NASSER HUSSAIN: English batters tinkering with technique during this Ashes series has proved dangerous with Ben Stokes, Haseeb Hameed and Rory Burns all guilty of it… but credit to Jonny Bairstow and those who finally showed some fight
- England finally showed some character on third day of the fourth Ashes Test
- Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood all displayed passion and heart
- But too many of England’s batsmen have made technical changes mid-series
- Even Stokes introduced some massive trigger movements when he came back
- He was fortunate to get away with Cameron Green ball that didn’t dislodge bails
Let’s start by recognising the character shown at the SCG by three of the biggest hearted players in the England team.
I said before this fourth Test England should be playing as if their lives depended on it and Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Mark Wood all displayed passion, determination, heart and fight. It was no surprise the third day fightback was led by those three.
But it was badly needed after yet another dreadful start and it was noticeable again how much tinkering of technique has been going on as England crashed to 36 for four and had a spell of 70 balls without scoring a single run.
England finally showed some fight on day three with Jonny Bairstow making a great century
Bairstow and Ben Stokes (right) showed heart to drag England back from 36 for four
It is dangerous to make technical changes during a Test series because anything different you do can have consequences, like the drill we saw at Melbourne when Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed were batting on one leg in the nets.
Even Stokes, who is a fabulous cricketer, does it. I saw some footage the other day of his double century at Cape Town six years ago and his technique was close to perfect.
Compare that to the start of this tour when I watched England’s intra-squad game online and there was Stokes with some massive trigger movements across the stumps. With such a big change you can sometimes forget where your off-stump is.
The ball he left from Cameron Green on Friday that hit off-stump without dislodging the bail came because he hadn’t moved across his stumps and left one that hit off.
Ben Stokes couldn’t believe his luck as Cameron Green’s delivery hit his stumps but the bails stayed out
Green’s delivery in Sydney on day three hit Stokes’ off-stump but Stokes survived the delivery
Then you see Haseeb Hameed in this series suddenly bringing out some massive triggers right back onto his stumps which means he has become very ‘handsy’.
A term I use is that the very best players bat with their hands ‘in the box’ – an imaginary box around the waist that your hands never leave when you’re defending – but if you look at Hameed in this series his hands are way out in front of him.
I have to remind myself as a pundit that you can forget the mental side of the game when you are not scoring runs. You get very nervous and go at the ball, which is what Hameed is doing because he wants to feel bat on ball.
He is not playing late enough underneath him which is one of Joe Root’s great skills. Hameed is punching at the ball which brings in the outside edge – he was dropped in the slips early in his innings – and the inside one, as when he was bowled by Mitchell Starc.
England opener Haseeb Hameed is bowled by Mitchell Starc on the third day at Sydney
Hameed made just six before taking his leave as he again struggled during this series
Then you have Burns working on some technical changes with assistant coach Graham Thorpe in Australia after being dropped and Dom Sibley turning down a place on the Lions tour this winter to work on his whole game.
The one player among the openers we have seen in this Ashes who actually does have a good technique is Zak Crawley, who is something of an anomaly.
I was listening to Mark Waugh, who I’ve always considered a good judge of a cricketer, on Fox and just before Crawley got out Waugh said he couldn’t work out why he averages 30 in first-class cricket with such an organised game.
Crawley tries to put bat to ball at the right tempo, doesn’t defend all the time, and puts the pressure back on the bowlers. But something isn’t right.
Again at the SCG he looked good but then got out and he cannot live off that 267 against Pakistan forever.
Zak Crawley made 18 before he was bowled by Scott Boland to become the second to fall
The only currency is runs, not looking good and hitting some sweet boundaries before getting out. You only have to look at the way Dean Elgar played in making an unbeaten 96 in South Africa’s victory over India at Johannesburg to prove that.
The one thing you would say is that Crawley’s bat can come across the line of the ball from gully towards mid-on and they say that’s because he is playing for Kent on pitches at Canterbury that can nibble around and he gets his leg out of the way to try to avoid lbw.
Maybe he has to consider moving to a county with flatter pitches and getting big runs to ready himself for international cricket. We’ve seen Dawid Malan and Nick Gubbins leaving Middlesex in recent times for similar reasons.
Rory Burns was dropped after a run of poor scores and was told to bat on one leg in the nets
There are exceptions. Steve Smith famously changed to the back and across movement that has worked so well for him in mid-innings and has not looked back since.
But think back to the batters who were around 10 years ago when England last won in Australia. Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and even a young Alastair Cook all went into international cricket with their techniques ready for the highest level.
For that reason you need your best coaches lower down the food chain because at the top it is very difficult to make changes on the go as England seem to be doing. It can confuse the batters and cause other issues.
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