Friday, 1 December 2017

England benefit from 'mental integration' but Root's runs remain the key

There are 10 wicket defeats and 10 wicket defeats. They can be chastening, demoralising and even humiliating. England's defeat in Brisbane was not of that order. Disappointing yes, concerning sure, but not more than that, not really.

There is no comparison with the defeat at the Gabba four years ago. Then, they were shaken by the Australian agression, this time they appear merely stirred. Four years ago they were accused of being 'weak' this time focus is on their supposed agression. In Australia this probably counts as progress. England won't care too much. They have done the right thing: in public they have responded cautiously but firmly; in private they appear to have stiffened their resolve and re-whetted their appetite for the battles ahead. A sort of 'mental integration' if you like.

A further silver lining is that the squad has faced fewer cricketing questions than it might have expected following a heavy Ashes defeat. The form of Alisdair Cook has largely escaped comment, the fitness of Mooen Ali likewise (and the wisdom of the initial squad selection). There is also legitimate cause for concern regarding the change bowling. And then there is the biggest issue and the biggest difference between the sides: the runs being produced by their best players and respective captains.

Joe Root's batting is symptomatic of his team: attractive and free flowing but ultimately short of runs. Only twice in eight Tests this year have they passed 400, both times Root made hundreds and both resulted in wins. A first innings total in excess of 400 may not be necessary to win Test matches in England but it makes it a lot easier. In Australia it is almost essential. The template is there, England's three wins in 2010-11 all had their foundations in opening totals in excess of 500.

Cook made 700 runs in that series and is here again, but he is not the player he was then. It is now Root's responsibilty, both as captain and leading player to play Cook's role. It is not as an inventive, imaginative captain that he will win this series but as a world class batsman. He must be the focal point, as Steve Smith has become for Australia, and allow the lesser players (be it in ability or experience) to play around him. Cook can probably be relied on come good at some stage, Jonny Bairstow too, but anything less than 500 runs and at least two centuries from its captain and this English side simply do not stand a chance. 

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