What were England thinking? There was about 8 minutes left on the clock. Joe Root had just played an abhorrent shot to get himself out yet again in the conversion rate-itis zone. The new ball was three deliveries old, and there were nine left in the day (albeit only because of a review two balls later). The aussies had just broken a 133-run stand which had put England’s noses in front for the day, and dismissed the England captain to boot. Fair to say they had their tails up.
Now I’m not going to go into the pro’s and con’s of Nightwatchmen in the modern game. Much has been written about them, and many still argue about them. But if ever there was a time to use one, surely this morning in Sydney was it.
With Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood suddenly reinvigorated with a wicket from nowhere as captain Root clipped a leg stump half volley straight to a diving Mitch Marsh at square leg, it was never going to be easy for the incoming batsman to handle the barrage in the last moments of the day’s play. Jonny Bairstow walking in to bat may well have been brave, but with hindsight now just looks like madness. He survived the final three deliveries of Starc’s over only after a incorrect review after one of Starc’s inswingers hit him on the pad. He had actually got an inside edge on it before it was sent down to fine leg for a single and he kept the strike. Four balls later he pushed at one from Hazlewood, Tim Paine took an easy catch, and Australia had stolen the day in the last 8 balls.
England’s decision to send in Bairstow now looks thoroughly stupid. They had arm-wrestled their way into a leading position, only to give away all their momentum at the crucial moment. If you were looking for a snapshot of the entire Ashes series thus far, look no further.
Mason Crane had already padded up for the very eventuality that unfolded. Admittedly, sending Crane in on debut to a brand new cherry did seem a tad harsh on the twenty-year-old. But Anderson and even Tom Curran would have also backed themselves to see off the final few balls of Starc’s over, then if they got out as Bairstow eventually did, no-one would have cared.
It would be interesting to know the decision making process that took place within the England dressing room in the moments before Joe Root’s dismissal, not just because this move in itself was a bad one; but because it served as a microcosm of England’s ability throughout the tour to falter at the crucial moments. Understanding the process behind this particular faux-pas might go someway to explaining their wider functional issues. Joe Root clearly wasn’t present when the decision was made. He was too busy out in the middle planning how he could decrease his already low conversion rate stat so that BT Sport could splash it across our screens every five minutes. So was this a Bayliss ploy to send in Bairstow and show some confidence in his in-form wicketkeeper? Or one of the other members of the management team? Or indeed Bairstow himself? Either way it would appear that England have yet again found a way of giving back the ascendancy to Australia at the crucial time. England have consistently shown muddled thinking in this Ashes series, and you have to wonder about the messages that are coming on to the field when England are bowling, and likewise some of the decisions being made when they are batting. Remember they started the series with Ali batting above Bairstow; was that based on Bairstow’s needs as a wicketkeeper or purely because the management felt it would get them bigger scores in general? Either way it was proved to be a poor piece of foresight, and the same type of mistake was made again this morning in Sydney.
Moeen Ali will tomorrow walk in to bat woefully out of form and have to face an early examination with a new ball. Surely he won’t attempt to slog his way back into form as he did in Melbourne (to not great effect)? England are desperate for their all-rounder to get a score tomorrow, with Dawid Malan looking the steady force we have come to expect from him on this trip, he will be in danger of running out of partners quickly. 8 deliveries before the close of play England were looking good for the 400 or 450 first innings score you would hope for on a good deck batting first. Unless Moeen can finally come to the party, they won’t make 300.