Ashes 2013-14: England need to showcase their British Bulldog spirit in remaining Tests

England were outplayed by Australia in all departments in the first Ashes 2013-14 Test at The Gabba in Brisbane © Getty Images

England’s much-vaunted batting line-up was blown away in the first Test of the 2013-14 Ashes series at The Gabba, Brisbane by Australia’s pacers. Bharath Ramaraj looks back at the disastrous batting performance by England in the first Test and believes it is high time that they stand up and be counted for rest of the five-match series.

With The Gabba cricket ground in Brisbane bathed in radiant sunshine during the 2010-11 Ashes series, lynchpins of England‘s batting line-up; Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott with a coup de theatre act took England from turbulent waters to safety during the final two days of that Test match.
 
In the ongoing 2013-14 Ashes series, the contrast couldn’t have been starker, as England collapsed like a pack of cards in both the first and the second innings of the first Test played at The Gabba in Brisbane. In fact, in the first innings, England’s abject collapse from 82 for two to 91 for eight reminded cricket fandom of the dark days of English cricket back in the 1990s. In the second innings too, they collapsed from 142 for four to 152 for eight within no time.
 
It is a known fact that in the world of cricket, all teams are bound to suffer a collapse or two on the road. However, from England’s perspective, what was more disappointing was even in the second innings of the first Test, barring captain Cook, most of the batsmen didn’t show the stomach for a fight. It felt like they just gifted the first Test on a platter to Australia.
 
To make it worse for England, despite bringing in a couple of left-arm pacers in Tymal Mills and Harry Gurney to practice, the experienced English batsmen seemed like spring chicken, while facing up to Mitchell Johnson‘s slingy left-arm angle in the first Test. Yes, even though the young Mills is very much in the quick bracket, facing up to Johnson in prime form is completely different. Yet, the English think-tank had done their best to give their batsmen a chance to prepare well for the gargantuan task of facing up to the battering-ram of Australia — Johnson.
 
English batsmen losing their wickets to the friendly off-spin of Nathan Lyon was quite perplexing too. Since the third Test at Old Trafford in England in 2013, Lyon has been bowling from around the wicket and their batsmen have meekly surrendered to him. Every-time he bowls, English batsmen seem to elevate him to the status of a great mystery spinner who has a doosra at his disposal. At present, none of the batsmen have a plan to outfox the well thought-out strategum of the off-spinner.
 
England’s former opening batsman Geoffrey Boycott made a scathing attack on the way the batsmen have played Lyon in recent times. He wrote in his column in The Telegraph, “Ian Bell, Matt Prior were the worst culprits for getting out to the non-spinning off-spinner, Nathan Lyon, bowling around the wicket to the right-handers. He has been causing England problems with that tactic since the third Test at Old Trafford in August. England have had three months to work out a way of playing him, the players have backroom staff galore to show them a method and yet we again poked around against him.”

Boycott continued, “The pitch was not turning. It just had a bit of bounce because of its hardness. But that is all. The simple way is to go down the pitch, use your feet and drive on the floor to mid-off and mid-on so you hit him very straight. Hit it back from where it came, and do it on the floor. But no, not England. The only time our lot use their feet is to hit over the top.”
 
In spite of Trott’s unfortunate exit from Australia due to stress-related illness, England still have seasoned campaigners like Cook, Bell and Kevin Pietersen in their ranks. All of them average in the high 40s in Test cricket. Yet in the first Test match, watching England bat was akin to lambs being led to slaughter. In a crystal clear manner, it showcases that finally it is up to cricketers who take the field to put their hands up and perform. Remember, England have arguably some of the best coaches going around.
 
It is going to be a tough task to retain the Ashes for England from here on. One of the major reasons why England won the Ashes for the first time in more than two decades in Australia in 2010-11 was because they came out of Brisbane with a draw. Australia haven’t lost a Test at The Gabba since 1988 and it has virtually acted like an impregnable fortress for them over the years. This time around, after being thumped in the first Test, England don’t have any such luxury to bank upon for the rest of the series.
 
The fact of the matter is, England suddenly haven’t become a bad side overnight. Before losing the Test match at The Gabba, they hadn’t lost a Test over a period of 13 games. However, in the first Test, they were out-gunned and out-classed by a rejuvenated Australian set-up. So, it is high time that England’s experienced bunch of cricketers stand up and play with a typical “British Bulldog” spirit to make a sterling comeback in the series.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)