Root spent time looking at Zak Crawley stick and offering advice, and then went on to dismiss Ollie Pope © Getty
“SHAMBLESSSSSS …” David Malan could not sum up the most polite moment, or for this more melodic issue. The stylish left-hander, wearing his gold Punjab Kings gloves, was immersed as always in a highly focused networking session with James Foster and his arm. As always, it all had to do with head positioning, balance and wrinkle alignment.
As always, there were many occasions when he rebuked himself, not very politely, that he had missed a blow or that his stick had not come down as he would have liked. And it finally seemed to be getting into a good rhythm when the session was interrupted by Mark Wood and one of the few remaining members of England’s support staff.
They seemed to suggest that there had been some sort of fear of Covid among local networking players, meaning that they would have to do without them. That an already unemployed coaching staff would now have to triple to ensure that already besieged visitors prepare for at least the fourth Sydney Cricket Ground Test (SCG). Malan’s reaction was really much milder than it could have been or probably should have been. Because, this was the latest indication of a sham campaign of ash that was getting worse every day, thanks to the dark clouds of the Covid 19 pandemic with its new variant closing in on the Fourth Test.
For the first time, this had nothing to do with hitting techniques, England’s approach to Test cricket, their prioritization or lack of longer format or county championship structure. This was simply the result of being part of a very high profile sports competition in the midst of a global health crisis in a city that has seen 20,000+ new cases backed up on a daily basis. It was simply a sign of the world we are in.
England had landed in Sydney a few days ago without their head coach, their bowling coach, their bowling coach and their strength and conditioning coach. To make up for their absence, they had sent an SOS phone call to former ODI captain Adam Hollioake to enter the trenches, only to be expelled on the eve of his arrival as a result of close contact with someone who d tested positive for the virus.
And everything was on deck from the moment Joe Root & Co. arrived at SCG on Sunday (January 2nd) morning. The captain himself was the busiest of them all. First, he landed in the center of the historic site and started observing Crawley having a net against James Anderson, Chris Woakes and Ollie Robinson. There was some discussion about his shot, which was shared with head coach Graham Thorpe before Root shifted his focus entirely to Crawley. He spent a good five minutes sharing what seemed like suggestions to the elegant right to try to lower his stick much straighter and avoid his natural tendency for it to go down slightly across his body.
After a stick in the net of the center of the harbor, Root then started giving the throws to Ollie Pope. It was very clear that it was not a skill that came naturally to him. Instead of staying still like most, Root preferred to run the entire length of his regular run and then bounce the ball instead of kicking it. Much to the delight of his teammates, as several deliveries flew to the side of the leg. Not long after, he had an arm (or spruce as it is called in Australia) in tow and after a few attempts seemed to have taken it. This was followed by another batting masterclass for the Pope.
To their credit, the English camp seemed to see the funny side of their plight and actually embraced the challenge of ending this session with little energy, despite the ongoing loss of staff. On some levels, they almost seemed resurrected from this last hurdle in their quest to escape some pride from a rather forgotten Down Under tour. None of the coaches seemed to mind the endless additions to their responsibilities.
And at one point Ant Botha, who had spent more than an hour with Crawley and Haseeb Hameed in the netting area, was heard telling the new opener that they might need to shorten their session to see if Botha would help them somehow. others in the center area of the gates.
Foster, who started the session, working on gate-keeping drills with Jos Buttler, spent twice as much time with Malan on the net or with other kicks on the net.
As the day went on, there were more disappointing reports coming out about the Test with Glenn McGrath testing positive for the virus with only days left until the start of the Pink Test at SCG.
The Australians arrived with an almost complete set of their players, without Travis Head of course, and a few others. They also had to do without any net players, but luckily they were all-powerful in terms of their coaching staff.
You might think, to quote the cliché, everything that should have gone wrong, has already gone wrong for England in this tournament. But who knows in this current world we are in. Maybe there is more clutter to overcome before this series ends and is deleted. And just as England did at SCG on their first day together in a cricket country in the New Year, they just have to get together and move on.