Australia's runs a solid sell
Draw price could shorten
England v Australia
Friday 30 June, 11:00
TV: Live on Sky Sports
England on the brink
Just eight days into the Ashes, are the scales beginning to fall from the eyes of the England players? Bazball has been badly, brutally exposed as the confidence trick it only ever was. With a 221-run lead and eight wickets still standing. Australia are 1.39 to take a 2-0 lead. Only once has a team come from such a deficit to win an Ashes series.
Not that this is a reactionary criticism of England's aggressive style. As it has been stated before, the genius of coach Brendon McCullum has been to convince his charges that results do not matter. With metronomic ability, Australia have disassembled McCullum's world of make believe to leave England looking like brazen, childish fools.
And it was all so avoidable. Their commitment to the cult firmly crossed over into extremism on day three. The warning signs had been there on day two when England surrendered a dominant position with Ollie Pope, Ben Duckett and Joe Root stubbornly refusing to be cowed. On day three Ben Stokes, Harry Brook and Jonny Bairstow did exactly the same.
Brook's innings was, frankly, ridiculous. Not that he should shoulder blame. As much as McCullum can be lauded for his psychological rebuild of this team, it is surely irresponsible of the coach to not recognise the harm that Brook was doing to himself. He was made to sacrifice his intelligence for the cause.
It is little wonder that the Australians, barley able to disguise their mirth, hold the approach in such contempt. At Edgbaston they were, rightly, criticised for negative tactics after just three overs in the field. They have gone away, had a think and come up with a solution: Bazball will eat itself.
It was always likely to happen. At the start of this series on Cricket...Only Bettor I said that Bazball would cost England at least one game...and win them at least one. It is to the series detriment as a spectacle that it has collapsed so early.
Nor was it wrong of England to have stuck to their guns in this series. The approach had served them brilliantly and it would have been nothing short of extraordinary had they tried to play another way. Indeed, it is inarguable that against the best team in the world it was their only option. Likewise it is inarguable that it was mere centimetres from delivering them victory at Edgbaston. Perhaps deep insecurities meant that they have forgotten the importance of light and shade.
Of course the bizarre or outrageous cannot be ruled out. There is a lot of cricket to come. It is a chaotic irony of Bazball that only Bazball can save England now. Just as it did when chasing whopping totals as the table below shows.
Fourth-innings chases by England under Stokes
378-3 v India, Edgbaston, 2022
299-5 v New Zealand, Trent Bridge, 2022
296-3 v New Zealand, Leeds, 2022
279-5 v New Zealand, Lord's, 2022
On each occasion they were considered litmus tests for the approach. This time, however, it feels more significant. England's players, unless they are made of stone, must surely begin to doubt whether they are doing the right thing. The cacophony of criticism that has - and will - come their way guarantees that.
It might not be a bad thing. Had they not been so utterly enthral to the cult then they would be winning this match. It would have taken only Pope and Root, perhaps, to recognise that it wasn't their job to be trying to hook fours and sixes. Ultra-aggression can come in the form of the quick single, or recognising that four an over was available in singles with the field spread.
Australia's contrasting approach could yet give us an option to lay the draw. With two full days play expected at Lord's, Australia may choose to grind England down and build that unassailable lead.
We can well envisage the draw price shortening therefore to around that 4.5 mark as the overs tick by.
An alternative to that thinking is a lay of Australia's runs at 3.7511/4 for 375 or more. It is unlikely they will be as negative as batting on as long as that. A lead of 445 would seem excessive. A recharged England attack and a second new ball is also on our side
With six returns on 13 innings under Ben Stokes on the top England bat second-innings market, Root has the opportunity to put his indiscretion in the first dig behind him.
When the sun comes out, this remains a good pitch to bat on and it is to be hoped that he returns to his more formidable self with the series on the line. Sportsbook offer 5/2 and it's worth snaffling.
Top England 2nd innings wins/matches under Stokes captaincy
Root 5 t/13
Stokes 0 t/14