Stuck in the middle

No need to panic after terrible display, says Nass

My gut feeling right now is that Ravi Bopara needs to be taken out of the firing line.

Nasser Hussain
Quotes of the week

It has been a terrible two-and-a-half days for England. They have been out-bowled, out-fielded and out-batted by Australia and it doesn't get any worse than that.

However, it is 1-1 going into the final Test match. My generation of cricketers would have given their right arms to be going to the Oval with an opportunity to win the Ashes. We must look at it like that and grasp the opportunity that awaits.

Of course there are concerns because Australia have improved throughout the series - the likes of Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle have clearly improved in this game - and there will be concerns about needing to win a game on what is usually a very flat pitch.

But the momentum in this series has swung one way and then the other and there's no reason why England can't shift it back in their direction.

The first morning was a nightmare for England. When you are bowled out for 102 then you can't really come back from that.

I thought the Australian bowling was exceptional and the batting was loose from England. The players simply didn't leave the ball when they should have in the first innings and they must learn that lesson. They repeated the mistakes they made against South Africa a year ago and that infuriated everybody.

There were problems to overcome on that morning with the concerns over Matt Prior's fitness and such, but while that obviously affected Andrew Strauss, I don't think the rest of the batting line-up can claim that as an issue.

They suffered for loose batting, but I didn't think the selection was great either. I said all along that they should have played an extra batsman - along with their best four bowlers - and they simply didn't read the conditions at Headingley very well.

Furthermore they didn't get their basic skills right, pretty much from ball one. Australia showed them how you should play at Headingley - they pitched the ball up further than England did and they left the ball much better.

Marcus North, in particular, played beautifully. He has improved and has delivered first-innings runs twice now, which is very, very important. He likes batting with Michael Clarke and his contribution at six - with Brad Haddin at seven after him - has been invaluable.

We also saw a much better display from Johnson. He is the one bowler that the series seems to have revolved around. After an erratic start and after that defeat at Lord's, Australia were desperate to find 20 wickets here. They stuck by Johnson and he fired for them at last.

You can see why he's such a danger man when he bowls like he has here because he's quick, he has genuine pace, genuine bounce and he swings the ball. Those are very good combinations for any bowler.

Concern

He enjoyed himself against a middle order which remains a massive area of concern. Alastair Cook has not enjoyed a heap of runs at the top of the innings, which means they are relying far too heavily on Andrew Strauss because 3, 4 and 5 have not been delivering runs.

My gut feeling right now is that Ravi Bopara needs to be taken out of the firing line, although I need a couple of days to reflect and make my mind up about that. I still think Bopara is a future Test match player, but he looks like he is mentally shot after the first four games.

However, I'm not 100 per cent convinced if he should be taken out of the team because I'm not sure who I'd put in. Jonathan Trott was named in the squad for this game, so I suppose he is the leading candidate, but I'm not entirely sure what I would do in this situation.

I'm not a big fan of moving people round or dropping people down the order in the middle of a series. I think that is a sign of weakness and that is the last thing you want. Bopara either needs to play at three and show everyone how he can bat or somebody else needs to come in and do it for him.

Ian Bell has only played in two games and he has one 50 to his name already, we must remember that. The problem he has is that Johnson is all over him like a rash at the moment.

He simply can't work Johnson out; the full deliveries are getting him out lbw and he's nicking the shorter deliveries. He's got to work out his game plan against Johnson because he's struggling there at the moment.

Changes

It would be easy to sit here and talk about getting rid of people, but wholesale changes don't work. There aren't any players out there that are going to come in and do better than the guys currently in the side.

When you're out of the team, you're always a better player and I'd rather stick with the ones that have got us this far. If they're good enough to come in two games ago - like Bell was - then they've surely got to be good enough to produce the goods at the Oval.

I would perhaps make one change at 3, 4 or 5 but it wouldn't be Paul Collingwood. He's a scrapper and you need that sort of player at the Oval. Collingwood's runs in the first Test match saved England - we'd have lost the Ashes by now if it wasn't for Collingwood - so I would stick with him.

Either Bopara or Bell might make way and as Bopara hasn't made a contribution yet it might be him. But we need to let the dust settle a little bit before we make that decision.

Ridiculous

All eyes are now on Andrew Flintoff's next scan because although his return could be crucial, he's got to be fit to play.

I still think it's ridiculous that the ECB allowed a situation to develop with our star players going to the IPL. Both Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen have to take some responsibility for that as well.

