In Review

The Ashes 2015: BT Sport wins TV rights as England celebrate

England are crushed at The Oval but still celebrate Ashes series triumph as another Test fails to go the distance

The Ashes 2015: can Bairstow handle Mitchell Johnson?

23 July

With England reeling from their second Test thrashing in The Ashes at Lord's, the selectors have dispensed with number three batsman Gary Ballance and drafted in Jonny Bairstow, who will get the chance to resume his Test career having averaged 100 with the bat for Yorkshire this summer.

However, his first task must be to slay the demon who ended his previous run in the side – Australian speed merchant Mitchell Johnson, whose spell of 3-27 in the second innings brought back unpleasant memories of his exploits in Australia 18 months ago.

Bairstow played in two Tests on that tour and was twice dismissed by Johnson in Melbourne.

All-rounder Moeen Ali tried to talk down the threat of Johnson this week, even as former Australian prime minister John Howard claimed England's batsmen had "psychological problems" with the Aussie attack.

Moeen was one of Johnson's victims in England's second innings collapse, fending a vicious throat-high bouncer to short leg. But he claimed that so far in the series Johnson had only "bowled really well in one innings out of four".

"At Cardiff we took it to him and he went for a lot of runs and did not take many wickets," he commented. "We are not worried at all."

Moeen might claim not to be concerned, but Michael Atherton in The Times is not convinced. Johnson is once again the main topic of discussion among fans and commentators and is "looming as the vital difference between the teams... Which other bowler in the game right now could claim such an impact not just on the community of punditry, but on the opposition's psyche as well?"

Atherton has a theory about why Johnson causes such panic. "Johnson's pace, of itself, is not the only issue," he says. "What marks him out, what makes him so hard to face and, therefore, what concerns batsmen of the top order and especially below, is his unorthodox action and, therefore, the difficulty in picking up both his line and, especially, his length."

Whether Bairstow has what it takes to deal with it remains to be seen. Australian website Cricket.com wonders whether his form will translate from the county to Test arena. "The triumvirate of Josh Hazlewood and Mitchells Starc and Johnson is the obvious factor separating Bairstow's results at first-class and Test level," it warns.

 

The Ashes 2015: Pietersen gets bandwagon rolling again

21 July

Exiled England cricketer Kevin Pietersen has come up with a way to fix England's batting woes ahead of the third Ashes Test against Australia – recall him to the side.

The clamour for Pietersen's return, 18 months after he was dropped from the side, appeared to have been quelled following England's entertaining series with New Zealand and a successful start to The Ashes.

The cricketing public, it appeared, had moved on. But a dire batting performance from the entire team in the second Test has reopened the debate and within hours of the defeat Pietersen and his celebrity promoters were agitating for a recall once again, while message boards were awash with calls for Pietersen to return.

But most seasoned cricket observers are ignoring the claims of Pietersen.

The batsman did score a magnificent 355 for Surrey against Leicestershire, the weakest side in county cricket, earlier this season as he attempted to win his place back. But in his other five innings in Division Two of the County Championship garnered just 114 runs. His most recent outing against a red ball lasted just three deliveries against Lancashire at the end of May.

No matter what he and his supporters believe, it seems unlikely that would be up to the task of seeing off Australia's left-arm quicks at Edgbaston.

Although he does not mention KP by name, Michael Atherton of The Times notes: "It has always been the case that a player's reputation improves when out of the England side. Failures are forgotten, foibles ignored, weaknesses brushed over. Hidden from view, these players miraculously grow in stature, while those under the spotlight shrink."

He, and other more realistic commentators, believe that Jonny Bairstow is the man most likely to be drafted into the team if changes are made.

Atherton advocates moving Joe Root to three and choosing between Bairstow and the worryingly out-of-form Gary Ballance at five.

One of his successors as England captain, Michael Vaughan, believes that Bairstow should get the nod. "England have to throw something different at Australia at Edgbaston," he writes in the Daily Telegraph. "There is talk that you could just rejig the batting order using the players already in the team. But I think sometimes you just have to be dead honest and I believe Gary Ballance would be better off out of the team for a while."

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