Former England captain Michael Atherton says he would have stuck with under-fire opener Joe Burns and middle-order batter Ollie Pope for the third Ashes Test, which began at the MCG on Sunday, adding that he was unhappy with the changes made by skipper Joe Root.
The tourists were reduced to 121 for five in the second session on Day 1 of the third Ashes Test at the MCG on Sunday, with openers Haseeb Hamid going for a 10-ball duck, caught by wicket-keeper Alex Carey off Pat Cummins, while Zak Crawley, who replaced Burns, could manage only 12 off 25 balls before he too was dismissed by Cummins.
Cummins was the most successful of the Australian bowlers, wiping out the top order that also included the dependable Dawid Malan, for 14.
Jonny Bairstow, who replaced Pope in the middle order, was batting on 17.
“I would’ve stuck with Pope and I would’ve stuck with Burns,” Atherton told SEN Test Cricket on Sunday.
Following two massive defeats — by nine wickets and 275 runs in the two Ashes Tests so far — England coach Chris Silverwood made four changes ahead of the Boxing Day Test, with Burns, Pope and pace bowlers Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes being axed.
While Atherton supported express bowler Wood’s return to the side, he questioned Crawley’s inclusion after his lack of match play.
“I wouldn’t have made the changes that England have made. I would have certainly rejigged the balance of the attack bringing Wood back for sure. But I do feel for a batsman like Zak Crawley, who’s a young kid making his way and suddenly asked to come out and open in a Boxing Day Test here having basically not picked up a bat in a competitive match since September 15 or something at the end of the English season,” said Atherton.
“Now that’s a consequence of the schedule and everything around that, but it cannot be easy to come in on the back of so little cricket.”
Before the MCG Test, both Burns and Pope were averaging less than 15, neither having scored more than Pope’s 35 in the first innings at Brisbane. But Atherton believes the criticism would have spurred them to give a better performance had they been included.
“And given the kind of criticisms that’s come in the past few days I would have given the likes of Pope and Burns the opportunity to respond to those criticisms and show what they’re made of,” added Atherton.
“I think, for example, Pope is the best young player in England as I’ve said before on this broadcast and if he’s going to have a long Test career he has to find a way to get through these tricky patches. You can’t just keep dropping a player after a bad couple of games if you have faith in him and if you think he’s a player for the long term.”