Going into this must-win game at Headingley - and then a must-win game at the Oval - we will possibly be without both of our stars, one with the bat and one with the ball. That should never have been allowed to happen.

Neither Flintoff nor Pietersen should have gone to play in the IPL. They were both carrying injuries and I said at the time that it was weak management to allow them to go.

That decision is now coming back to haunt them.

Opportunity

But let's not panic. This team have a great opportunity to go the Oval and win a one-off game.

There is no reason why they can't win that Test match. If it was the Australians of old I'd be worried, but although they have a good side there is still not much between these two teams.

England are still a good side. They simply didn't play very well at Headingley.

Comments (33)

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Mark Riley says...

Lads, ability aside i dont care if Ravi Bopara has the abilty of Viv Richards his demeanor and attidude on the pitch and in interviews is appauling, other teams have had no hesitation in the past dropping these types i.e Jason Gillespie. Ian Bell for all his talent which he defiantley has, still " IS " a "rabbit in the headlights" ..its ALL about temperament...he has none. Final go's .. Fredd!! gone are the nudges and winks with youre old pals the good ol' Aussies? and back are the fierce POMME hating snarls eh? waddya wreckon? haha fall for it every time. Cook.......you know someone right? someone in the selectors? or daddy does? i actually thought royalty or the house of commons or something, cos mate you have the same floors you did when you were 16 and you cant cut it old boy..rubbish Thanks guys, what was that Lions match all about anyway haha it was just a sweetener wasnt it? Mark

Posted 08:56 14th August 2009

Bywater Graham says...

I think both Bopara & Bell should be dropped as the Aussie bowlers have them worked out and the pressure of batting in the final test would be to much for them. They will be fearfull of playing a poor shot and making a mistake especially early on. My team would be: 1.Strauss 2.Cook 3.Keys. 4.Flintoff 5.Collingwood 6.Prior 7.Broad 8.Swann 9. Andersen 10.Onions 11. Panesar I think Keys is worth the risk and would not be phased by the Aussies as it will be very intense out there with the Aussie bowlers and Ponting trying every dodgy trick in book. We could change around the 4,5,6 batting order to suit if require. We need to score at least 400+ 1st innings choose if we bat first or second. Also, I would go for two spinnners as this will keep the Aussie run rate down and at the Oval they could be a deciding factor to winning. There's one thing for sure its going to be a real enthralling contest and I'm looking foward to it. Bring it on!

Posted 15:17 13th August 2009

John Butt says...

Gary Wright Flintoff has failed to develop at all since 2005. He is not an hero to me justa good to average cricketer. After 4 years of promise after promise and our failure in 8 out of 9 ashes matches I think all the 2005 players should go they have delivered very little. One or two good spells in eight games is what we are talking about regards Flintoff. This is not 2005 its 2009

Posted 19:38 12th August 2009

Adam Cloonan says...

I think some of the opions for possible England teams, people are in fantasy worlds. What England need are solid performers. In my opinion Ramprakash is nowhere near solid enough in his performances at test level and neither is Bopara so i feel they should both be taken out of the though processes. Yes Bopara may offer something in the future for England but he hasn't looked like scoring a run and is too loose to really dig in and score tough runs. Trescothick as well although a quality player i don't think should be included, now i think he is an amazing tallented player but what does it say to the hard working batsmen in England bringing him in for one test match? and would he have a reccurence of his ilness in a vital match? For these reasons my team would be... 1. Strauss (c) 2. Cook 3. Trott 4. Bell 5. Collingwood 6. Prior (wicketkeeper) 7. Flintoff* 8. Broad 9. Swann 10. Anderson 11. Onions. *on the Flintoff issue, if he is not fit then select Dominic Cork as he is in the best bowling form in the county game arguably. Come on England lets win the ashes and give the Ponting something else to cry about :)

Posted 13:30 12th August 2009

Ravi Bopara says...

I see how everyone slates bopara ok he is having a bad series but to say he cant cut it at this level is a joke! he scored 3 back to back hundreds against the west indies who have a good bowling attack..i dont think he is a number 3 maybe number 4 or 6..look how youg bopara is only 25..he will be the best player engkand have in a few years..wheres everybody slating ian bell? he is shocking

Posted 12:10 12th August 2009

Liam Liddell says...

Bopara should've been dropped tests ago. Personally I don't think he cuts it at this level. My eleven would have to be; 1.Strauss 2.Trescothick (Provoding he returns. If not Trott) 3. Cook 4. Bell 5. Collingwood 6. Prior 7. Flintoff 8. Swann 9. Anderson 10. Harmison 11. Onions

Posted 11:06 12th August 2009

Heath From australia says...

