England must consider five-man attack

Aside from the titanic performance from England’s top three, the lesson to come out of the batathon at the Gabba is England OUGHT to play five bowlers at Adelaide. Of course they won’t but they should.

Or are they playing for five draws? Palpably not (even though they would retain the Ashes if they did!). But England haven’t won in Australia with four bowlers since the 1920s and the initial signs are they are will find it immensely hard going this time.

More significantly, do they really need six batsmen? Ian Bell, a classy player at the absolute peak of his powers, is wasted at number six. It seems absurd safety-first tactics to stack the side with batsmen, three of whom have already made centuries (and Bell probably would have if he hadn’t started running out of partners in England’s first innings) especially with the bowler-unfriendly conditions out here.

Let’s be frank, this Australian bowling attack is plain. It is certainly the worst attack Australia have fielded in a home Ashes for 25 years.

Peter Siddle is a poor man’s Darren Gough, Ben Hilfenhaus a Mike Hendrick look-a-like and Mitchell Johnson at present a purveyor of liquorice allsorts. With a first-class bowling average of 48, Xavier Doherty wouldn’t look that special in a club match. Shane Warne wanted to say that but didn’t have the heart.

England should have no concerns about them or their likely replacements, Ryan Harris and Doug Bollinger. And now that Alastair Cook, one of the potential weak points in England’s top six, has proved his exceptional resilience, there doesn’t appear the need for the extra batsman (though it is admittedly difficult to drop anyone).

It seems a constant risk to go in with only four bowlers. An injury, or a bad day for one of them, could be very costly. But the chances of England changing are about as good as the likelihood of Jonathan Trott omitting to mark his guard.

If Trott and the new rock of Chelmsford took all the plaudits, and deservedly so for their monumental feats of concentration, England’s hidden star was James Anderson who bowled superbly with the new ball, and never relented with the old.

His consistency and confidence are a revelation. He is developing into a master practitioner, as good as any of the quicks England have produced in the last 20 years. He doesn’t let adversity get him down and his fitness and agility are exceptional.

I watched him in the looseners on the final morning of the Brisbane Test and despite his 37 overs in Australia’s first innings he was still springing about like a young buck.

In one of my more clairvoyant moments I predicted when I first saw him rout Pakistan in the 2003 World Cup that he would go on to take 200 Test wickets. He will get to that milestone sometime in the next two Ashes Tests.

Anderson embodies England’s supreme fitness, skill and resolution, and if that counts for anything the evidence of this first Test suggests that England should definitely retain the Ashes.

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