A particularly telling statistic is that this Test match is only the third time ever that Australia have gone five consecutive Tests with an unchanged side, and the first time since 2006 that England have handed out three debuts in the same match.
Of the three changes England made, Joe Root out, Gary Ballance in; Monty Panesar out, Scott Borthwick in; and Tim Bresnan out, Boyd Rankin in—none of them were unequivocally justifiable.
While the merits and demerits of which of Michael Carberry or Root should’ve been dropped were debated, few considered the idea that neither should’ve been.
Both have been doing similarly badly, not only to each other but to the rest of the batting order. Whether Ballance, with very little recent first-class cricket behind him will fare much better is doubtful.
Anyhow, Root is a talented cricketer, and being dropped can sometimes be the best thing to happen to a young player—he will almost certainly play Test cricket again.
If a batsmen had to go, which the media has engendered there need be, as the Telegraph's Derek Pringle wrote, Root was the right man. But No Man would’ve been preferable.
Meanwhile, handing a debut to a leg-spinner is a precarious business at the best of times, but doing so in the fifth Ashes Test of a series totally dominated by the opposition is one of even greater risk.
While playing Borthwick may be viewed in the short-term as a decision in which England are hastening the arrival of their new generation, in the long-term it is a decision that could cause irreversible damage to a precocious talent, and as it was, the signs are not good, with Borthwick being afforded just seven expensive, boundary-ridden overs.
The risk of playing Borthwick was only increased by the selection of Rankin, who, with no first-class cricket since the beginning of December, was a speculative pick, not only in that England could not know quite how he’d bowl, but nor how his body would hold up. As it was, injury fatefully struck, England’s attack was depleted, and Cook couldn’t even turn to his spinner to hold up an end.
Picking James Tredwell, retaining Tim Bresnan, or even just picking the entire same team from the last Test would’ve been a safer option.