England has one last chance to save both the Ashes and themselves
England has one last chance to save both the Ashes, and themselves
The worst news is that Australia are 2-0 ahead, which seems far from dangerous. This is an Ashes scoreline England has never seen change in, which leaves them searching for a solution.
All departments are open to changes. Zak Crowley will be in for one Haseeb Heed or Rory Burns to try and find a stronger opening stand. The incumbent pair have played just 20 runs together in four innings before the first wicket fell. Ollie Papa's four, five, and four runs after a promising start to 35 in Brisbane have him on the block. Jonny Barstow has been talked up in Australia as his replacement. Jack Leach and Mark Wood are both ready for action, with Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad expected to be out for the second time on this tour.
Although you could say that this is the rearranging the deckchairs of the Titanic, it feels more like England is rushing to the back cars on the Train To Busan. They may be able barricade themselves into the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), which, while better than their bore draw in 2017/18, is still great for batting. These tourists can still post their first competitive total, despite being so error-prone. However, this won't guarantee their survival.
Australia's hoard is hungry for English flesh more than ever. They were meant to be gotten at, was the consensus of those who spoke up about them in the months leading up to this winter. These Ashes were not the only ones that they played in, but also the T20 World Cup before them. This proud country is not well represented in the summer pastime that they love the most. They are now getting their flowers. As world champions in the shortest form, and a resurgent force in the longest one, there are four batters, three bowlers, and two of them in the top 10. Only Josh Hazlewood, , will be in the XI on Boxing Day - another win away from retaining its urn.
Melbourne offers the chance to inflict some old school punishment. It was once the mantra of Australian cricketers to defeat England. There will be scars along the way. It is possible to score a 5-0 score and take down some of the opposition.
All of this is not news to anyone who is in the line. Joe Root is aware that his position as captain of the team will be relegated if this series is lost. Chris Silverwood, is also acutely aware that a head coach rarely survives a tough tour down under. This is especially true after nine defeats from 15 in 2021.
Rest of us are not fooled. For those who have their age on their side (e.g. Hameed (24) or Pope (23), it is possible to take comfort in the knowledge that at least it can be described as a learning experience. Defeats in Australia can be considered a right of passage. Others, like Burns (31) or Woakes (32) might find themselves on their last overseas trip. This is how the underperformance in these areas generally plays out. Ask the list of cricketers whose careers were ended by an Ashes. Some were even discarded too soon.
Broad and Anderson are not far from the truth. Their thoughts are important in many ways. The despair of the one who is given the go-ahead to make it happen; the anger of one who does not want it to end this way, knowing that he will never see a live Ashes in Australia.
They are all in this together, regardless of whether it is jobs, places, or legacies at stake. This was evident after the debriefing in Adelaide. The batters viewed replays of their dismissals, and they all had an honest conversation. There were many speakers, not just Silverwood, Root, and vice-captain Ben Stokes, and strong words about the various areas of concern.
Even though everyone was willing to recitify them all during a series with six days between Tests is not ideal, there has been some willingness. The practice at the MCG nets on Thursday showed Hameed and Burns playing on one leg (their back legs) in a drill to improve balance, especially with respect to their head position. Hameed even tried batting unassisted.
It was at best remedial work. At worst, it was just another meme-able thing for the ailing masses to pile onto this poor bunch. Straight out of the Patches O'Houlihan movie Dodgeball. This is the school of thought that, if you can dodge an axe, you can dodge any dodgeball.
It displayed both enthusiasm and despair. Humility mixed with some pretentiousness. Though they seem to have no clue, brainstorming is a great way to get ideas. It is clear that the England side is willing to do whatever it takes to stop this terrible slide and keep the Ashes alive. Even if it's just for one more test.