You’ve got to pace yourself. Australia started this 10-Test series so woefully that they could only ever improve. In hindsight, that was a masterstroke. It’s tempting to talk about momentum, but we’ll stick to a different M-word – motivation. Nothing keeps you going like knowing that you’re gaining on someone.
The corollary of this is that few things in sport are as dispiriting as being overtaken. A bike race is the clearest example of how this works. Cyclists up the road with a few seconds advantage will fight and fight, even when those behind are gaining on them. However, the moment they’re caught, they visibly wilt. They can no longer deny what’s been painfully obvious for the last few kilometres.
If the race is going up a huge mountain pass, the best thing to do when you’re caught is to just let whoever caught you go. The cold, harsh truth is that you were already operating at your maximum and that simply wasn’t good enough. The best you can do is pace yourself in order to reach the summit as quickly and efficiently as possible. Sometimes a cyclist will be more ambitious than that and will redouble their efforts in a bid to stay with whoever caught them. This never works. All that happens is they go into oxygen debt and have to slow down significantly in order to recover.
A forlorn bid
That appears to be pretty much what’s happened to England. They were overtaken on day two of the Brisbane Test and promptly deflated. They have since put in a greater effort in a forlorn bid to stay with superior opposition, but that has basically meant trying to operate beyond their means and so now they’re imploding as a consequence.
England aren’t as bad as they currently appear. They’re just trapped in a long race they can’t win. People are calling for all sorts of changes, but it’s worth considering current circumstances. These aren’t generally bad players, but good players playing badly. Given chance to recover, most will adapt and improve. It’s a bit late, but ever more ferocious attempts to claw back ground on Australia in the short-term are only likely to cause further damage.
This isn’t to say that there shouldn’t be judicious droppage with a view to bringing players back again at a later date should they remember how to play cricket.