n captain Steve Smith has warned England’s fragile tail to expect more hostile bowling despite the Ashes already being decided and says it’s unfair for the tourists to solely lay the blame for their defeat with coach Trevor Bayliss.
The tourists are in disarray heading into next week’s Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, for they trail 3-0, have conceded cricket’s most famous prize and have form and fitness issues to deal with.
The ns have an injury issue of their own, with spearhead Mitchell Starc battling a heel problem, but Smith declared on Thursday that Jackson Bird would be ready to “rise to the occasion” should he be drafted into the XI.
Regardless of who joins Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins in the pace attack, the ns will continue their successful plan of tormenting England’s tail with short-pitched bowling, a tactic that has prompted former England captain Mike Atherton to refer to law 41.6.1 and suggest umpires intervene more by taking into “consideration” the “skill of the striker”. Bowlers are given two warnings before they are banished from the attack.
Atherton’s claim did not sit well with Smith, who said the tourists would also embrace the tactic if they had a similar fast-bowling arsenal at their disposal.
“I think it’s a bit over the top,” Smith said of Atherton.
“We, obviously, had a plan from the start of the series that we were going to bowl a lot of short stuff to those guys, much like we did back in 2013. No doubt, if they had the kind of pace that our bowlers could generate, then they would probably do the same thing. I think it’s a bit over the top.”
In his column in The Times of London, Atherton, the former Test opener, wrote that “cricket is an odd game in that it has three distinct disciplines and, within that, you have the unusual situation where someone who is totally useless in one area, can face a world-class performer in another – with potentially harmful consequences.
“Batsmen who cannot bowl are not required to bowl to great players, but the opposite is obviously the case – precisely why the law is framed as it is, as built-in protection for the incompetent.”
‘s short-pitched attack in this Ashes series carried through the final day in Perth when Anderson was hit on the side of his helmet by Cummins. Craig Overton had been hit flush in the ribs in Adelaide while Jake Ball, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes have all had their troubles.
While Anderson and Broad are two of the game’s greats, they do not boast the sheer speed of their n counterparts, a point skipper Joe Root has admitted.
Targeting an opposition’s tail with a bumper barrage was a tactic the West Indies employed during their heyday and was replicated by the ns on their breakthrough 1995 tour of the West Indies.
Bird, 31, played the last of his eight Tests against Pakistan at the MCG last summer but toured India and Bangladesh this year. He was overlooked for selection in the XI in India mid-tour when Starc was hurt and Cummins was drafted in from outside the squad.
Smith said Starc would be monitored closely, with the ns not having their first net session until Saturday.
“If he is not right, Jackson has been bowling particularly well and I am sure he will rise to the occasion if he gets an opportunity,” he said.
Bird does not have the same pace as Starc and will have to rely more on guile to outsmart an England batting order that has had key men Alastair Cook and Root misfire.
Smith said the ns would also have the February-March Test tour of South Africa in mind when it came to reviewing Starc’s health. The two nations, each boasting an excellent attack, will clash in four Tests, with the tourists determined to reverse last summer’s tumultuous defeat.
“Obviously, that’s a big series as well. That gives us a bit of a luxury now that we have wrapped up the series to do what we really want to do,” Smith said.
“Mitch, I know, really wants to play here. He has played in only one Boxing Day Test, so we’ll see how he goes, how he pulls up. Hopefully, his heel is all right.”
England’s woes have heaped pressure on coach Trevor Bayliss, the long-time NSW batsman through the 1980s and 1990s and a former Blues and Sydney Sixers coach.
The tourists’ on-field issues have been compounded by off-field problems earlier in the tour, prompting a curfew to be introduced.
“It’s always tough for an opposing coach or captain when you are away, and you are 3-0 down, and having lost the series already with two games to play,” Smith said.
“So, no doubt, he will be disappointed but, knowing Trevor, he is a terrific fellow and a very good coach. I enjoyed working with him at NSW and the Sixers a couple years back.
“I think sometimes it’s a bit harsh to lay a lot of the blame at the coach. In the end, they are not the ones out there playing. It’s the players. They have to take some responsibility as well.”
While the match-winning Smith, with 426 runs at an average of 142 through the series, has compassion for Bayliss, it’s still not going to stop him from urging his men to complete another whitewash.
“I have had a couple of days to reflect on what has been a magnificent series so far. [It’s] a great opportunity to go 5-0. No doubt, England will come back hard, they are a good side, so we are going to have to play at our best if we are going to beat them,” he said.