NASSER HUSSAIN: England's failings with the bat were exposed again

NASSER HUSSAIN: It was good to see some fight from England with the ball, especially after their Covid chaos, but their batting failures were brutally exposed once again after the fiercest examination by world-class bowling

  • Australia are closing in on another Ashes triumph with England now on the ropes
  • Superb bowling from Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins blew away the top order 
  • England managed to fight back with the ball on day two after their Covid chaos 
  • But yet again, their weaknesses and failings with the bat were ruthlessly exposed

It was good to see fight from England with the ball on the second day, especially after everything that happened with the Covid situation.

It would have been chaos in the camp before play, the will we or won’t we be playing, and on the back of being two down and getting outplayed again on the first day of the third Test I thought they showed a lot of character.

That’s a word I have always associated with Jimmy Anderson. He has always had character and you could tell from his comments in the media this week that he was bristling at the questioning of the seamers and their lengths at Adelaide.

It was good to see England fight back with the ball, but their failures with the bat were exposed

He was entitled to bristle because, if you ask me what the problem with English red-ball cricket has been over the last couple of years, I would not say Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, Chris Woakes and Ollie Robinson.

Actually, one of the things Joe Root has done with this England team is get the likes of Broad and Anderson to bowl fuller over the last couple of years. It is one of the big ticks of his captaincy. But Root clearly felt they were a little short in the second Test.

So Anderson, at 39, had to go out there at the MCG yet again and bowl with superb consistency and control to put batters under pressure all the time and dismiss world-class players like Steve Smith. Jimmy did what he has always done.

James Anderson bowled with superb consistency, and his efforts were backed up on day two

And it’s amazing what can happen when chances are held in the slips. Things start to look better and lengths get a bit better and Anderson’s efforts were backed up by Wood, who bowled excellently again, Robinson and Ben Stokes as the fourth seamer.

They were outstanding as a unit and the only small criticism I have of the bowling was the way they started after lunch. I think it was Mark Taylor who once said you should start every session with your best two bowlers for the conditions and I thought the best two after the break would have been Anderson and Robinson or Wood.

Instead Jack Leach bowled negatively to two left-handers from around the wicket and it seems that onslaught on the left-arm spinner in Brisbane has affected him and reduced him in this game to a defensive role. But that’s being picky with the bowling.

Then we saw why Test cricket remains the best format of the game because I’m afraid, however hard England tried and however much character they displayed with the ball, their failings and weaknesses with the bat were again brutally exposed.

Jack Leach (right) bowled negatively, seemingly in a defensive role, with England on the ropes

For an hour England were subjected to the fiercest examinations by world-class bowling from Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc in particular and the MCG day two audience were treated to great cricketing theatre. To see the way that crowd reacted, especially when Starc was on a hat-trick, to the Australian performance was incredible.

A mention, too, for the pitches because I think they have been brilliant for Test cricket throughout this series. Four years ago in Melbourne the surface was horrible for the health of the game and Alastair Cook ground out a double century in a high-scoring draw.

This one favours the bowlers but the sheer drama and entertainment were all the better for it and this Australian attack were once again far too good for England’s openers.  

I was giggled at a year or so ago when we were asked on Sky to look ahead and name our Ashes side. I said they should be Opener A and Opener B and my point was since the retirement of Cook picking openers from county cricket has been a complete lottery. That point remains just as valid now.

Both Mitchell Starc (pictured) and Pat Cummins gave the tourists the sternest of examinations

Australia’s attack were too good for England’s top order, and the Ashes now hang by a thread

Australia were brilliant and the Ashes, as I write, hang by a thread for England both on the field and off it with the positive Covid tests in the camp.

Any hope left now rests with the senior players – Root, Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler – doing something special with the bat on the third day.

If England could just get a lead of 180 you never know what might happen. We have been there before, specifically at Melbourne in 1998, when Dean Headley and Darren Gough won the Test for England and with the attack this side have they would be capable of doing that again – if only they have enough runs to play with.

Any hope left now lies with England’s senior players, including the captain Joe Root (above)

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