The Ashes: Few positives left after Hobart rout

16 January 2022 23:30:20 GMTPlus10
Captain Joe Root has much to ponder

England ended their 2021-22 Ashes tour with yet another batting collapse as Australia sealed a 4-0 series victory by winning the fifth Test in Hobart by 146 runs.

The tourists were trading as in-play favourites for the Test before slipping from 68-0 to 124 all out and here are three things England have learned from their chastening series defeat down under:

Bairstow a ray of light amid batting gloom

For a brief moment or two, English cricket fans allowed themselves to dream that their team could chase down a target of 271 to win the final Test at the Bellerive Oval on Sunday.

That was until Rory Burns inside-edged a delivery from Cameron Green on to his stumps, sparking a collapse that saw the tourists lose ten wickets for 56 runs in 22.4 overs.

The bare statistics of England's series batting make for grim reading. They failed to reach 300 in any of their ten innings and were bowled out for less than 200 six times, including an ignominious second-innings 68 in the third Test in Melbourne.

Captain Joe Root was their leading runscorer despite averaging only 32.2 as England found a classy Australian bowling attack too hot to handle.

It was a tough series for batters, but England have struggled for big totals in Test cricket for years, whatever the conditions, and they need a serious rethink of their batting unit.

Root and Dawid Malan started the series well, while Zak Crawley showed his undoubted potential with a silky second-innings 77 in the drawn fourth Test in Sydney, where Jonny Bairstow scored England's only century of the series in the first innings.

Bairstow's chanceless innings was hugely impressive, especially as he suffered a thumb injury that ruled him out of the final Test, and he also batted bravely for 41 in the second innings.

When fit, he has surely earned another shot as England's wicketkeeper-batter. He averages a respectable 37.37 in that role and none of his middle-order rivals have shown as much quality and fight with the bat in recent years.

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Wood's form and fitness heartening

Mark Wood produced a stunning spell on day three of the final Test, claiming career-best figures of 6-37 to finish as England's leading wicket-taker in the series.

Wood also bowled more overs than any of his team-mates, a great achievement given his history of injury problems and the effort required to generate speeds in excess of 90mph.

He played four Tests in the home 2015 Ashes series, but has not featured in more than two matches in a series since, so it was heartening to see him maintain his pace and intensity throughout his four appearances Down Under.

The popular Durham quick turned 32 earlier this month and England will be desperate to keep him fit and firing, especially as fellow pace bowlers Jofra Archer and Olly Stone have struggled with serious injuries.

Wood showed enormous character with ball and bat, hitting Pat Cummins for three sixes during a gutsy cameo at the SCG, and getting him on the park as often as possible in the next couple of years is a priority for the England management.

Bowlers need to squeeze the middle-order

England enjoyed spectacular starts with the ball in both of Australia's innings in Hobart, reducing the hosts to 12-3 and 63-6 before letting them off the hook on both occasions.

Four of the Aussies' five centuries in the series were made by players coming in at number five (two each for player of the series Travis Head and Usman Khawaja) and the other was an epic 103 from 305 balls from number three Marnus Labuschagne.

In their final innings of the series, wicketkeeper Alex Carey top-scored with 49 from number eight and England's bowlers have to be more ruthless against the middle-order when they have taken early wickets.

Head played superb counter-attacking innings in the first and fifth Tests, scoring an 85-ball century in Brisbane and 101 off 113 deliveries in Hobart as England struggled to maintain pressure.

In contrast, Australia's change bowlers Scott Boland and Cameron Green gave very little away, finishing the series with economy rates of 2.11 and 2.54 runs per over.

That accuracy translated into wickets - Boland picked up 18 in three Tests and Green took 13, ten of which were top-six batters - while spinner Nathan Lyon also conceded just over two runs per over.

Controlling the scoring rate is a key part of Test cricket and England, with the honourable exception of veteran James Anderson (who had a series economy rate of 1.79), were unable to do that once the new ball lost its hardness.

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