Come on you guys. A bit of non-hysterical reflection wouldn't go astray. You did well to draw the first test, you won the second, drew the third, and got smacked in the fourth. Up until last Friday you had the form and tactics to lead the series. Headingley was a disaster, but you can't make a big change at a time like this unless it's forced - and on this occasion it's not. I reckon Bopara is rubbish, but he needed to be dropped 2 tests ago because now it's too late and too unsettling. The only players England can afford to bring in now are Freddie and KP because they know what to expect and how to approach it (depending on fitness). The majority of you talk like you've lost the series because you lost one test match. You'd better hope like hell that your team isn't thinking along the same lines!

Posted 05:21 12th August 2009

Gary Wright says...

John Butt, have you actually been watching the test matches? Flintoff is the one player that the Australians fear. In fact he is the only English player to have intimidated Australian batsman in the last 20 years. When has he ever been 'destoyed' by the Aussies as you suggest?. Clueless.

Posted 16:13 11th August 2009

Mark Punter says...

My 11 , would be.... Strauss,Cook,Key,Trott,Collingwood,Prior,Flintoff,Broad,Swann,Harmison,Anderson.....2-1 England to win the Ashes

Posted 13:28 11th August 2009

Stuart Wells says...

Can the team that played at Headingly possibly be (nearly) the same one that played in the first 3 Tests? Selection mistakes contributed - at 1-0 should have been more cautious especially given the fragility of the middle order. From the squad picked Trott should have played instead of Harmison in my opinion, pushing Prior down to 7 (which is where I think he should be anyway). After all, the Aussies picked 4 bowlers and won by an innings! Some of the criticism of the bowling was unfair - the problems were caused by the batting in the 1st Innings. No bowling attack can defend 102! I agree with the comments that if you pick as many bowlers as that you should bowl first if given the chance. For the Oval? Sorry but some batsmen have to go. Bopara has to be sent back to County cricket to learn how to keep his concentration. Arguably unfair to Bell to drop him after only 2 matches but he has been shown to be fallible in the past. Wrong to bring in Trescothick and/or Ramprakash. Retrograde step and no guarantee it would work - they have both been out of Test cricket for too long. So I'd go for Strauss, Cook, Key as 1,2,3. Maybe Bell still at 4 as can't think of anyone else. Trott and Collingwood 5,6 (or reverse). Prior 7. Bowling - Anderson, Harmison if quick pitch, Sidebottom or Onions and a spinner. Personally I'd go for Monty rather than Swann. With 6 batsmen don't need his batting and I think Monty's a better bowler. Swann's also been totally out bowled by Hauritz who was supposed to be poor. Flintoff should only play if definitely fit enough to bowl Test length spells. Then you leave Bell out Notice - no Broad. Going to be good but currently bowling is not a threat and usally expensive. Batting is improving but it is as a bowler he needs to justify his place. Again, like Swann, with 6 batsmen don't need his batting. Given recent Oval pitches, though, going to be very difficult to take 20 wickets.

Posted 12:45 11th August 2009

Tom Marshall says...

Come on people, its no good going on about dropping players and bringing in players who have had a good domestic season... I mean Ramprakash, He might play well against players who can hardly bowl into the mid 80s and do nothing with the ball, but when he had his chance against better players, he failed and will most likely do it again. Trescothick on the other hand, is probably the only person I would bring in as he is proven on the international scene. The only problem is deciding whether or not he would perform as well against a decent attack. The Aussie attack may not be the strongest its ever been, but compared to the extreme lack of bowling there is in domestic cricket its hard to make judgements on whether supposed 'in-form' players would perform on an international level. Its easy to cricticise and suggest options when your on the outside but I think the selectors are as worried as I am about the lack of realistic 'international standard' options there are for English cricket. I mean 2 of our best batsman are South African... What does that tell you?

Posted 11:00 11th August 2009

Oli Crusie says...

England couldn't of played any worse at headingly!!!!!!! All the batters played shockin but the first two bowlers Broad and Swann was like twenty twenty cricket. Thats got to be up there in the alltime ashes memories. Bopara dropped! Team for next test in batting order: Strauss Cook Anderson (night watchman) Bell Collingwood Trott Prior Flintoff Broad Swann Harmisson

Posted 11:00 11th August 2009

Chris Newton says...

