England’s ‘absolutely crazy’ Ashes blunder, careers ended
ENGLAND'S day one capitulation in the dusk at the SCG summed up their horrid Ashes to date, with the UK press savaging captain Joe Root's meek dismissal and a former Test great labelling one tactical blunder as "absolutely crazy".
The tourists had day one honours in their sights with two overs remaining, before Root threw away another century - further cementing his reputation for being unable to convert half-centuries - and Jonny Bairstow was out nicking on the last ball of the day.
The twin blows by Australian pace duo Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood sent England spiralling from 3-228 to 5-233 and gave the hosts the upper hand after a grinding, rain-affected first day's play in Sydney.
And it left the English press searching for answers at the end of a nightmare series for Root's men, with lacklustre top-order pair Mark Stoneman and James Vince coming under fresh fire for their mediocre series following feeble exits.
Most perplexing, according to Ashes-winning offspinner Graeme Swann, was the mind-boggling decision to send Bairstow out with just 15 balls remaining in the day - rather than sending in a nightwatchman such as debutant Mason Crane, who was shown on TV coverage already padded up and ready to join the fray.
Bairstow lasted just seven balls - hitting one fine cover drive for four - before being caught behind off Hazlewood on what would be the last ball of the day.
Swann described the tactical blunder as "absolutely crazy".
"I can understand Jonny Bairstow saying, 'I want to get out there. It shows a lot bravado … but it's not got nothing to do with Jonny in that situation, this is for the team at this point. It's just crazy, absolutely crazy," Swann told BT Sports.
Added former England skipper Michael Vaughan: "It's not sensible, you're going out there, 16 balls remaining, Starc swinging it back into the right hander…"
Root, too, was strongly criticised for again falling between 50 and 100. It's the fourth time this series the England captain has failed to reach three figures after notching a half-century.
Paul Newman of the Daily Mail was particularly scathing.
"It is simply not enough for Joe Root to talk a good game and say he will learn from the example of Steve Smith and start making the big centuries that have won Australia the Ashes," Newman wrote.
"The horror story of the last 10 balls of the first day of the final Test made a mockery of all that.
"Root will never be a great batsman like his opposite number while he keeps on failing to turn half centuries into three figures. And he will never lead his team to Test wins in Australia while he is giving his wicket away so irresponsibly.
"This was a dereliction of duty. This was the worst example yet of the 23 times out of his last 28 Test 50s the England captain has failed to turn into centuries. This was not a concentration issue. This was crazy, stupid cricket quickly compounded by the loss of Jonny Bairstow to the day's last ball."
The image of a devastated Root on his haunches after realising Mitch Marsh had taken a superb low catch to end his 141-ball stand was an enduring one from England's first innings - and swung the match firmly in Australia's favour, according to the Independent's chief sports writer Jonathan Liew.
"Root was crouched disconsolate over his bat: his knees buckling, his face covered, his mind still not quite believing," Liew wrote.
"He had batted beautifully for his 83 runs, but this would be the end of the road. Not only had he failed again to turn a half-century into a century.
"He had handed the momentum of the game back to Australia on the cusp of stumps. Starc was laughing like a man who had just struck oil in his driveway.
"It was a day that encapsulated their series, a day that encapsulated their tour, a day that in many ways encapsulated this side."
It is easy to boil these Ashes down to the personal run-scoring battle between Root and Australian skipper Steve Smith - a fight which hasn't gone the distance, with Smith landing heavy blows in Brisbane, Perth and Melbourne.
But Root found a sympathetic voice in Guardian columnist Vic Marks, who said the Yorkshireman could learn from his fierce rival.
"Root has poured his heart and soul into this tour. It may be that he has tried to do too much, an easy trap for a young captain," Marks wrote.
"In the harshest of environs he may have learnt - from watching the Australia captain - that if he swapped all these exertions for concentrating on his own batting; if he had been more single-minded, selfish even, then that might have been more beneficial to his side.
"His runs are more important to this side than his decision-making. Indeed, as Smith has demonstrated, captaincy is a breeze if you are scoring stacks of runs."
A common theme across most reports was that time was possibly up for Stoneman, while Vince came under heavy scrutiny for the axe and was given the death-kneel by Liew.
"There comes a logical point when the serial failure to realise potential must begin to render that potential irrelevant. There comes a point when an international batsman must stop getting out to bad balls," Liew wrote.
"There comes a point when you simply have to channel Yoda: do or do not, there is no 'try'. Cut the cord. Pull the chain. Flush him away. Barring an unlikely second-innings century, Vince's time has come and gone."
Will Macpherson, writing for the Times, mused that the safety blanket had been removed for both of England's struggling top-order stars and without results in their upcoming two-Test tour of New Zealand, the writing could be on the wall for both.
"At some stage, probably in the two-Test tour of New Zealand, these players stop being newbies, and such innings, such dismissals begin to become old," Macpherson wrote.
Newman countered that there simply weren't suitable alternatives - otherwise both Stoneman and Vince would be on flights back to the UK rather than booking trips to New Zealand.
"If it were not for a lack of credible alternatives at the top of the order - Haseeb Hameed has not done enough to return yet - then Stoneman would be under threat too but he will almost certainly get another chance in New Zealand."
Writing for the Mirror, Dean Wilson agreed that Stoneman and Vince would likely get another shot but patience was wearing thin.
"England will persist with Stoneman into New Zealand and most likely into the summer which feels like the right call, but he must produce more," Wilson wrote.
"How do you solve a problem like James Vince? He is undoubtedly the most stylish batsman in the England squad by a long chalk.
"He may well still find himself in New Zealand in March, but his chances are running out."