Ashes 2019: Australia's triumph exposes England's areas of weakness

By Sports Desk September 08, 2019

Australia retained the Ashes on Sunday as a 185-run loss at Old Trafford dashed England's hopes of regaining the urn.

For the first time since 2002-03, Australia ensured the Ashes will remain in their grasp - Marnus Labuschagne and Josh Hazlewood dealing the final blows in a drawn-out defeat for the hosts.

While one Test remains for England to level the series, talk has already turned to where it all went wrong for Joe Root's side - Steve Smith's supreme batting aside.

The World Cup triumph, and even Ben Stokes' Headingley heroics, now seem distant memories, and here are three key areas England must address if they are to ensure this Ashes defeat does not derail their Test side for a long stretch.

TOP-ORDER TRIBULATIONS

An elephant in the room heading into the series was England's crippling lack of options at the top of the order. Jason Roy, impressive in England's World Cup campaign, was shoehorned in alongside Rory Burns, who - with high scores of 133, 53 and 81 - has proved his worth as an opener.

Roy has failed to do so, with the aggression which serves him well in one-day cricket proving his downfall in the longest form.

After making just 57 runs from the first three Tests, Roy shifted to four at Old Trafford, switching with Joe Denly, who showed his ability to adapt with an admirable display in the second innings. Roy made 22 and 31 and was bowled twice.

The question now is whether to stick or twist with one of Roy or Denly while Ollie Pope, who scored an unbeaten 221 for Surrey in August, could be reintroduced with the view to becoming Burns' long-term partner.

ROOT GAMBLE HAS NOT PAID OFF

Given the frailties at the top of England's batting order, it was decided captain Root would bite the bullet and move up from his preferred slot at four, coming in at three instead.

It is a risk which has failed to pay dividends, with Root having been dismissed for ducks in three of the four Tests so far.

Though he played captain's knocks at both Headingley and Old Trafford, after a decent 57 in the first Test, Root does not seem comfortable coming in at three, having had less time to rally himself - not to mention the dressing room - following what has typically been the loss of an early wicket.

TWO WICKETKEEPERS, TOO MUCH

A star of limited-overs cricket, Jos Buttler's ability with the bat cannot be called into question, but the Lancashire wicketkeeper had scored over 30 only once in the series prior to the fourth Test.

Buttler perked up with 41 and 34 at Old Trafford. His ability behind the stumps has not been called upon, with Jonny Bairstow handed the gloves for the series, and it has been an underwhelming series for the former Test vice-captain.

Yorkshireman Bairstow has also struggled with the bat - scoring a high of 52 in the first innings at Lord's.

Given England's issues higher up the order, now might be time for a more streamlined approach, and one - if not both - of the keepers may have to make way, especially with Ben Foakes waiting in the wings.

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    Thank goodness that's over, and Michael Cheika can get back to just being a "good old mate" of Eddie Jones again.

    How it must have pained the old scrum colleagues from their Randwick days to be jostling against each other at a Rugby World Cup.

    From being on the same side, dressing-room besties in the 1980s, to being sworn enemies at least for a week. It can't be good for anybody's health.

    It sure as hell looked like being a grim state of affairs for Cheika, who whenever the television cameras honed in on him in the stands at Oita Stadium, looked to be living out a personal nightmare.

    A thump of the desk here, a look of desperation there. Surely he'll be on his way to pastures new once the dust settles on this thumping 40-16 England victory over Australia.

    He dramatically called for "compassion" from a journalist after the match, when asked if he would be moving on.

    But the Wallabies are going home. They have lost seven straight games to England. Cheika's contract is up. You do the maths.

    "I was supposed to get this done for the people here and for Australians. I'm so disappointed," Cheika said, seemingly close to tears.

    Cheika clobbered the table in front of him early in the game after Australia gave away a scrum inside their own 22, and five minutes later his team were two tries behind, the estimable Jonny May marking his 50th cap with a double.

    As Brexit debating went into overdrive in the UK Parliament, England certainly needed no left-wing amendment. They were happy, too, for this particular May to crack on with getting a deal done.

    The Leicester flyer dashed in by the corner flag both times, firstly from close range after a patient build-up and on the second occasion when David Pocock handed over possession and Henry Slade charged from midfield before kicking through for England's bolting number 11 to gather.

    Australia had an 11 who could dash for the line too, and when Marika Koroibete took advantage of tremendous work from Reece Hodge and Jordan Petaia to bound down the left for a try that Christian Lealiifano converted, it was a one-point game early in the second half. Hope for Cheika and his men, but not for long.

    Prop Kyle Sinckler exploited a gap in Australia's defence to trundle through for a swift riposte, and Australia were then booted out of the game by the outstanding kicking game of England captain Owen Farrell. Anthony Watson piled on the agony with another try. Mercifully the TV cameras allowed Cheika to wallow in private grief this time.

