“Oh Manchester, so much to answer for” lamented the Smiths back in 1984 but it was a couple of other Smiths who grabbed the headlines during this absorbing contest at Old Trafford. Steven for Australia scored a double hundred, Ed for England, picked the same batting line up. This was where England lost the Ashes in Manchester but the reality is that they were lost from the moment that England persisted with a side, that was as fragile as the cotton that gave this city its Victorian wealth. It was a selection that showed myopia, that culminated in this loss down the road from Longsight. Our Prime Minister had less of a humbling defeat in the Commons this week. This is the review of those bloody Australians beating us again…
England brought in Craig Overton to a few raised eyebrows from the cricketing cognoscenti. I was more interested to see if he reviewed a decision – I wanted to see an Overton overturn. The batting positions were changed so much, that even John Bercow would have been shouting "Order". Denly and Roy were swapped, Overton watched the flocks by night and England were all at sea, on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal.
It started with rain, wind, freezing temperatures and general misery – a typical summer’s day in Manchester then really. The rain fell down, on a humdrum town as The Smiths said, before Warner departed early. Stuart Broad will go home and empty his trousers out every night – house keys…check, car keys…check, money…check, David Warner…ah yes. The problem is this brings in Steve Smith to the crease earlier.
All series the Aussie has been different league. Not just to any of his peers currently but to any batsman that I have seen ever. Weight of runs outweighs aesthetics in the case of Smith, he’s frustrating to watch because he is such an ugly batsman but you just cannot take away his contribution in the scorebook. When his luck is in, he goes large. Here, he rode his luck – he was caught off a no ball from Leach but he scored a magnificent 211 before getting bored and reversing Joe Root to short third man. Leach’s overstepping of the mark was the most expensive seen in the city since Joey Barton was fined two week’s wages for stubbing out a cigar in a team mate's eye. There was even time for the returning Mitchell Starc to grab a fifty as the Aussies declared on 497. Archer was down on his pace. Let’s hope he isn’t another England bowler that we have turned into an 82mph medium pacer. His role in the side is to bowl quick.
Everything and anything went wrong for England. It was like they were watching our politicians in Westminster and said, “Hold my pint…”
England batted and lost Denly and Overton early. Hazlewood and Cummins have been outstanding. Hunting in packs, they’ve been like outback dingos hunting down the weaker sheep in the England line up. Smith has been a difference but having three quality seamers here who chuck it down at 88 or 89mph made a massive difference, especially on a slow pitch where you needed to bend your back. Burns and Root batted well against them. The Surrey man was particularly impressive, dropping his hands and weaving the short stuff before Hazlewood pinned Root in front. Cummins pumped the tyres up, Hazlewood rode the bike. Buttler chipped in with a few before Starc blew the tail away. The follow on was saved but England were up against it.
Warner was out for his customary duck before Smith got his lowest score of the series. He scored a paltry 82 before holing out to long off from Jack Leach. Archer was back up to full pace, riled by some poor chat from Wade. The Aussies declared on 186, leaving England 383 to win. A draw was the best they could hope for.
So it came to Sunday and England had to bat all day to keep the Ashes at 1-1. Root had been castled first ball by a beauty from Cummins the previous evening but on the Sabbath, it is the day that the Rev. Ben Stokes goes to work. Could he keep the series alive? Sadly he was soon out but a rear guard action gave us all a bit of hope. Leach enthralled his fan club before popping the part time Labuschagne to short leg and finally Overton was out lbw. It was Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust for England’s Ashes hopes.
This isn’t a good Australian side by any means. The 2005 side would have been all over them. Smith is a top player and their seam attack has been outstanding. However, they do have a lot of dead wood in their side including probably four or five players who are not international standard.
They’re still better than us though and that is what is so disappointing from an English viewpoint. Take away the Ben Stokes magic in Leeds and it would be 3-0. I don't care if we have won the World Cup this summer, this is the Ashes. A home Ashes series should matter, prep or no prep. If the players are tired, get in some who aren't. It's not like the Aussies didn't have a World Cup either. We've been crap all summer, save Stokes knock, Burns ton or the odd Archer spell. Too many England players have gone missing.
When things have gone against the Aussies, Cummins and Hazlewood have run in hard and made things happen. When things go against England they lack ideas and look forlorn. This side looks beaten. Beaten up.
|Piggy...seeing it like a beach ball|
England now need to make wholesale changes. Whilst the series was alive, I advocated changes at opener and four with experienced players. Now it is gone, it is time for us to invest in youth. The side needs a rebuild. Having a seven who has got one Test hundred and fulfils no other role in the side is luxurious at best. The lack of red ball specialists has hurt us and too many of our batsmen get bowled. Things will only get worse whilst the powers that be at the ECB chase the dollar and invest in a second short format game to the detriment of players who spend time occupying the crease. It’s time for Bayliss to go, after the longest notice period in history. Ed Smith needs to follow him out of the door too. The captain and the coach have to be involved in selection, so they are accountable, along with a head of selection. The new coach needs to be strong and not let Ed be the judge and jury. As the Smiths said, "Stop me if you’ve heard this one before". It’s the same mistakes being made over and over.
This was misery in Manchester. A new era surely beckons? How soon is now?