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Trevor Bayliss said he cannot see a reason to change England’s team for the third Test in Perth, in which case he cannot have been watching the same Ashes series as me.
I am all for minimum panic, but England are two-down after two, and while there have been moments where they have competed hard with Steve Smith’s Australia, they have not been sustained for long enough to even come close to winning a match.
One more slip in Perth and the Ashes are toast for a few years, a drastic situation that requires, for me, at least one major shift in tactics – and that is to attack Nathan Lyon.
Lyon is a fine bowler now who leads the world in 2017 with 57 Test wickets. So far, he has posed a threat with almost every ball that he has bowled, especially against England’s left-handers, who look like lame ducks when facing him. That peril, in tandem with the rest and recovery he affords Australia’s three quick bowlers when he ties up an end, has made life very difficult for England.
A similar conundrum occurred during the 1982/83 Ashes tour. Bruce Yardley, another off-spinner, was doing a similar job to Lyon for Australia. On that occasion, the fast bowling force he was invigorating comprised Jeff Thomson, Geoff Lawson and Rodney Hogg, which meant England’s batsmen were always guaranteed a torrid time at least from one end.
After going two down after three Tests, we decided on all-out attack against Yardley at the MCG and promptly won the match, albeit by the narrow margin of three runs. Up until that fourth Test, Yardley’s run-rate per over had been below 2.5. But at The ‘G,’ we pushed it up almost to 4.0, which in turn put pressure on the fast bowlers to bowl more overs as Greg Chappell, Australia’s captain, could not keep him on as long without risking the game getting away from him.
I played in the match and can clearly recall Thommo getting hacked off as the over-rate slowed and they were still in the field 80 minutes after the scheduled close – all because we’d stopped Yardley performing his usual role.
I’m sure Root’s England will try to do the same to Lyon at the WACA, though they do have the problem of having four left-handers in their top six. With Lyon turning the ball away from them and getting extra bounce into the bargain, it is not practical for them to be his nemesis.
Any assault, then, would have to come from England’s right-handers who, starting with moving Jonny Bairstow up to six instead of Moeen, must be better deployed. Ideally, another right-hander would come in but England have only one spare in the squad, Ben Foakes. His problem is that he has practised mixing energy drinks for team mates more often than his batting of late, though that will change now he is playing in the tour match in Perth at the weekend.
If he does not look too rusty I’d get him in at the expense of Dawid Malan, whom the Aussie pace bowlers looked to have worked out by coming round the wicket. Malan doesn’t deserve to be dropped but dire circumstances require adventurous solutions.
Of course it won’t be a question of hitting out at all costs. England will have to be savvy about how, and when, they go about attacking Lyon. Unless obvious areas of rough open up, Lyon will mostly bowl at the Lillee Marsh End so the batsmen are hitting into the Fremantle Doctor, a brisk wind that rises from the southwest in Perth after lunch.
Four years ago, England’s batsmen were encouraged to attack Lyon because Mitchell Johnson had been bowling very fast. With the Doctor blowing hard it was the sucker’s option to hit him over the top though that did not stop Kevin Pietersen from taking it, with predictable conclusion when he was caught on the boundary.
Of course, Australia will suspect such a ruse from England and could counter, after the selectors added Mitch Marsh to the squad, by playing an all-rounder. But such is their confidence at the moment, as shown by their refusal to make England follow-on in Adelaide, that they probably won’t bother.
I suspect that Bayliss, who knows that the WACA tends to offer bounce more than spin, won’t change much either. Usually, I’m for minimal tinkering but England are fooling themselves if they think they are close to beating the Aussies on what has gone in the series so far.
The only other strategic change I might make is to give Root the option of having some real pace up his sleeve, by picking Mark Wood. Like Malan, none of the pace bowlers deserve to be dropped but Australia’s tail has so far hung around to good effect, so England need somebody to discourage them.
The only trouble is, Wood has been injured of late and has not played much cricket though like Foakes he will play in England’s tour game over the weekend. This is a ‘must win’ Test for England, even if such a result spits in the face of history, so the odd gamble would not be out of place. In any case, playing him in a five-man attack is not a huge risk.
When England were whitewashed four years ago, Andy Flower largely resisted change unless it was forced upon him, such as when Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann flew home. Then, when England were 4-0 down and morale was at a nadir, he made some barmy calls – picking the nervous Boyd Rankin and summoning Scott Borthwick from playing Sydney Grade cricket – for the final Test at the SCG.
Predictably, England got hammered but the fall-out was extreme and continued long after Australia’s celebrations had ceased. Flower stepped down to take up a quieter role with the ECB Academy; Pietersen was permanently dropped from playing for England; Rankin returned to being Irish again, while Borthwick moved to Surrey where he is seemingly out of the equation when it comes to England selection.
This time, the moment for change is now, just not so extreme.