    With Jones and Cheika, there was a sense of soap-opera histrionics about their pre-match sparring, the possibility that this apparent long-standing great friendship - Jones described Cheika as "my good old mate" ahead of this game - may not be quite all it was cracked up to be.

    Australians have made a roaring trade from exporting soap operas for global consumption, of course, and it was no great stretch to imagine Jones and Cheika squabbling over day-to-day mundanities in, say, the long-running Neighbours saga.

    Mulish to a fault, you could equate them to that garrulous hepcat Lou Carpenter and Salvation Army field marshal Harold Bishop, long-time "good old mates" whose own friendship was put under intense pressure by another rivalry for the ages.

    Just as Carpenter and Bishop fought tooth, nail and tuba solo for the affections of Madge Ramsey, so there was one thing standing between Jones and Cheika’s old pals' act on Saturday: it was a day to go hard or go home.

    Erstwhile team-mates, Cheika had a beef this week about Jones bringing Aussie Ricky Stuart into the England camp over the past week. Why, Cheika seemed to question, are so many leading Australian coaches working with England teams, whether in rugby, cricket, indeed anywhere across the sporting spectrum?

    The swaggering, wily Jones had struck another blow at the heart of Australia. Cheika was rattled by the master wind-up merchant, ensnared by another supremely executed trap.

    The irony amid Australian post-match hand-wringing is that Jones is fancied in some quarters to take over from Cheika for what would be a second stint with the Wallabies. He was described as "the obvious solution" - as well as an "arch little pinprick" - in a Sydney Morning Herald editorial on Saturday morning.

    Jones has often said he fancies retiring to Barbados once his time with England is up, yet he said the same during his Japan tenure.

    The reality is that he lives for days such as this.

    Australia need the sort of rebuilding job England faced after the last World Cup. They have lost to England and Wales, where four years ago hosts England were beaten by Australia and Wales.

    Whether Australia could tempt 59-year-old Jones again is a different question. They need him surely more than he needs them.

    With a Cheshire cat grin for the cameras and a brief pat on the back for Cheika, Jones is all about England for now as he turns his focus to Yokohama and a semi-final next Saturday, another coach and another team in his sights.

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    Former West Indies captain and legendary batsman, Sir Vivian Richards, believes Hayden Walsh Jr, can reap more success than did the world’s foremost T20 bowler at one time,Samuel Badree.

    Badree, once known as the number-one leg spinner in T20 cricket, came into the West Indies line-up in similar fashion to Walsh Jr.

    Walsh claimed 22 wickets in the recently concluded Hero Caribbean Premier League (CPL), to lead all wickettakers and earn a debut callup to the West Indies.

    Sir Viv, just like Walsh Jr is from Antigua and believes the achievement, especially coming from one of the smaller islands, is remarkable, saying he wished the Leeward Islands had picked him more often.

    “I think at that particular point, that particular achievement of him getting the most wickets as a spinner and to be coming from these parts, I am wondering what would have happened earlier for him not to have been utilized by the Leewards a little bit more,” Sir Viv pondered.

    Walsh Jr’s limited selection in the Leeward Islands side is something Sir Viv believes begs bigger questions about the way the team is selected and their ability to spot talent.

    “And so, all these questions need to be asked but I think that certainly, he has thrown his hands in the ring for the next T20 World Cup. I personally believe that he has done well enough to be considered and to be part of that particular unit,” Sir Viv had said before Walsh Jr’s selection to te West Indies’ white ball squads.

    Making the comparison to Badree, Sir Viv said:

    “And especially with this last performance in terms of being on the winning team with the most wickets, this is how I think Samuel Badree came into contention for the West Indies … I think he came in and he had some success … I don’t think he was as successful as what Hayden Walsh would have [been].”

    According to Sir Viv, Walsh Jr can offer more to the West Indies than did Badree because he has other attributes.

    To be fair as well, too, he brings so much as well, especially as a spinner; his athleticism in the field. Everything is so brilliant about him, you need some sort of an individual like that for those sort of tournaments,” he said.

    Few would have heard of the 27-year-old Antiguan-American before the start of this season but it's safe to say his whirlwind leg break bowling took the competition by storm.  His 22 wickets in 9 matches representing a tournament-high that earned him the Hero Player of the Tournament award.

    Twice this season the spinner proved completely unplayable for the opposition, claiming five wickets against the Trinbago Knight Riders and four against the St Lucia Zouks to help catapult the then-struggling team into the playoffs. 

    Eventually, it set the stage for one of the biggest upsets in the competition's history with a win over the previously unbeaten Guyana Amazon Warriors in the final.  

    Perhaps even fewer would remember the bowler’s forgettable CPL debut season for St Kitts and Nevis Patriots in 2018 where his two overs in just two matches went for a costly 54, with no wickets to show. 

    For Walsh, the gentle placing of the CPL crown on a head once plagued with uneasiness, surely once again proved the old adage, the price of success is hard work.

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