England batters are forced to rewatch wickets in heated Ashes meeting
The Boxing Day Test is a chance for England’s batters to show whether instructions about discipline outside off stump have permeated following a forthright team meeting that saw them forced to rewatch their dismissals during the 275-run defeat in Adelaide.
After going 2-0 down in the Ashes series Joe Root used his post-match press conference to criticise the lengths bowled by his seam attack. However the Guardian understands it was the batting unit that drew much of the ire during a post-match debrief in which the usually mild-mannered head coach, Chris Silverwood, was angered.
In scenes that sound mildly reminiscent of Australia’s response to their shock defeat at Headingley during the 2019 Ashes series – when Justin Langer replayed in full the entire fourth day meltdown suffered at the hands of Ben Stokes – Silverwood put 14 of the 20 English wickets to fall on the TV screen in the dressing room and highlighted failures to leave balls in the channel that didn’t need playing at.
Stokes, the vice-captain, is said to have been a strong voice during these intense discussions, while Jos Buttler, who followed a first-innings edge to slip for a duck with a 207-ball rearguard on the final day, also spoke up to correct one individual who suggested the focus should be on the first 20 balls each batter faces in Australia.
Buttler instead stressed the need for this discipline to be the focus throughout, citing the example of Marnus Labuschagne, who on Wednesday displaced Root at the top of the ICC Test batting rankings, after a first innings 103 from 305 balls that saw 83 deliveries left alone. Overall Australia’s batters left around a third of the deliveries they faced against the new ball – ie the first 30 overs – while for England this figure dropped to a quarter, despite both attacks operating similar lines and lengths.
The frank nature of this all-in debrief is understood to have surprised a number of players present. But the response is said to have been positive, with England’s faltering top seven accepting a need to address a collective urge to feel bat on ball after eight of their 14 wickets fell to catches between wicketkeeper and gully off the seamers.
Mark Wood, the fast bowler who was rested in Adelaide despite impressing at the Gabba, said: “We obviously review the game, things we could do better, things we’ve done well. But this was more a kick up the bum to say look we are 2-0 down now, the same mistakes keep on happening. It was a good discussion.
“It could go one of two ways, but people having those brutally honest conversations and accepting that within the group is something I feel like the team are open to and respect – the fact we can speak to each other like that. I think we probably needed it.”
Root’s public appraisal of the bowlers dropping too short, though not supported by the Hawk-Eye data and a source of criticism from former Australia captain Ricky Ponting regarding leadership, risked creating a rift given the second Test was ultimately lost during a collapse of eight for 86 in 38.3 overs on the third day.
But Wood, set to return for the must-win third Test at the MCG, said: “If I’m brutally honest, it doesn’t feel in the dressing room that it’s a batters v bowlers thing, with all the batters in one corner giving snidey talk about the bowlers and all the bowlers in the other corner talking about the batters. It’s not like that.
“I think as a bowling group we can always get better as well and that’s something we’re constantly reviewing and looking at. With the batting, as we discussed in the meeting, these heavy collapses that we keep having are what are costing us Test matches.
“If you have a bad session or you lose a couple of wickets, that’s not ideal but fair enough. If we’re losing huge chunks of the game [to collapses], then that’s what is knocking us back. We’re all in it together. But we’re coming under a bit of fire at the minute for batting and bowling because we are getting soundly beaten.”
Wood’s absence from the second Test represented a contentious decision from the England team management at 1-0 down, the 31-year-old having sent down 25 overs of searing pace at the Gabba and hurried up Steve Smith before his dismissal for only 12.
Asked if he accepted the call, Wood replied: “I was ready to go if required, but the decision was made that I would be left out. I accept that. We’re all part of a team here that’s trying to win the Ashes. If that was the best decision for the team, that was fine.”
On the prospect of a return in front of a projected crowd of 70,000 at the MCG, Wood added: “It’s a huge occasion. If I get selected, that’s something I can tell my son one day that I got up in front of that many people in a massive sporting occasion with everything on the line. I’ll give everything I’ve got, 100%, charging in, to try to get us the right result to get us back in the Ashes.”