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Australia’s bowling tactics and execution in this series have been close to perfect.
Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle have bowled consistently accurate, probing spells, and their frugality has been supported by Nathan Lyon and Shane Watson, while Mitchell Johnson has operated in short, sharp, destructive spells—it’s a package that England have found impossible to crack.
Australia’s quintet came together in harmony again on Day 1, and yet again England’s batsmen struggled for runs before succumbing to the unrelenting pressure.
Batting against teams "bowling dry" is difficult at the best of times, but such difficulty is radically exacerbated by the fact Johnson has been so destructive. However, that Australia have bowled well in the series does not excuse England’s response from constructive criticism.
While it is difficult to score against Harris, Siddle and Johnson when they are bowling as well as they are, there’s certainly an argument to be made that England could be more proactive against Watson and certainly Lyon.
The benefit of being positive against a team’s spinner has been tellingly demonstrated by Australia’s dismantlement of Graeme Swann, which has not only nullified the threat he provides but has restricted Alastair Cook’s rotation options amongst his bowlers, wearing out the already tired seamers sooner.
Watson has bowled well, but that 203 of his 244 deliveries bowled in this series have been dot balls exemplifies England’s struggles rotating the strike.
The MCG pitch appears particularly conducive to spin, but allowing Lyon to find rhythm could be seen as one of England’s biggest mistakes on Day 1.
Indeed, being more positive against him may go some way to solving the more glaring flaw of England’s batsmen getting in and then getting out before kicking on to a bigger score.
While England’s batsmen have on plenty of occasions got out by wicket-taking deliveries, it is as often—if not more often—poor shot selection and execution. It is errors in judgement forced upon them by the bowling discipline that is leading to their demise.
Unsettling that discipline could release the pressure valve, and in these conditions, the weakest link of an exceptionally good bunch is probably Lyon.
Of course, there’s a fine line between attack and defence, but not scoring runs allows bowlers to settle and the fielding team to dominate. Being positive in defence is a hallmark of a successful team and England have been the very antithesis of that as the series has worn on.
It’s not about being reckless, it’s about being proactive. It’s not easy, either, but England need to find ways to improve. Making a more concerted effort to be positive against Lyon could be a start.
Ultimately, though, today—as they have been for the entire series—Australia were seriously good.