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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Joe Root and England must respond in Adelaide or risk fatal blow to Ashes chances

After a 10-wicket defeat in Brisbane, England have the chance to respond in the day-night Test starting on Saturday. 

England captain Joe Root needs to lift his team in time for the start of the second Ashes Test in Adelaide on Saturday. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images
England captain Joe Root needs to lift his team in time for the start of the second Ashes Test in Adelaide on Saturday. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images

Joe Root is not the first England captain, and will almost certainly not be the last, in need of urgently rebuilding his side’s morale following a demoralising first Test defeat in Australia.

While Australia deserve plenty of credit for fighting back from 76-4 on Day 2, still 226 runs behind, to claim a 10-wicket victory in Brisbane, England were left to lament shortcomings both with bat and ball that undid two-and-a-half days of good work.

Encouragingly for Root and England coach Trevor Bayliss, this was not an awful England display. In terms of being competitive and challenging for the win, it was arguably their most impressive performance in Brisbane since 1990.

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England did claim draws at the Gabba in 1998 and 2010, but they were on the backfoot on both occasions. England must transfer the positives from Brisbane to Adelaide when the second Test starts tomorrow.

The first day-night Ashes Test using a pink, rather than the traditional red ball brings an air of uncertainty about proceedings. The pink ball is expected to create more movement off the pitch under the floodlights,which had Australia captain Steve Smith wary in the build-up to the series.

In an interview with Wisden Cricket Monthly, Smith said he believed the conditions in Adelaide would be “quite suited” to England. This was in reference to when Australia were knocked over in seaming conditions at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge by an attack led by James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

Smith may have been deliberately tactical in trying to make his side the underdogs, particularly when his pace attack of Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins will all fancy their chances of causing England issues with the pink ball.

If Brisbane taught us one thing it is that England cannot rely purely on Broad and Anderson to knock over Australia twice on their own to get the job done. The experienced pair need support. That was lacking in Brisbane, with Chris Woakes and Jake Ball both struggling to threaten consistently, while Moeen Ali’s lacklustre efforts, compared to Australia’s Nathan Lyon, were a major concern.

England’s batsmen also must give their bowlers runs to play with. From 127-1 and 242-4, a first innings total of 302 was at least 75 runs under par, and it allowed Australia, thanks to the brilliance of Smith’s unbeaten 141, to surpass it and create scoreboard pressure from which England capitulated in their second innings.

This is not a great Australia side by any stretch. Smith saved the day with the bat in Brisbane and the bowling attack is promising, without having a game-changer in their midst like Mitchell Johnson or Shane Warne of yore, at least not yet.

England had their foot on Australia’s throat in Brisbane and let it off. If they are to retain the Ashes they must be more ruthless and they cannot afford to let promising situations in Adelaide to slip away.

Adelaide is likely to deliver a positive result, given the brittle nature of both side’s batting and reliance on key individuals, and realistically, England need to win if they are to have any chance of retaining the urn.

It is hard to see how they will come back from 2-0 down, especially with the third Test at Perth, a venue that will suit Australia’s fast bowlers perfectly. England have not won an Ashes encounter in Western Australia since 1978.

Just how good Root is at raising morale quickly will be much clearer in the next few days.

This does not need to be another horror tour of Australia for England, but it has the potential to be one if they are not careful.