England head north with criticism still ringing in their ears following a nine-wicket loss in the series opener at Lord’s against the impressive tourists, who will clinch a first series win on these shores since 1996 if they avoid defeat in Leeds.
A miserable performance at the home of cricket saw England lose their first Test of a home summer for the first time in 23 years, but also – rather more worryingly – extend their sequence without a Test win to eight matches.
Opener Mark Stoneman was the first casualty of the insipid events at Lord’s, losing his place to Lancashire’s Keaton Jennings.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan went much further by making the bold suggestion that either James Anderson or Stuart Broad – who have taken a combined 946 Test wickets between them – should be dropped.
Vaughan, who said that England’s problems have “gone beyond just changing the opening batsman” later went onto state that Broad should be the one to make way if the hosts elect to start with Nottinghamshire team-mate Chris Woakes in Leeds.
That such a respected voice in cricket such as Vaughan should openly state that one of England’s star two bowlers from the last decade should be axed is indicative of the deep sense of disquest at the side’s recent Test slump.
Acknowledging that criticism will always come with the territory when a team is on such a disappointing run, record England Test wicket-taker Anderson, who turns 36 at the end of next month, said: “It was not our best performance and when you suffer a heavy defeat, there is always a lot of noise around that.
“Lots more opinions come out and say ‘this has got to be done and that has got to be done.’ There is not a lot as players that we can do about that.
“If the managers and selectors think that feathers have got to be ruffled, all we do as players is concentrate on our job and train hard and when Friday comes around, be prepared to put in a better performance than last week. The outside noise is always something that is there.
“We (Anderson and Broad) have got 950 wickets and are doing the best we can for this team and trying to perform well enough to turn this team around.”
Should they lose in Leeds, England will slip to sixth in the Test rankings, but Anderson believes that there is no fundamental problem and feels that the squad for the second Test represents the ‘best 12 in the country’ currently available.
What Anderson does acknowledge is that England need a catalyst to kickstart their Test form, with the onus being on the likes of himself and Broad, captain Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow to provide some special contributions.
Anderson and Broad did exactly that in England’s last victory at Leeds back in 2016 with the former recording splendid match figures of 10-45 to help defeat the touring Sri Lankans by an innings and 88 runs.
The eye-catching personal haul enabled Anderson to cast aside his Headingley hoodoo, a ground where he has previously toiled, in fine fashion, with England needing similar levels of leadership and authority now.
Anderson said: “It is quite easy for the confidence of the team to take a hit when you have a defeat like the first Test. It is going to take some special individual performances this week. There is a lot of quality in the squad, not just me and Stuart and there are lots of players who can put their hand up and put in some some match-winning performances.”
Among that number is Root, who will be desperate to set an example on his home ground.
Anderson said: “When the team performs badly, one of the first people who comes in for criticism is the captain. I think he has managed it brilliantly.
“He would probably admit he is not in the best rhythm with the bat, but he showed his quality and grit the other day with the 68 he got even though he was not as fluent as he normally would be. But he has been great so far (as captain).”