Chris Waters '“ The Ashes: Now Alice springs to mind as England blunder on
FROM RED faces to pink balls.
This is an Ashes series of many colours.
England go into the day/night second Test in Adelaide tomorrow, which will be played with a pink ball, still blushing from the brouhahas surrounding Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow and still blue from their 10-wicket defeat in the first Test in Brisbane.
In contrast, Australia go into the game in purple condition and with their faces red for an entirely different reason – that of laughing themselves hoarse at England’s kaleidoscope of self-inflicted wounds.
“I’ve never seen a circus like this in 30 years of England v Australia series”, proclaimed former England captain Michael Atherton.
And as he reflected on the post-match press conferences at the Gabba, which hit the high wire of absurdity as Bairstow’s alleged headbutt of Australia batsman Cameron Bancroft stole the spotlight, Atherton added: “At one stage, it would not have been a surprise to see the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit or the March Hare on stage.”
Truly, the events surrounding the England side at present are more fantastic than anything conceived by Lewis Carroll, but if they are to avoid falling down the rabbit hole like Alice in Wonderland and going 2-0 behind in the five-match series, they must focus not on the prevailing off-field shenanigans that surround them, but on the only thing that counts in the end – the cricket.
Although defeat in Adelaide would not be fatal, it would close the coffin lid down on England, inviting the insertion of the final nail well before Christmas.
Only once in Ashes history has a side come from 2-0 down to win, Don Bradman inspiring Australia in 1936-37, although England need only draw this series as current holders.
By common consent, Adelaide represents England’s best chance of a Test victory on the tour as it will most likely replicate English conditions.
The lateral movement provided by the pink ball under floodlights, when the dew starts to take effect, should help the English seamers and greater challenge Australia’s batsmen.
At the same time, conditions will also help Australia’s bowlers, and much will depend on which side happens to be bowling when conditions are at their most advantageous.
In that respect, it is as much of a lottery as to which team wins the toss, and there are no guarantees that Lady Luck will be with the tourists; after all, rather like Stokes, she has been somewhat conspicuous by her absence so far.
Whoever gets the rub of the green in the “City of Churches”, England must help themselves first and foremost by scoring big runs and converting promising starts into sizeable scores.
One of the positives to emerge from defeat at the Gabba, where England at times found themselves in the box seat during an evenly-matched first three days, was that Ashes debutants Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Dawid Malan each made half-centuries in the first innings.
But half-centuries, however admirable, are footnotes in history compared with such as Steve Smith’s first innings hundred for Australia, which was the biggest difference between the teams.
In years to come, few will remember Vince’s 83, Malan’s 56 or Stoneman’s 53 beyond each man’s immediate circle, but they will recall Smith’s unbeaten 141, the Australia captain directing events like a ringmaster supreme.
Joe Root, his opposite number, performed a bit-part role in Brisbane, joining Vince, Malan and Stoneman in making a half-century that, in the final analysis, amounted to little more than a hill of beans – although Root’s courage after being hit on the helmet by a Mitchell Starc bouncer was admirable and inspiring to his men.
Whereas Smith and David Warner (the latter leading Australia home with an unbeaten 87 in the second innings), contributed 254 runs in the match for only once out, Root and Alastair Cook, their English equivalents, managed 75 in four completed innings.
Cook made just two and seven at the Gabba, and there has never been a better time for the former captain to produce one of his classic over-my-dead-body performances, while Root is the man on whom England are primarily looking to emulate the endeavours of Smith, whose performance may well be the portent of even more misery to come.
Bairstow, too low in the order at No 7, is another who can help England get winning runs on the board and a foothold in the series.
England need more from their bowlers, too, and cannot just rely on James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
When the circus resumes on the field of play, they must find a way of going from clowns to magicians.