Drop Bell and bopara and Cook. Bring in Key Ramprakash and do everything possible to get Trescothic.Strauss and Trescothic to open Key at number 3. I'd also drop Broad and bring in Sidebottom. My final team would be Stauss, Trescothic, Key, Ramprakash, Collingwood, Prior, Flintoff, Swann, Anderson, Harmisson, Sidebottom

Posted 10:30 11th August 2009

John Butt says...

Not good news that about Flintoff he is just what the Aussie need they will target him and destroy him. Better he stays away me thinks .He is past it now and has been for 2 years. Get real England scrap the 2005 players.

Posted 09:46 11th August 2009

Neil Jones says...

It is simple to me!! Everyone is talking about bringing Ramps back which they could easily do! The one player who should be back is Trescothick, he is by far the best batsman in the country and I even mean that he is better than Pieterson. Trescothick should open with Strauss, Cook at 3 and then Ramps batting at 4, 5 would be Prior, 6 - Collingwood, 7 - Flintoff (If 100%), 8 - Swann, 9 - Broad or Anderson depends on who is fit? 10 -Harmison, 11 - Onions. What does anyone else think

Posted 09:46 11th August 2009

Anbu Krish says...

I think ,eng must need some changes in their batting order.ravi is a talent batsman,but his batting style is not suitable for no 3 slot.austrialins r well planned against all england batsmen.i think ,eng will give rest to ravi.bcoz,now he is totaly out of touch.and next change is drop ian bell and in bowling dept'ment,eng must contain clarke and north.these two r making most of runs.i still belive england can regain the ashes.and make the decision on flintoff very quickly,

Posted 17:30 10th August 2009

Steve Wright says...

call me negative if you will,but the writing was on the wall.whether you like it or not,england without flintoff,or pieterson,are not the same package.cooks been erratic in form,bell hasnt got it against top class opposition,and bopara,although sometimes brilliant,has time on his side,but in the current climate,ought to be taken out of the firing line.colingwood is in as an underused all rounder and in his time,his experience has been a godsend.but with england 1-0 up in the series,surely the emphisis should of been on packing the side with batting to force the draw.at a ground where a result is normally a formality.instead we had a tail longer than the average dog,and to many out of form players.my final test team would be strauss(MIDDLESEX)cook(ESSEX)key(KENT)denley(KENT)ramprakash(SURREY)LUMB(hampshire)prior(SUSSEX)swann(NOTTS)broad(NOTTS)sidebottom(NOTTS)harmisson(DURHAM)with flintoff injured.if fit coming in for harmisson.to be perfectly honest. if you played on the oval pitch for 2 weeks its hard to bowl a side out twice .....surrey will tell you thats why their struggling this season

Posted 16:37 10th August 2009

Brian Christley says...

What on earth was Peter Mandelson doing in Corfu when his style of spin was so desperately needed by England at Headingley, if not on the field at least in the commentary box?

Posted 15:33 10th August 2009

Tony Moss says...

I have a theory. it's not my usual style, I don't like knee jerk reactions but I'm going to make one. I allude to Nassers point that players 'become' much better when they're out the side, however there are two guys can fix this problem for England. Firstly, move heaven and Earth to get Trescothick to play in this one match. Get him in to open with Cook. He's technically excellent, has stared the Aussies down once before and has a chance to become a hero. Next, drop Strauss to 3 where I think the pressure will be off and get Ramprakash in behind him. Ok he always struggled for England but he is a much better player these days, so comfortable with his game, and he'll know the Oval like the back of his hand. I'd keep Ravi in but at 5, Prior at 6, flintoff 7 Broad 8 Swann 9 Anderson 10 and Harmison 11. I know you should never look back in sport, but there is one game to go and clearly Bell and Collingwood aren't up to it.

Posted 13:26 10th August 2009

Mark G says...

In response to Dave K, Broad was the subject of speculation, not scrutiny. And in the lunchtime interval Nasser actually argued that in Broad we are not looking at a finished product, but what we are doing is making a long term investment, giving Broad the experience he needs in this sort of test arena, which clearly is working, in terms of batting at least. He is still a long way short in terms of his quality of bowling, but the sort of control and consistency which broad needs comes from this experience which he is currently being inbued with, and in years to come he will be one of our strongest test players; And ultimately is it the responsibility of the captain Strauss to ensure that his bowlers understand where they should be bowling the ball, and if not, then turn to somebody who can achieve this!

Posted 13:03 10th August 2009

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