite slow and would turn, but in these circumstances I would be very surprised if he stays in. Instead they will surely go with four seamers. However, if everybody is fit and firing, it’s hard to imagine how the same people who selected the team for the first Test can include both Anderson and Broad for the second.
I expect the top seven to stay the same, which leaves four places for the bowlers. Of the three seamers who played in Brisbane, Mark Wood bowled well and at pace, and Ollie Robinson also impressed and took wickets. Leaving out Chris Woakes weakens the batting lineup, and having got some match cricket under his belt he should be fitter and sharper. That leaves Broad and Anderson fighting for one spot. In Adelaide there may be periods when the ball darts around and the bowlers move to attacking lengths to induce batters into coming forward, and other times when seamers will have to plug away and do some hard yakka, which England’s are capable of doing. The path to victory is to bang away with accurate seam bowlers.
Which is why Josh Hazlewood’s injury will help England. He might not have taken as many wickets as some of his teammates in Brisbane but he bowled well, as he did in Adelaide when England were last there. Whoever comes in to replace him, Hazlewood is a proven performer and an important cog in the Australian attack.
His absence might be quite important in the context of the series and it should give England a lift. Despite the first Test, and especially its first day, there are reasons for optimism for the tourists – but they will have to change their approach if they are to grasp any opportunities.