England and Australia have vowed to remain loyal to their contrasting tactical approaches, setting up the prospect of another thrilling Ashes clash in the second Test at Lord’s starting on Wednesday.
Australia, bidding for a first Ashes series win in England in 22 years, went 1-0 up in a five-match campaign with a dramatic two-wicket win in the first Test at Edgbaston last week.
England were in sight of victory when they had their arch-rivals eight down and needing 54 more runs to win, only to be undone by an unbroken partnership between Australia captain Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon.
Poor fielding, with several chances missed, did not help England’s cause either.
Attention, however, soon turned to their aggressive ‘Bazball’ approach, even though this was only their third defeat in 14 Tests since captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum joined forces last year.
Several former England internationals, including Geoffrey Boycott, suggested Stokes’ side had been too gung-ho in Birmingham, notably in declaring on the first day at 393-8.
Australia, however, are the Test world champions and there is no guarantee a more orthodox approach would have had led to greater success – after all it was while playing in such a traditional style that England won just one out of 17 Tests before Stokes succeeded Joe Root as red-ball skipper.
It may grate to hear England seamer Ollie Robinson say Australia will have to “change their approach to keep up with how we’re going to play” following a Test his side lost.
But as Mike Brearley, a former England captain, once wrote, “you cannot expect a tortoise to jump like a gazelle” and it may be asking too much of the current side to deviate radically from a policy that has served them well.
Ollie Pope, Stokes’ vice-captain, said there was more to the team’s tactics than met the eye.
“I know sometimes it can look like it’s just moments of madness but all the decisions that are made are well thought out with a vision of the end goal,” Pope insisted at Lord’s on Tuesday.
The bigger issue for England arguably lies in team selection.
Off-spinner Mooen Ali, tempted out of red-ball retirement at Edgbaston, unsurprisingly suffered a finger injury on a bowling hand not used to lengthy spells.
England have called up teenage leg-spinner Rehan Ahmed as cover. They could also rely on Root’s part-time off-spin as a way of getting express quick Mark Wood back into the side.
Australia too must decide whether to recall Mitchell Starc after the left-arm quick was left out at Edgbaston, where England went after Scott Boland – the normally miserly seamer – conceded runs at a rate of 5.65 per over.
“Just because they [England] are scoring at a higher rate or trying to score at a higher rate doesn’t mean you go to one-day cricket,” said Starc after a win built on Australia opener Usman Khawaja’s painstaking hundred.
“There are plenty of ways to skin a cat as we saw last week in the way they approached it as opposed to the way we did.”
Australia will hope star batsmen Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith, who managed just 35 runs between them at Edgbaston, return to form.
The Ashes holders have no such qualms over Lyon, with the off-spinner set to appear in his 100th consecutive Test after an eight-wicket haul that left him just five shy of 500 at this level.
An Ashes series win in England remains a valued prize for Australia, especially as several squad members came close during a 2019 campaign that ended in a 2-2 draw
Starc, still uncertain as to whether he’ll play at Lord’s just two days after his wife, Alyssa Healy, led Australia to victory in the lone Women’s Ashes Test at Trent Bridge, was well aware of what was at stake.
“It is a chance to go 2-0 up,” said the 33-year-old. “It is not lost on us the opportunity we do have.
“For some of us it is our fourth trip here and coming off the back of ’19, where we retained the Ashes but missed out on winning, the carrot is certainly there.”
© Agence France-Presse