England showed a lot of fight and character in Sydney but, let’s be honest, there was still a massive gulf between the sides in those conditions and there is still plenty of work to do.
That work needs to carry on at Hobart on Friday and England can build on the drawn fourth Test by looking back and seeing why they were slightly more successful.
They improved at the SCG by getting the balance right between attack and defence, but only after they were 36 for four in the first innings. They have to start well now.
England must take inspiration from the efforts of Jonny Bairstow (left) and Ben Stokes (right)
The way to go is the way Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow counter-attacked in that first innings at Sydney and how Zak Crawley played in the second. Bairstow’s century and Crawley’s 77 can’t be one-offs. They have to build on that and be more consistent.
Ricky Ponting has spoken about how great bowlers love it when batters are defensive and there’s no doubt England’s top order have been too defensive in this Ashes. They have to put the bowlers under pressure, even with balls they are not looking to attack.
Trevor Bayliss said when he was England coach that positive cricket does not mean swinging from the hip. You can still have a positive mindset in defence, as Graham Gooch used to tell us all those years ago.
Bairstow (above) scored a brilliant century by going after Australia’s strong attack last week
England captain Joe Root has overthought team selection and must keep it simple in Hobart
Haseeb Hameed has gone more and more into his shell the longer this series has gone on and he’s been going nowhere. Against this quality attack, there will eventually be a ball with his name on it and England have to take him out of the cauldron now.
Again, England need to pick the best XI available for this game. As Stuart Broad said during the last Test, go with the best team for the match in front of you and worry afterwards about the West Indies tour in March.
If that means going in to this game with Jimmy Anderson and Broad, then that’s how it should be.
England should beware overthinking the conditions, too. They have got their side wrong for the last two pink-ball Tests in Ahmedabad and Adelaide and have only won one day-night Test, against West Indies at Edgbaston. Conversely, Australia have won all nine of their pink-ball Tests. The fitness of Stokes is key. If he can’t bowl, it will hugely affect the balance of the side but, even though I never like going into a Test with injured players, he should play as a batter if it will not damage his side further, because he is one of England’s two best players.
Haseeb Hameed appears a man bereft of confidence and could do with a break this week
The same applies to Bairstow. If he is fit to bat but not to keep, he should do so, then Sam Billings can make his Test debut with the gloves.
When I was captain in Australia in 2002-03 we won the final Test at Sydney. It meant a lot to England fans at the ground who had stuck by us, and those at home, yet all I could think was that the Ashes had already long gone.
Yet if England can win now, they will have taken a step forward after the slump of 2021. There are World Test Championship points at stake and they have to learn from the good things they did in Sydney. Then perhaps this tour could end on a high note.