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The Ashes are over - but England battle for pride

Monday, 9 December 2013 - 9:08am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
Alastair Cook's loss of form is biggest worry as England continue to unravel and face a humiliating demise, writes Geoffrey Boycott in a column for The Daily Telegraph.

The more I look at England the more they remind me of Manchester United: a team on the way down and not on the way up. They have had their glory years. Look, there is no chance of us retaining the Ashes. Not a cat in hell's chance. What they have to work out is how they are going to get some pride back in the team. They cannot do that unless they bat with more common sense and stop gifting wickets away. The last time we made 400 was in New Zealand, a run stretching back 19 innings.

Unless we see consistent better batting the whole team will unravel. We are not only going to be humiliated by Australia, but it is hard to imagine them playing well next year. I saw Hugh Morris, the managing director, yesterday morning and told him 'you are getting out at the right time'. He hands over to Paul Downton in January and he has a huge job on his hands. It is whether he has got the balls to tell some of these players that batting like this is not good enough.

Saying they have done it in the past will not wash. We have an out-of-form Matt Prior playing three poor shots, Graeme Swann bowling poorly, Kevin Pietersen looking as if he is disinterested at times, and on top of that we have a captain in Alastair Cook who cannot make a run. The biggest worry is Cook. He is one of the best run-getters in the world and he is struggling to play a fluent innings. Last summer in England, and during two Tests in this series, you have felt it has been hard work for him to score any sort of runs and you get the impression it is wearing him down. I sense there is a frustration, irritation in his batting because he cannot find first gear. There is no comfort zone, there are no easy runs for him and what compounds it is his opposite number Michael Clarke has made two huge centuries.

Australia have worked Alastair out. They give him nothing to score off his legs or hip and they are winning the battle. Apparently the team had a meeting to discuss the first-innings collapse. That was right. That was the way forward but whatever was said, it went in one ear and out of the other. Here was our captain, who is supposed to set the tone, hooking Mitchell Johnson down fine leg's throat in the second over of the day, which shows his brain is scrambled. We have some serious problems.

There is a new opening batsman, Michael Carberry, and kid in Joe Root who is up and down the order like a yo-yo. When Tim Bresnan is not fit we are not convinced about our best third seamer. We played Chris Tremlett in Brisbane, who was a yard down on pace. We now play Ben Stokes in Adelaide who is a decent cricketer but not ready for Test cricket. He would be better playing in the one-dayers to gain experience. He needs to polish his batting before he is ready for Tests. The reason we are in this mess is because 50 per cent of the batsmen have given their wickets away to the opposition.

The majority of runs have to be made by the top six batsmen and the wicketkeeper-batsman. In two Test matches, four England innings, they have had 28 opportunities to score runs. I worked out that 50 per cent of the dismissals have been caused by bad shots. Our best player, Pietersen, has three times chipped the ball from off stump or outside to the midwicket area where they have two men deliberately set to catch him out. Eventually the penny dropped and yesterday he played straight and showed a degree of patience we did not see in the other three knocks.

The Australians have worked out a plan that he is the most talented player in the side but he has no patience. So all they do is get Peter Siddle to bowl line and length in the corridor of uncertainty outside off stump, not too full, not too short, and wait for him to get himself out. They just stifle his scoring shots, strangle his run scoring and know he will give it away. Siddle has got him out nine times and even in this second innings, when he made a very good half century, he bowled 40 balls at Pietersen who scored 11 runs. They are going to set that trap again and again through this series.

If I can see it why the hell can't he? Root played beautifully, occupying the crease, not looking to score, waiting for the bowlers to bowl him a bad ball and then picking off runs. In these situations it is a chess game. They keep trying to bounce you, bowling wide. If you do not go after the bowling and do something stupid, eventually the bowlers get tired, frustrated and bowl you a bad ball and then you pick them off for easy runs. But you have to have the mindset for it. Joe has been as guilty as all the others.

In Brisbane he chased a wide ball from Johnson and in first innings here in Adelaide he tried to slog his first ball from the off-spinner Nathan Lyon and was caught on the boundary. In Brisbane in the first innings even Ian Bell poked an innocuous delivery from the off spinner to short leg. Here in the second innings he slogged a full toss straight to mid on. In between he played beautifully in the second innings at Brisbane and the first innings here.

Carberry played the quick bowling and spinner well in the first innings. But what did he do in second innings? He hooked it down the fielder's throat. We cannot seem to find a batsman who can bat properly in every innings and not give their wicket away. We need batsmen to make the bowlers bowl them out.


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