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Why can’t teams win away from home?
Since Monday, the performance of the English cricket team has been dissected to death and criticisms have just been thrown about in all directions. They often say that when it rains, it pours and for Joe Root, the feeling must have been similar with regards to this Ashes series. In the three tests so far, they have been thoroughly outplayed in all departments and maybe most disappointingly for Trevor Bayliss, they have not been able to learn from the mistakes made in previous matches. However, there is certainly a sense in my mind that all these fingers, that are being pointed at the throat of the players, is over exaggerated to say the least. The series was expected to be a close one and it has been anything but that. Despite this apparent let down by the Pommes, there is wider question that needs to be looked at. Not since the great South African test side between 2008 and 2013 has a team been able to win consistently overseas. The obvious suggestion would be to say the disparity between conditions at home and the ones they encounter on tours is huge and this would be expected. Teams can win series here and there, like South Africa did in Australia last year but it happens with increasing rarity these days. What is missing from teams in the current generation?
Often in test series, the away side can sometimes seem like they are only a few sessions away from winning a test and putting themselves in real contention to win a series. Inexplicably, a batting collapse ensues and the home side run away with the match. Why does this happen? The partnership that looks like it will be a match changing one is often huge, but just breaks at a crucial moment. It is vital that partnerships like these actually take the responsibility of making the win a reality. For example, Dawid Malan and Jonny Bairstow’s partnership cannot be criticised and Moeen Ali’s dismissal was a horror to put it lightly. In spite of this, if that partnership was still present at lunch on day two in Perth, Steve Smith would have had a real headache in terms of how to get a wicket. With this, it is likely the bowlers will also lose patience and their frustration can lead to easy runs. If this happened, we cannot say that England would have definitely won, but they would have got that 500 total which is a real challenge to match for the opposition. So, cash in when you’re in otherwise get ready to be on your way out.
Quite possibly the only fact in test match cricket is that you need 20 wickets to win. This means the bowling attack needs to be well trained in the conditions and understand what gets wickets. Too often in the last few years, we have seen overseas teams be incredibly defensive with their mindset as they simply look to save runs. The great bowlers in cricket always looked to take wickets. Shane Warne was hit for the most amount of sixes in history, yet we remember him as an incredible bowler and arguably the greatest cricketer of all time. For example, when India came to England in 2014, once Ian Bell and Root got set at Southampton, MS Dhoni looked to stop the flow of runs rather than try and knock their bails out. The conditions called for a fuller length to entice the batsmen to drive, but the Indian bowlers seemed content on keeping their figures tidy. No one remembers figures of 0-30, but a five wicket haul overseas will be remembered forever. One of the great fast bowlers, Wasim Akram, had the ability of bowling deliveries that no batsman could play. He went for runs but he would always get wickets for his country. His best figures of 7-104 illustrate this exact point. So get the mindset right and attack the batsmen to get them out, rather than save your figures from embarrassment.
As the teams head to Melbourne for another Boxing Day showdown, all the spotlight will be on England to see if they can avoid another whitewash. But rather than make wholesale changes, Root must galvanise the mindset of his team to see results.