This week’s Ashes Test at Edgbaston will be vital. I feel if England don’t come out on top in the west Midlands, then they won’t win again this series.
As soon as Australia declared for 566 runs in the second Test at Lord’s last week there was only going to be one winner.
Either they were going to bring the series level, or we were going to see a drawn Test match, for me it was as simple as that.
If you are a batsman and you go in and the scoreboard declares that your opponents are 566 runs in front, no matter how much you try to put it to the back of your mind and play the situations, the niggling doubt is always there.
And then when your side go 30-4, that 566 target looks even further away and the pressure becomes even greater.
The change to bring Jonny Bairstow in for Gary Ballance for Edgbaston was a necessity.
Ballance simply hadn’t scored the amount of runs that he needed to at the top of the order.
I think we needed to make a change and the person that is in form in county cricket is Bairstow, averaging over 100, so he was always going to be the next guy in.
Adam Lyth is another player whose place came under pressure, but I’m not one for twisting just yet.
It’s easy to say with hindsight, but he should have played in the West Indies. He should have another three Test matches under his belt. He’s only played in four Tests, two against New Zeland and the two against the Aussies.
He could have had three in the West Indies on the flatter, slower wickets without the pace attack that he has come across this summer. That way we would have found out a little bit more, so it would have been five matches before the Ashes started before we started questioning his ability and technique.
He’s certainly got what it takes to score runs, he just needs to work out how to stay in a bit longer.
Alongside him, the senior pair of Alastair Cook and Ian Bell will need to stand up and say “we need to score some runs, we can’t be 30-4 again”.
The fact that the latter will be stepping out to the crease at his home ground adds another factor into proceedings.
You go out to bat or bowl in front of your home fans, there is an expectation on you.
And while we know Bell is a world class player when he is high on confidence and in form, at the moment he is lacking in both of them and needs a big innings not only for England, but for himself.
Baggy Greens need to be put under pressure by England’s bowlers
For all of England’s shortcomings with the bat, I actually think the root of the problem at the MCC lied with the bowling attack.
At Cardiff we managed to deliver a sustained period of pressure on Australia in the first innings, but on a wicket as slow and as flat as Lord’s then you effectively take your own bowlers out of the game.
The toss was obviously important and Australia had a major advantage in bowling first, but that is no excuse.
With Chris Rogers on his home ground, and with Steve Smith the best batsman in the world at the moment, you need to put them under some kind of pressure and we simply failed to do that.
So then, any batsman coming in after them had a massive platform to come in on and could play their shots with no pressure whatsoever, and they made batting look very simple.
We’ve got to remember that you need 20 wickets to win a game of cricket. You’ve got to back our players to perform better in English conditions than any other. Regardless of the type of wicket, we need to bowl well to win Test matches.
Mitchell Johnson is just one of the aces up Australia’s sleeve
The Australian attack was a real example of one strong, effective unit.
Mitchell Johnson will get the plaudits, having proved that he is over the scars of his previous performance against England.
But again, one bowler doesn’t take 20 wickets. He only took six at Lord’s and everybody makes this massive thing about him.
It’s the combined effect that the whole Baggy Green attack has that makes them so good.
You have Johnson, being the nasty-fasty bouncy enforcer, Josh Hazlewood pitching the ball up Glenn McGrath-esque and taking wickets, and along with Mitchell Starc they work in tandem.
And then you bring in Nathan Lyons and Mitchell Marsh who took three wickets on his Ashes debut and together they hunted as a pack.
You can’t have one bowler taking all the glory every game because it doesn’t work as the batsmen are not under the same pressure all the time.
When you are under pressure from both ends, at one end you’ve got Mitchell Johnson trying to take your head off with his fast ones and Josh Hazlewood at the other hitting line and length and not giving you anything to score off, the pressure builds.
Batsmen will then become desperate to score some runs from somewhere, and that is where you will pick up wickets.
And that’s what they did, they went in and bowled as a unit, no matter who had the ball applying sustained pressure and that’s why they got 20 wickets.
It’s something England failed to do in the first innings and why the Aussie batsman were able to come out to bat in their second stint with a 260 run lead and zero pressure to speak of.
It’s now or never for England
While it is all about bowling as a team, I do feel that Hazlewood is under-rated as an attribute to the visitors attack when it comes to the betting markets.
Ladbrokes have him priced up as third-favourite to lead the way for the Aussies in their 1st Innings Top Wicket-Taker at 3/1.
The leading wicket-taker for the series, with 10 batsmen sent back to the pavilion, he looks far too big for me, and taking my patriotic cap off, I would be backing him for success at Edgbaston.
As for England, it’s 5/6 that they don’t win another Test match in the Ashes series, and to be honest, I fear for England that it could be a very good price.
The Aussies have bounced back after their Cardiff shambles and will undoubtedly be the happier of the two sides at the moment.
They undoubtedly have the upper hand as we head into this majorly important contest.
Matthew Hoggard was hired from the Champions After Dinner Speakers Agency.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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