x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Ashes series can only get better for England after going 2-0 up

That good results so far without many in top order firing with the bat suggests hosts can go in for the kill if they play to potential, writes Graham Caygill.

Jonny Bairstow made one half-century but the No 6 bat was fortunate to get even that. Philip Brown / Reuters
Jonny Bairstow made one half-century but the No 6 bat was fortunate to get even that. Philip Brown / Reuters

As Graeme Swann wheeled away in jubilation after trapping James Pattinson leg before to complete England's emphatic victory over Australia at Lord's on Sunday, he and his teammates were celebrating being in a position rarely experienced by the English.

You have to go back to December 1978 for the last time that England won the opening two Tests in an Ashes series.

The match that secured England's lead 35 years ago is unlikely to be one well-remembered as Australia were beaten by 166 runs in Perth, anchored in part by a mind-numbing innings of 77 from Geoffrey Boycott, which came off 337 deliveries, lasted more than seven hours and included just a single four.

The Lord's Test will certainly be more remembered, probably not so by Australians, as England's 347-run winning margin was as convincing as it sounds.

But as Darren Lehmann's men lick their wounds and look to recover ahead of the third Test at Old Trafford in Manchester next week, the scary fact for them is they are trailing 2-0 to a side who have largely played nowhere near their best, at least with the bat.

Apart from Ian Bell's two hundreds and Joe Root's 180 in the second innings at Lord's, England's top seven have failed to sparkle against a hard-working Australia seam attack.

Alastair Cook is the first England captain since Mike Brearley to enjoy the luxury of being perfect in an Ashes series, but his form has been disappointing.

He has just 83 runs to his name thus far, 50 of which came in the second innings at Trent Bridge in a knock that lacked any semblance of fluidity survival and helping eke out a lead to defend became the priority.

His dismissal in the second innings at Lord's, playing on to a Peter Siddle delivery, summed up the poor footwork he is presently suffering from, which has also led to him being trapped leg before.

Root's 180 has alleviated the personal pressure after an average start as opener, which had seen him score 41 runs in his first three innings.

Jonathan Trott's series has been odd, to say the least. Twice he has been out without troubling the scorers, but the other two times, he made 48 and 58. If he is batting well and he has his eye in, Trott is a joy to watch and can normally be guaranteed to bat a day and rack up a huge score.

But he has not done that here, twice getting out, in very un-Trott-like ways, when well set.

Australia's bowlers had stifled his run-scoring at Trent Bridge in the first innings, and the normally patient No 3 lost his cool as he reached for a wide ball, resulting in him diverting it into his own stumps.

Even worse was at Lord's, when a knock of 58, which included 11 boundaries, was curtailed as he played an odd-looking slap shot to a short ball off Ryan Harris, which went straight down the throat of Usman Khawaja.

Kevin Pietersen, who is a major doubt for Old Trafford with a calf injury, is playing like a man who has not seen much cricket of late, which is not surprising, given he had been out since March after knee surgery before the series.

Pietersen ground out 64 at Trent Bridge in the second innings, as he played the delicate match situation, rather than his normal, aggressive game.

His two failures at Lord's were disappointing, particularly his lazily mistimed second-innings drive, which left England teetering at 30 for three and in danger of letting Australia have a sniff of victory, despite conceding a first-innings lead of 223.

Jonny Bairstow continues to have question marks hanging over him at No 6 as he struggles with his technique.

His stand of 144 with Bell in the first innings at Lord's saved England's innings, but he was fortunate to make 67 after he had been bowled by Siddle, playing a horrible shot across the line of the ball, when he had been on just 21. Matt Prior has only gotten into double figures once in four innings.

He, like Pietersen, plays an attacking game, which, when it works, is wonderful counter-attacking stuff, but when it doesn't, seems horrendous, like his terrible attempt to slap his seventh ball in the first innings in Nottingham over the covers, which instead went straight to Phillip Hughes, leaving his team in huge trouble.

Bell has been the one consistent success of England's top six thus far, his two hundreds both coming when his team were under pressure.

The Australians will not be surprised by how well he has played, they knew he was good, they just did not know he had the temperament for the tough situation.

The reality is that Australia are two down to a team who have yet to fire with the bat, and it has largely been the impressive efforts with the ball by James Anderson and Swann that has been backbone of the victories.

For the Australians, the fear must be that the worst is to come if Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bairstow and Prior find their form.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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