x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Four issues remain at the core for Australia before second Ashes Test

Unfancied Australia did well to jolt England last week, but much more needs to be done for the remaining Tests.

James Pattinson, centre, did enough in the first Test but will need to get more out of the new ball on the Lord's pitch. Gareth Copley / Getty Images
James Pattinson, centre, did enough in the first Test but will need to get more out of the new ball on the Lord's pitch. Gareth Copley / Getty Images

Pleasant as the surprise was of Australia pushing England far harder than most people thought at Trent Bridge, can they sustain that kind of performance over the next four Tests, and most importantly, at Lord's, where the second Test starts on Thursday?

England are a better Test side, there is no doubt about that, though the gap is not as wide as everyone assumes.

But the more telling point, one likelier to count through the summer, is that this is a desperately weak Australian side.

Comparisons with Allan Border's 1989 side are misplaced; despite coming off the back of a West Indian walloping, that side had some shape and identity to it.

This is a very weak touring side, especially its batting. This side has lost five Tests in a row and six of its last nine.

And rather than Trent Bridge being the precursor to a closely fought, tight series, the stronger suspicion remains that the first match may be as good as it gets for Australia. England may have concerns that the back-up to Jimmy Anderson is not as solid as touted, but over five Tests, others will invariably chip in.

Their batting is, without any doubt, far superior to Australia's.

But Australia can still hope to take some smidgeon of momentum from their unexpectedly tough stand at Trent Bridge and try to eke out a series-leveller at Lord's. Here are four ways they can help themselves:

Bat big, bat long, bat better

It is no secret that this is the weakest Australian batting order in many, many years. They have crossed 300 just five times in their last 15 innings.

But they will somehow have to find a way through, because they cannot expect lower-order batsmen - bowlers, basically - to bail them out each time, as Mitchell Starc, Peter Siddle and Ashton Agar have done.

Shane Watson and Chris Rogers look promising as an opening pair, but Watson still flatters to deceive at Test level.

Illness hampered Ed Cowan in Nottingham, but his position looks less secure with each Test. But at the end of the day, they would not mind the kind of towering score captain Michael Clarke has put up recently, while getting others less gifted to chip in around him.

Clarke righted some wrongs on his last trip to England in 2009 and he needs to come good again.

Use the new cherry better

In hindsight, Australia's new ball bowlers can look back at Trent Bridge with mixed feelings.

They did not bowl particularly well with the new ball, but they were still good enough to have a very strong order in trouble twice.

Nobody doubts that James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc can be very good, match-winning bowlers for Australia.

But England requires different disciplines with the new ball and generally more judicious use of it.

The lengths have to be right and the control exemplary; the pair struggled desperately to control the swing early on.

Lord's might not offer the same swing, but if they get it right, they could put England's batting into even more trouble.

Get out of a spin

Ashton Agar's debut was heartening and record-breaking but it obscured the fact of his selection in the first place.

It is futile to imagine that Shane Warne can ever be replaced, but the haste with which Australia have hurtled through spin options since is remarkable.

It speaks, frankly, of a pretty muddled and abysmal selection policy. Should Agar have been in the XI in the first place, ahead of Nathan Lyon?

Lyon took nine wickets in Australia's last Test before the Ashes, in India including Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli in both innings. Sure, he was a little expensive, but that was India, still collectively among the finest players of spin.

Despite putting together an admirable record in his 22 Tests, Australia have been inconsistent in their selection of Lyon, and dropping him for Agar was just the latest example.

Agar has promise, but surely Lyon is the better spinner right now.

Review smarter

This is actually a little disingenuous, because being able to better use the Decision Review System (DRS) depends primarily on being able to bowl better.

But the bare facts are that there were 13 referrals at Trent Bridge and England got three of four correct. Australia?

They had as many as seven of nine referrals turned down, and of course, did not have one in hand when Stuart Broad edged to slip and was not given out.

Once they start bowling better, as Clarke acknowledged, he will need to be more careful with his reviews.


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