England’s bowlers were too timid for too long – they must take risks to salvage some reward

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The automatic adjustment, the temerity and risk avoidance was all on full show during a period of play when England could have, should have, grasped the best of conditions. Just as Australia’s premier bowlers did on that scintillating passage of play in the evening session of day two at the MCG, breaking England’s batting with four wickets for 22, England had an opportunity here to make the most of conditions.

On Wednesday, the teams came on and off the pitch six times for various rain delays. Such disruption has more scope to affect a side’s batting, where it’s one mistake and you’re gone, than the frustration it causes bowlers. It was a day offered to England to exploit, therefore, through the experience of Broad and Anderson, the pace of Wood and the doggedness of Stokes.

Yet it took until Australia’s openers had passed the 20-over mark and strung together another 50-run opening partnership for the breakthrough to come. And when it did it was exactly that length, Warner reaching for the drive, that England have been too timid to try and find.

“You need to be prepared to be driven!” roared former Australian captain Mark Taylor on commentary, a man who called this ground home and on which he has a couple of centuries to back up those assertions with. Warner is a frightening cricketer, if not character, and his game plan throughout this Ashes has been a simple one: intimidation.

We saw it as he battered Jack Leach out of the attack, and the next Test, in Brisbane. And now at Sydney, anything over-pitched he makes sure to crunch it through covers, deterring any bowler from venturing too far full. It works, maybe not so much for a canny Broad, who once again had his man, but against anyone else the trap is laid and England fall back into defensive mode just at the time that they have nothing to lose. It is a risk to pitch it up, to get driven, to turn on your heel and try again. But it’s no longer an Ashes-conceding risk. England must take those risks to salvage some reward.

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