3-2 sounds unconvincing; but the scoreline deceives. Apart from the day one at Lord’s, England have been at worst solid, and at their peak brilliant.
A 405 run defeat was, incongruously, but a blip on the radar: they out-gutsed the Aussies at Cardiff, and then watched self-capitulations at both Edgbaston and Trent Bridge.
At the top of the order, Alastair Cook was dependable, whilst middle order contributions from Joe Root, Ian Bell and Ben Stokes gave the quicks something work with.
Mark Wood, Steven Finn, Stuart Broad, James Anderson: four quicks used over the five Tests, with each having at least one stand-out performance.
Jos Buttler struggled, but has done well enough in the recent past to earn himself a stay of execution. Gary Ballance was omitted early. Jonny Bairstow will hope for patience. Moeen Ali did what was asked of him.
At the top of the order, Adam Lyth faced a typical cycle: the County hero, scoring runs for fun against the trundlers and non-tuners, being cried out for by a media and public demanding that their side win.
Jonathan Trott was eventually discarded, in order to comply with the public decree.
Lyth, hero of the nation, was in the team. Surely he’d prove the media and public right, and the selectors wrong?
Yeah, well, actually…
So, now, the roles have reversed. The selectors gave Lyth seven consecutive Tests without the consideration of dropping him even entering their minds. The public, meanwhile, have decided that Lyth must go.
So what are Lyth’s issues? That he has them is undeniable: an average of 20.38 in Test cricket is sub-standard, and 12.78 against Australia doesn’t imply greatness.
But he scores lots of runs at county level, so why can’t he convert? He has the ability – his century against the likes of Boult and Southee on his home ground proved that point.
ISSUE NUMBER ONE: THE STANCE
When left-hand batsmen get it right, it looks beautiful. But when they don’t, it really can look uncoordinated.
For Lyth, he looks at his worst when facing a right-arm over-the-wicket bowler. Although his front-foot trigger movement is an issue (discussed soon), it’s his stance that causes him the most trouble against right-arm-over.
Let’s watch his dismissal at Edgbaston, in the second innings, as Josh Hazlewood causes troubles.
As we can see, he starts off with his stance appropriately open; but with the bowler yet to hit his delivery stride, takes a step across – cutting off the angle of his stance and restricting his view of the ball.
It also means he ends up playing around his pad. The narrow angle of his stance means that to play a ball on leg-stump requires playing around himself, which can only end badly.
His guard is probably correct; he simply needs to turn himself slightly more face-on, which would make a huge difference.
Take, for example, Andrew Strauss – the man whose void Lyth is trying to fill. His stance wasn’t wide, but it was open. See this shot off McGrath, 2005.
Although the feet are slightly more apart than Lyth, it’s the angle of the body that is worth noting. See Strauss’ chest facing the bowler.
And this isn’t an issue that affects him only once. See his dismissal to Hazlewood in the first innings at Cardiff.
Until he opens his stance, and gets a better angle to play on the leg-side, Lyth will struggle against pace right-arm-over.
ISSUE NUMBER TWO: THE TRIGGER
Lyth’s technical difficulties are, in fact, quite simple. Where some batsmen are a blur of flaws; bringing the bat in from a strange angle, taking strange movements across and around the stumps, playing with hard hands miles in front of the pad; Lyth is in fact more or less correct.
The stance is one flaw, while the trigger is the other.
Neither is a huge problem, and both can be easily solved. For all the criticisms of Lyth, there is no reason why he can’t make small adjustments and return to the fold far more successfully.
Lyth takes a stride forward as his trigger: fine in county cricket, where 130 km/h trundlers can’t get balls to lift rapidly, but vs Boult, Starc and Southee, the matter is very different.
The issue lies in when he has to go back. If the ball is short, or back-of-a-length, Lyth struggles to get back in time. When he rocks on the back foot, there is no weight transfer, and it happens too late – he ends up trying to catch up with the ball, rather than waiting for the ball to reach him.
Take his first dismissal at Lord’s, caught by Peter Nevill off Mitchell Starc. The freeze frames are at three points: release, bounce, and bat contact.
When you watch the gif, take special note of how Lyth rises at the same time as the ball. It’s far too late, and doesn’t allow the balance and weight to transfer back.
This wasn’t an isolated incident, sadly. On debut, each of Lyth’s innings resulted in the same fashion. First, at the hands of Tim Southee, then courtesy Trent Boult. In the below images, look at where Lyth’s trigger takes him, and then where he plays the ball.
Although Ricky Ponting had a similar trigger, his was done with far more concise movements and a superb transfer of weight, and balance.
And when the ball was short, Ponting’s front-foot trigger evaporated – he was onto the short ball in a flash. In Lyth’s case, it wasn’t quite so successful when Peter Siddle tested him with a bumper.
Let’s compare this to Lyth’s opposite number during the Ashes, David Warner.
Warner, too, moves onto the front foot – but only very briefly, as a tool to get into position to rock back, transferring all weight and balance to the back foot and hammering the ball away. Let’s look at the stop-frames to prove the point.
It’s very, very evident that Lyth puts a lot more weight on the front foot, and is later and less secure rising back up. It means Warner hammers the ball, and Lyth merely scoops it.
This trigger movement leads to indecision – do I go on the back foot? Where are my stumps? Should I play at it? The doubts creep in.
It leads to shots like this – Lyth is so busy trying to move backwards, that he ends up playing a ball he should leave well alone, especially while trying to bat the draw. (You can see he realises, far too late, he should be letting the ball go.)
And then comes this. I, personally, feel this sums up Lyth entirely. After three difficult Ashes Tests, he comes to crease under significant pressure – and following on from Australia’s 60 all-out, must have some doubts about the deck.
The ball is on a good length, and Lyth should simply be playing forward to it, and then defending or leaving on its merits. This is where his trigger comes in use.
Instead, he’s now too unnerved to transfer his weight forward; the trigger dries up, he doesn’t move his balance anywhere (although the foot does go forward, there’s no weight transfer), and gets left in no-man’s land.
Across the 12 dismissals Lyth has succumbed to in Test cricket (omitting #13 – a run out), three have been due to the first problem (stance), while seven have been due to the second issue (trigger), with most of the latter to balls back-of-a-length. The other two dismissals, pushing too hard at Lyon, and chasing a wide one from Hazlewood, were simply misjudgements.
So there you have it – Lyth’s problem are a closed stance, and his trigger movement. The former can be solved by going slightly more front-on, while the latter simply requires an earlier movement, or a smaller one.
But given the difficulties (both on the pitch, and courtesy of media) Lyth has faced, perhaps he now needs a splash of confidence too.