Ranking England's 5 Biggest Team Issues in the 2013/14 Ashes

Alex Telfer@@troyspeerFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2013

Ranking England's 5 Biggest Team Issues in the 2013/14 Ashes

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    England's large entourage have got a lot of work to do with just four days between the second and third Tests. Better get down the nets lads!

    But seriously, Alastair Cook men's problems run much deeper than a few technical adjustments. Somehow the whole Ashes rivalry, in terms of form and performance, has done a complete flip-flop in less than six months.

    Let's take a look at some of England's most pressing issues in reverse order of importance.

5. Catches Win Matches

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    England dropped three catches on the opening day of the Adelaide Test, which, if taken, could have led to them bowling Australia out for less than 350. Instead, the hosts piled on a unassailable 570.

    Of course, most of England's players are high-quality fielders who have caught thousands of cricket balls in their careers. OK...maybe not Monty.

    But it's just one of those quirks of the game that when things are going well they stick. And when everything is going the way of the aggressive, rampaging Aussies, the half chances (Root) and easy chances (Carberry and Panesar) go to ground.

    If Andy Flower's boys are going to have any chance of striking back in Perth, then the catches will have to be taken.

4. What Has Happened to Graeme Swann?

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    What has happened to Graeme Swann? In some ways the talisman of the side, the off-spinner's sense of humour often seemed to help jell the dressing room together while his role in the bowling attack was crucial in enabling England to play with just three pacemen.

    However, it's easy to be a joker when you are also performing on the pitch. Swann's statistics tell a worrying story. He has bowled more overs than anyone else on either side but has only taken four wickets at an average of 99.25, while a brutal economy rate of 4.05 also shows Australia's plan to attack him is working.

    Additionally, his crucial late-order runs have gone AWOL with a paltry 13 runs from four innings, further crushing the Nottinghamshire man's mojo.

    Whether Swann will get a chance to redeem himself at Perth remains to be seen with changes in the England XI imminent and Monty Panesar looking the more dangerous spinner on current form.

3. How to Deal with a Problem Like Mitchell Johnson

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    In one sense the resurgence of Mitchell Johnson is a life-affirming story that you should never give in. In another, it's poetic justice for the treatment the left-armer received from the Barmy Army in the 2010/11 Ashes. Either way, Johnson has terrorised the English batsmen to the extent of taking 17 wickets at 12.70.

    His searing pace and hostility have turned experienced batsmen into trembling bunny rabbits, and every time he gets the ball in his hand, nerves start jangling in the away dressing room.

    It may be easier said than done, but either way, Alastair Cook and Co. need to realise the Western Australian isn't Superman. He's far from unplayable, as evidenced by the fourth innings at Adelaide.

    In actual fact, as documented in Alastair Cockburn's excellent article on thecricketmagazine.com, it's the tail end where Johnson has done most damage. The 32-year-old has only taken eight of England's 24 top-six wickets to fall compared to Stuart Broad, who has taken eight of Australia's 21 top-six wickets to fall.

2. Shocking Shot Selection

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    In theory, this is the straightforward technical change to make, but it is easy to say that from the comfort of an armchair rather than Mitchell Johnson's firing line.

    It is a most telling statistic, however. As reported on BBC Sport by Tom Fordyce, England's batsmen have been out 21 times to leg-side catches so far in just two matches, eight of which were caught on the boundary.

    Rare sights became the norm at Adelaide. Alastair Cook fatally hooking the first short-ball he received in the second innings. Joe Root slog sweeping the fairly innocuous Nathan Lyon to deep square leg in the first innings. And Stuart Broad's attempt to hit Peter Siddle for a second six of the fifth day's first over had even the most patient fan pulling his hair out.

    Of course, England were just trying to be aggressive and take the game to Australia, but a more sensible approach will surely be necessary in Perth.

1. Confidence

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    At the root of all England’s problems, however, is the astounding widespread loss of confidence suffered throughout the team, with the exception of Joe Root.

    Ever since easing to a 3-0 Ashes victory in the summer, one by one, things have gone wrong with the side, and now they find themselves 2-0 down with three to play.

    With the next game taking place in Perth, traditionally one of the fastest wickets in the world of cricket, Mitchell Johnson's home ground and a venue where England have won just once in 12 attempts, it won't be easy.

    However, the best way of improving confidence, to quote an equine cliché, is to get straight back in the saddle. Who knows, if England can win the toss and post a decent score or skittle the Aussies for sub-200, things could change around quickly.