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Thursday, Sep 19, 2019

‘Joe Root must invoke on-field spirit of Ben Stokes to avoid Ashes whitewash’

Ahead of the Melbourne Test, Ian Chappell offers his take on England’s dismal showing in the Ashes so far

cricket Updated: Dec 24, 2017 12:02 IST
Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Joe Root will hope to avoid a whitewash in the Ashes after Australia took a 3-0 lead in the series.
Joe Root will hope to avoid a whitewash in the Ashes after Australia took a 3-0 lead in the series.(REUTERS)

Despite copping a hammering from Australia, England has the makings of a good cricket team. It’s now a matter of whether they can unearth the missing ingredients to graduate to a top-class side.

It’s rare that a tour uncovers three players with not just the ability but the stomach for the fight that is Test cricket. England has achieved that with Dawid Malan, Mark Stoneman and Craig Overton all displaying -- in varying degrees -- the potential for future success in Test cricket.

It could well be that by the end of the series they will have added a fourth, as James Vince was displaying the talent to succeed until an ‘unplayable’ delivery ended his eminently watchable WACA innings. There were hints in that second innings he has the fight to survive. It’s a matter of whether he can find the nerve to believe in himself.

Vince’s timing of shots

If Vince discovers the key to constructing a Test innings then opposition sides better beware as no one times the ball better.

If you add Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Jimmy Anderson to that quartet, England has a very solid foundation, at least for the near future. What is required to turn that groundwork into a multi-storey building is a genuine fast bowler or two and a couple of top-class spinners.

There was never any doubt that Stokes would be sorely missed on this tour. But as much as his batting, bowling and catching, it’s his aggressive attitude that could’ve changed the course of the series. Root has relied heavily on the advice of Stuart Broad and Anderson on the field and this has been a mistake, as both are defensive-minded when it comes to tactics.

Stokes’ aggression

Stokes is more a “fight fire with fire” cricketer and that approach -- if it’s well reasoned -- is the best path forward in most Test matches, especially under Australian conditions.

Ironically one of the ‘new boys’ volunteered the best plan for England to follow in the final two Tests. “I think whether you’re batting or bowling or fielding you have to be aggressive,” said Malan in the aftermath of the Perth Test. “It doesn’t mean you have to chirp or get in people’s faces but when you bat you have to look to score runs; when you bowl look to take wickets.”

Malan has adhered to his own advice. At the Gabba he was bogged down facing Nathan Lyon and it cost him his wicket. He was also out hooking at the Gabba but it hasn’t stopped him playing the shot. He’s learned a lot in a short time and he’s been quietly aggressive and effective against Australia.

He’s also wise to believe that talk doesn’t make you tough; it’s thinking clearly and doing well when things are difficult that make you a respected opponent.

Overton is another young player who provides hope for England’s future. He’s also learned quickly and it was an indictment on the senior bowlers that it was he who regularly hit the right length for the WACA pitch. His fighting attitude might provide selectors a clue in their search for bowlers of genuine pace. Craig’s twin Jamie possessed serious pace as an under-19 cricketer and it’s to be hoped a series of injuries hasn’t diminished that valuable commodity.

Root’s lack of clarity

As this tour began to spiral out of control, Root’s captaincy took a similar path to that followed by Alistair Cook on England’s disastrous last venture. Root’s held more lengthy on-field conferences that give the impression of uncertainty and his field placings have the appearance of being for show rather than effect.

If Root is to halt the seemingly inevitable slide to another England whitewash, he needs to invoke the on-field spirit of Stokes. England have to take the fight to the opposition by being smart and aggressive and Root would do well to lend an ear to Malan rather than heed the advice of Broad and Anderson.

(Ian Chappell, former Australia cricket team Test captain, writes for Hindustan Times exclusively.)

First Published: Dec 24, 2017 09:38 IST