Andy Flower was right to criticise his team after the Headingley humiliation. The manner of their three-day capitulation was so reminiscent of last year’s hammering by South Africa on the same ground that serious questions should be asked of the team’s ability to learn from their mistakes.
In 2008 England were bundled out for 203 before tea on day one, with nine batsmen caught against the swinging ball. All 10 were dismissed caught this time around, shortly after lunch for 102. They lasted less than 34 overs.
On both occasions the brainless batting was compounded by terrible bowling displays – South Africa cruised to 522, Australia 445 – and each match was as good as lost by lunch on day two. England failed to learn from their Leeds mistakes last year.
This failure to learn lessons is borne out of an obsession to take the game to the Aussies. It has become England’s mantra since 2005, a fixation with attacking play that does not take common sense into account.
True, Australia are more fallible than they used to be and as susceptible under pressure as other teams, but the key to being aggressive is knowing when to go on the attack. Day one on a flat Lord’s pitch against out-of-sorts bowlers was the right time; a swinging morning and well-grooved bowlers at Headingley was not.
This desire to ‘stand up’ to the Aussies was manifested by the abject bowling display at Headingley. Feeling a bit of pressure to take wickets after being skittled for 102 is understandable, but England lacked patience and intelligence.
Instead of finding a good length and letting the conditions do some work, all the pacemen were drawn into a short-pitched plan of attack that was dealt with with embarrassing ease by Ricky Ponting and co.
England have no chance of winning at the Oval unless they learn from their mistakes. They need to pick the right time to be aggressive, although the Headingley humiliation was so bad that some players might not get another chance. They cannot complain.
Before the start of the next test make sure you keep an eye on the Oval Test odds before any Fifth Test betting.