by George Willoughby and Reece Chambers
Whilst England have continued to thrive in the limited over formats, Test cricket has somewhat been marred by psychological frailties.
Most notably, England’s batting line-up appears to lack mental strength. Since England’s 4-0 defeat to Australia in the 2017 Ashes, we’ve seen various opening combinations, and a consistent inability to entrust a stable top-order.
Part of the problem stems from not being able to replace players such as Ian Bell, Jonathon Trott, Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and more recently Alistair Cook. The aforementioned players were consistent performers, and most importantly you could depend on them to score runs when the team needed it most. That ability to persevere and produce in the most testing of environments is what sets them apart from the plethora of new batsmen that are trying to replicate their greatness.
Test cricket challenges a player in so many different ways, especially its physical demands. However, a critical aspect of the format is mental strength, and this is where England are currently faltering. It has become an all too regular occurrence seeing the side bowled out cheaply after a major top-order collapse. There is no stability in the batting order which is having adverse effects on the confidence of incoming batsmen.
This relates to the squad as a whole and not just the inexperienced players. England’s test team is made up of several members from the one-day side, and yes, some skills are definitely transferable, but there are many parts that are not. You have to remain disciplined and play the game situation. This involves having a sound defence, a good leave, and choosing the right time to be more expansive.
The most recent Test match with Ireland was a prime example of England’s mental vulnerabilities at the crease. Stumbling to an embarrassing 85 all-out in the first innings epitomised the constant unnecessary dismissals which have plagued the national side’s progression in Test cricket.
Credit to Ireland who capitalised on England’s naivety, but this was a sub-standard bowling unit who are significantly inferior in comparison to Australia’s attack. England were yet again bailed out by some top-class bowling. But, recovery with the ball in hand should not overshadow the glaring failures of day one with the bat.
England have only won two of the last six series they have been involved in, and synonymous with their recent struggles has been the lack of partnerships. Simple correlation with Test cricket is that if you fail to have lengthy partnerships throughout your innings, you are destined to struggle.
A shortage of partnerships commonly transcends into lower scores, and the stats prove this.
Here is a closer look at the statistics in some of England’s recent Test series:
The noticeable trend is a link between the number of partnerships above 50 and the number of scores below 250.
The vulnerabilities in England’s batting are highlighted in the series lost. Unable to establish meaningful partnerships, the Three Lions posted modest totals on a regular and costly basis. The Sri Lanka series provided a better outlook on England’s performance, as they were able to bat with greater poise resulting in bigger totals. Test cricket provides the opportunity for batsmen to spend time at the crease and craft an innings. England have fallen short over the last few years because of losing wickets far too cheaply, and this is a mentality issue.
England have to be more mentally resilient if they are to avoid the collapses we have witnessed in recent series.
Time to stand up and be counted
The England batting order that will be facing up against some of the world’s best bowlers has a lot to prove. Three of the opening four batsmen – Burns (7), Roy (1) and Denly (3) – only have 11 Test caps between them. Therefore, this is an incredible opportunity to prove their worth on the biggest stage of all.
Such inexperience can swing both ways – it’s not entirely negative or positive. It may give them their golden chance, or it may get the better of them. Only time will tell to see how they react in such an intense environment.
If England are to regain the Ashes from Australia, it’s going to take a monumental effort from the entire England set-up. Most crucially, it will be up to the senior figures in the squad – Root, Anderson, et al. – to provide calm within the storm.
Part of Root’s decision to move back to number three from four was due to his experience as a player:
“It’s an opportunity for me to get in there earlier to spread out the experience. It’s a really good chance for me to cement this spot and make it my own,” said Root.
Such comments quite clearly point to a lack of experience within the batting line-up, but it’s something England will be hoping to build on.
The Ashes is a competition that can produce some of the most unlikely sporting moments, so don’t rule anything out. England are a side void of confidence at Test level, but they will be hoping this Ashes can be the dawn of a new era for the Test side.
What’s needed this summer is a well-balanced combination of experience and courage to show that this England team can seriously challenge the Australian side.