Ricky Ponting blasts England, James Anderson on Covid and Bumble’s county solution

Ricky Ponting has condemned England as the worst team he’s ever seen tour Australia.

The Aussie great, a potential candidate for the England coaching job if, as seems inevitable, Chris Silverwood is sacked, also blasted the tourists’ batting line-up after they slumped to defeat in this Ashes series inside 12 days.

Only Joe Root and Dawid Malan are averaging more than 30 this year and England folded in spectacular fashion on the third day in Melbourne when they were skittled for 68, their lowest total in Australia since 1904.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a worse-performing team in Australia than what I’ve seen over the last three games,” Ponting told Cricket.com.au.

“Some of the English top-order batters that I’ve seen in the last couple of tours, without giving names, there’s some techniques there I just know are not going to stand up at Test level.

“In challenging conditions and world-class bowlers up against sub-standard techniques, then you get what happened at the MCG.

“The little swing dibbly-dobblers that are getting them out over there [in county cricket], they’re not facing that at Test level. They’re facing guys who can actually bowl. What I’ve seen with their batting, they’re just simply not good enough.”

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There has been no lack of soul-searching about county cricket and whether it is producing players ready for Tests since defeat in Melbourne.

Ponting feels one solution could be to introduce the Kookaburra ball in the County Championship, emulating how Australia adopted the Dukes in 2016-17 to help prepare their batters for the 2019 Ashes.

“We’ve been through this in Australia,” Ponting added. “You wind the clock back a few years ago when we had our struggles in England, we changed conditions, we changed the ball, we changed everything because we were poor in those conditions.

“England might need to have a look at how they can make their conditions more suitable to ours. They play well in England still but they don’t play well when they come here – so maybe they play more with the Kookaburra ball.

“Maybe they flatten the wickets out a little bit so there’s not as much swing and seam. It might be the exact same blip that we had to have three or four years ago.”

Quote of the day

We have to correct the time we stage Championship games as playing in spring and autumn does not produce Test cricketers — and we have to play it on better pitches. Schedule red-ball games when it’s warm. Start with 10 Championship matches in peak summer and build the rest of the programme around that.” – former England coach David “Bumble” Lloyd on his solution for county cricket

‘It’s becoming tough to concentrate on cricket’

James Anderson admits it’s becoming tough for England’s players to concentrate on cricket after their nightmare tour of Australia got even worse when it emerged head coach Chris Silverwood will miss next week’s fourth Ashes Test in Sydney after a member of his family became the seventh positive Covid case in the camp.

There were already six cases in the 60-strong touring party – bowling coach Jon Lewis, spin bowling coach Jeetan Patel, Darren Veness, a strength and conditioning coach, and three other family members.

So far no players have been affected but whether or not the squad travel to Sydney on Friday as planned rests on a final round of tests taken on Thursday morning Australian time.

“We found out late last night,” Anderson said of the Silverwood news. “It’s frustrating, we’ve been tested again this morning [Thursday] – the whole team – and just hoping it’s not spreading any further and we can make sure everyone is safe and able to travel to Sydney.

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“It’s not ideal but it’s been that sort of tour. Something has been happening all the time. Lots of stuff away from the cricket which can cause distractions, so it’s something we have to deal with.

“We’ve got two Tests and we have to restore some pride and try and compete – that’s our main focus as players. We have to block out what’s happening off the field and focus on the fourth and fifth Tests.”

Anderson also admitted it has been difficult for the squad to focus on cricket given everything happening off the pitch.

“It can be difficult at times, especially for guys experiencing the Ashes for the first time and not that experienced with Test cricket and touring,” he added. “That’s where the more senior players come in, we have to try and rally round, make sure everyone is in a good place and a good headspace to compete. It’s been really gutting the first three games, we’ve not been good enough and we’re determined to try and turn things around with some good performances to finish this tour.”

Covid hits the umpire team

The spectre of Covid that is overshadowing this Australian summer of cricket is not just confined to the England camp, with Ashes match referee David Boon ruled out of the fourth Test after testing positive and a Big Bash match in Melbourne also postponed.

The seven cases in England’s travelling party have raised the threat of the series not being completed.

That wasn’t helped when former Australia player Boon, match referee for all five Ashes Tests, became the latest positive case in Melbourne on Thursday and was told to isolate for 10 days.

Boon will be replaced in Sydney by Steve Bernard, a member of the International Panel of ICC Referees who is based in New South Wales.

The Big Bash, Australia’s premier T20 tournament, also had to postpone a match between Perth Scorchers and Melbourne Stars scheduled for Thursday evening at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne after a positive case in the Stars’ coaching team.

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Australia is learning to live with coronavirus after spending much of the pandemic locked out from the rest of the world. But an easing of travel restrictions that has seen Victoria and New South Wales loosen restrictions, including for essential international travel, has seen the virus surge in both Melbourne and Sydney.

Australia’s two biggest cities have few restrictions and are registering more and more cases of the more transmissible Omicron variant every day, with the combined figures of new cases for Sydney and Melbourne more than 17,000 on Wednesday – an equivalent to 604 cases per 100,000 people.

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