Having recently drawn attention to the parlous state of Australian cricket and expressed admiration for the England team, it is only fair to point out that Australia have cruised to victory over South Africa in Adelaide, opener Usman Khawaja setting up the win with a magnificent 145 in the first innings.
Meanwhile, England are staring down the barrel of a heavy defeat in the third test against India having already been thumped comprehensively in the second test. What is costing England is the weakness of their top order – the same thing which has plagued Australia (Khawaja’s latest efforts notwithstanding). England’s middle order and tail are very strong, but the top order is failing with alarming regularity. Look at the fall or wicket scores in the past 3 tests:
First Test: 102/3 & 180/1
Second Test: 80/5 & 40/4
Third Test: 87/4 & 78/4
This has been the pattern for as long as I remember: Cook or Root scoring big every 5 matches or so, otherwise it’s the middle order trying to bail out the side and give the bowlers something to defend. This might save a match or two, but it won’t help win any series. Cook and Root are brilliant at times and dropping either is out of the question, but they cannot be relied upon to post a hundred every match. What they need is support from numbers 2 and 4, either to stay with them while they accumulate or contribute themselves. Finding a decent opening partner for Alistair Cook has been a problem since Andrew Strauss retired; promoting Root solved the long-standing No. 3 problem, but all it’s done is put a question mark over the No. 4 slot.
Andy Flower, England’s previous coach, put heavy emphasis on the ability of the team to bat right down to Nos. 10 or 11, and Trevor Bayliss has continued that policy to the effect that some are tempted to say that England no longer have a tail. Although some wag pointed out on CricInfo that England do have a tail, they just get sent into bat first.