Ashes: England inexplicably left out Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad for the first test
It was never meant to be this way. Not a complete muddle over selection after two years of planning to culminate in an England highlight on the big day in Brisbane.
Plan A, as outlined by Chris Silverwood and Joe Root during the UK tour of New Zealand in late 2019, told their medical staff to ensure Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone were at their best fighting Australian fire with fire on day one around the Gaba.
When England was mauled by serious injuries and started again – and Root could have contributed by bowling both Archer and Stone too much in Test Cricket – Plan B replicated the last England Ashes-winning side in Australia by ‘bowling dry’ with an all- seam attack.
England inexplicably left Stuart Broad (L) and Jimmy Anderson (R) out of consideration for the first Ashes Test in Brisbane – who were best equipped to take advantage of the conditions
Australia knocked out England for 147 when Joe Root’s outfit collapsed with the bat on day one
But somehow, when that big day arrived in conditions made for the skills this offense abounds, England inexplicably left out the two bowlers best equipped to take advantage of them in Jimmy Anderson. and Stuart Broad.
And out of nowhere came an English finger spinner whom England had ignored all summer in preparation for Australia in Jack Leach, a move that no doubt contributed to what was exposed as the wrong batting toss decision.
It’s hard enough for England to win in Australia without a succession of own goals culminating in the confidence shown to a bowler in Leach who, realistically, could have no greater impact on this first Test than the off spin from Root.
That’s not to say he didn’t disapprove of the selection of Ollie Robinson, whose meteoric rise to this side of England saw him as the first name on the bowling team sheet.
Neither the inclusion of the only remaining bowler with real pace in Wood or the pick of a man who has become so much more than an English sailor in Chris Woakes.
It’s just that one of the big two had to be picked next to them rather than the admittedly unlucky Leach, who offers neither the control a spinner of Graeme Swann’s caliber used to land the first innings, nor the potency that him in the second.
Chris Silverwood (R) and Joe Root (L) were supposed to go for Plan B, but then dropped the all-seam attack stars
That is, if Anderson and Broad are really fit and available to play, as England insist. And we didn’t have to worry about 39-year-old Anderson breaking down again on the first day of an Ashes series, as he did in Edgbaston two years ago.
And that playing 35-year-old Broad was a gamble they weren’t willing to take as he’s only just recovered from his own calf problem that’s curtailing his involvement with India.
It is easy to sympathize with England. Covid, and the well-intentioned but flawed rest and rotation policies that came with it, have undermined Root and Silverwood and given them absolutely no adequate preparation for a test run of this magnitude.
But the lack of red-ball bowling for everyone involved in the squad meant that England had to pick an extra sailor so that none of them, including the returning Ben Stokes, were pressured to bowl in the first of five . Tests in just 42 days.
Jack Leach got the wink, but he couldn’t have a bigger impact on this first test than Root’s off spin
Because it was the Australian pundits – and we’ve already had far too many Shane Warne for our own good because of BT’s decision to cut costs and go home with commentary – fell over themselves to ask how England could possibly have two bowlers could leave out with over 1,100 Test wickets between them in conditions made for them. And to be fair they had a very good point.
What a contrast to Australia’s attack, with new captain’s big three Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc all fit and firing at the right time, just like in the last two Ashes series. No signs of rust or lack of preparation with it.
It will be hard to get used to a likeable Australian captain but Cummins is clearly one of cricket’s good players and is also a true world class bowler and he offered an early sign of good man management in a rare insightful moment on BT.
It’s all very well to save Anderson and Broad for the second Test, but England may be 1-0 down
The new skipper told Glenn McGrath he would also have hit first if he had won the toss, but added that he went back to the Australian locker room and told his bowlers he would have trusted them and bowled first .
Buoyed by that confidence they have duly delivered, not that England’s most frail batting formations offer too much resistance, Root, significant, has been conceived and fought by a truly brilliant piece of bowling from Hazlewood.
The first round thus emphatically to Australia and an all-too-familiar feeling of impending doom for England. But they didn’t help themselves.
After all, it’s all good to save Anderson and Broad for the day-night second Test in Adelaide, but it won’t do England any good with Australia already leading 1-0 and with all the Ashes momentum back in their favour.
It is up to the sailors England has now chosen to make up for the absence of the big two on the second day.