The key Ashes match-ups that England’s batsmen keep losing – and why

Cameron Green's dismissal of Joe Root in Adelaide speaks to Australia’s dominance

Credit: PA

England head to Melbourne with their Ashes hopes hanging by the barest of threads after heavy defeats in Brisbane and Adelaide.

The tourists need to win the remaining three Tests in Australia in order to regain the urn. To do so, England’s batsmen will have to overcome their nemeses.

Here, Telegraph Sport outlines the key head-to-heads that England keep losing – and why that might be.

Rory Burns v Mitchell Starc

43 balls, 25 runs, 2 wickets – average 12.5

In the summer of 2020, Rory Burns floundered against Pakistan’s tall left-arm quick Shaheen Shah Afridi, succumbing three times in 36 balls.

Those struggles set the template for how Australia would target Burns with a 90mph left-arm quick of their own. It began with the very first ball of the series, when Burns’s foot movement was more exaggerated than normal and Mitchell Starc swung the ball back into his leg stump. In the first innings at Adelaide, Burns was dismissed by Starc again, poking forward at a ball that swung away from him.

Mitchell Starc trapped Rory Burns for a diamond duck in Brisbane and dismissed him again in Adelaide


Throughout his Test career, Burns has acquitted himself well against short and full deliveries, but floundered against balls on a good length from seamers, against which he averages just 17. This weakness has been amplified against left-arm seamers: when they bowl on a good length, Burns averages just seven. His challenge is heightened down under, where the extra pace on Australian wickets gives Burns less time to balance his front foot, which idiosyncratically moves across his stumps just before the ball is bowled.

Joe Root v Cameron Green

58 balls, 24 runs, 2 wickets – average 12

There was a particularly revealing moment in England’s second innings in Adelaide. Michael Neser was bowling a fine spell and, with the ball only 25 overs old, both Mitchell Starc and Jhye Richardson were fresh enough to bowl another spell under lights. Yet, with Joe Root new to the crease, Australia brought on Cameron Green, notionally their fifth bowler.

Green did not take a wicket in four Tests against India last Australian summer, but after recovering from stress fractures he has illustrated why he was initially picked for Western Australia as a bowler. In Adelaide, he combined the bounce from his 6ft 5ins frame with an average pace of 87mph – faster than any England bowler.

These qualities make Green dangerous against all batsmen. Another specific trait has made him particularly effective against Joe Root: his wide release point, angling the ball in before a scintilla of seam movement takes it away. Root struggles to leave such deliveries alone, as Pat Cummins has shown in previous Ashes clashes. 

So far, Green’s methods have led to two nearly-identical dismissals of Root in Brisbane and Adelaide, both feathering the ball behind, as well as a swathe of plays and misses. It speaks to Australia’s dominance that they are now targeting England’s best batsman with their fifth bowler.

Ben Stokes v Pat Cummins

17 balls, 4 runs, 2 wickets – average 2

While Australia’s skipper did not play in the second Test, Pat Cummins has already suggested that he will be Ben Stokes’s nemesis this series, dismissing him twice cheaply at the Gabba while conceding only four runs.

Though the angle of attack was different – Cummins went around the wicket in the first innings, but over the wicket in the second – both wickets were notably similar, with Stokes squared up and then eliciting an edge behind. Stokes often likes to begin his innings cautiously, leaving the ball regularly, but Cummins’ mastery of an awkward line just outside off stump compels batsmen to play from their first ball.

Pat Cummins dismissed Ben Stokes twice cheaply at the Gabba


Cummins is the number one Test pace bowler in the world, and presents an extraordinary opponent for any foe – let alone one entering an away Test series with as little cricket as Stokes. Yet Stokes can draw solace from his success against Cummins the 2019 Ashes, including the cut lashed through point which sealed England’s Headingley heist.

Ollie Pope v Nathan Lyon

37 balls, 9 runs, 2 wickets – average 4.5

After two Tests of the Ashes, Ollie Pope has already tried two distinct strategies against Nathan Lyon. In Brisbane and at the start of his first innings in Adelaide, Pope played back as much as possible, aiming to give himself enough time to react to the turn. But this method led to him edging a cut behind in the Gabba, and then looking jittery in Adelaide.

And so Pope rapidly resorted to a very different tactic. Instead of waiting deep in his crease, he would use his feet to Lyon. The first ball he tried this, Pope was wrongly given out caught at short leg. The decision was overturned but, two balls later, he flicked Lyon straight to short leg.

Ollie Pope was caught at short leg off Nathan Lyon in Adelaide


Pope, then, hasn’t just been dismissed twice by Lyon. Even more worryingly, he has been dismissed in two very different ways. These speak to his wider vulnerabilities against spin: he averages just 22 against spin in Tests, tumbling to 16 against off spin. His lack of ease rotating the strike against spin – unlike against pace – allows opposing captains to crowd him with close-in catchers. Pope only scores at a strike rate of 40 against spin.

Jos Buttler v Mitchell Starc

102 balls, 16 runs, 2 wickets – average 8

Throughout his career, Jos Buttler has performed similarly well against left-arm and right-arm pace, and has a good record against both Starc and Shaheen Shah Afridi in English conditions. But, so far this series, perhaps because of his eagerness to score and the extra pace in the wickets, Buttler has twice succumbed edging Starc behind when the ball has been angled across him from over the wicket.

He ought to have been dismissed a third time in this way, too, but in the second innings at Adelaide his edge from Starc bisected the wicketkeeper and first slip. After his eighth-ball reprieve, Buttler survived for another 199 balls, including 58 from Starc, on the final day in Adelaide.

Buttler will not emulate this strokeless method in the rest of the series. But on the final day in Adelaide, Buttler showed that, by judiciously leaving deliveries angled across him, he can develop a more robust method against Starc.

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