It feels like a new dawn is upon us in English cricket.
Joe Root has taken over the captaincy from arguably our best ever batsman, and new players are trying to make a name for themselves as numerous places are up for grabs. When one of England Cricket’s most consistent performers finished his lauded lap of honour at Lords, it signalled the end of this summer’s Test Cricket and we can start to count down the days until the Ashes.
There seems to be a level of uncertainty between pundits and public alike as to who they think will come out on top this winter. Where past tours have involved established test players, the upcoming matches will contain a new selection of cricketers, many of whom have been brought up playing a different breed of cricket to their predecessors.
Of the 20 players who toured Australia in 2013/14, there are likely to only be 6 survivors: Cook, Bairstow, Root, Stokes, Anderson and Broad.
This compares starkly to 2013/14, when England travelled to Australia with 12 players who had played their part on the previous tour: Cook, Anderson, Bell, Bresnan, Broad, Finn, Panesar, Pietersen, Prior, Swann, Tremlett, Trott.
Results will tell you that experience doesn’t always bring victory, as England brutally lost the series in 2013/14 5-0, but relatively new squads for both teams will keep people guessing.
The Opening Conundrum
The 2016 tour of India brought hope that England may even have an option to choose between Hameed and Jennings to open with Cook. Neither has pushed on and England have run out of time to try out new players. It feels very much we are going to have to take a punt on Stoneman and hope he delivers with the back-up being another punt with Jennings – not the position you want to be in before taking on your oldest rivals.
3 is not a Magic Number
Gary Balance is another nearly man who hasn’t quite been able to perform consistently at the top level. A career that started so promisingly with 729 runs in his opening year as a test batsman (2014) has faded and I don’t feel he is the answer to our problems at 3.
Talk of shifting the batting order and moving Root to 3 is risky business – the best batsman should come in at 4 and we know that is Root.
Again, the problem is unsolved, and in the heat of battle walking out to bat in front of thousands of Aussies, all hoping you fail miserably, it looks like we are going to put our faith on poor old Tom Westley who has 5 matches under his belt with an average of 24.12.
For such an important batting position to remain unknown could be disastrous. Our famous collapses need to be halted by a 5 who knuckles down and settles the team. We have been saved too many times by our middle / lower order in the past few years. There is muddled thinking –Bairstow and Root have batted here in the past (Ashes 2015), but both have been moved to other positions to cater for the team. There is definitely an argument for Bairstow to bat here, potentially making room for further destructive batsman down the order like Hales or Butler.
Anyone for spin?
It was on our last tour of Australia that our best spinner of the century (Swann) decided to bail out –certainly tarnishing his reputation. We are yet to find a definitive replacement. In Moeen Ali, England have a special cricketer, but he has not bowled in Australia before and it is somewhere his capabilities will really be tested. Swann’s average down under was by far his worse (52.59) and so Ali knows he will be tested. Spin must be used to give Broad and Anderson the rest they need, and it simply cannot afford to leak easy runs. It will be key for Moeen and to some extent Root to step up, because no-one else has put their hand up.
Broad and Jimmy down under
Broad and Anderson know they are going to have a lot of work to do this Winter. Their fitness is going to be key to our success, and let’s hope they are in the best shape possible before setting off. They both have respectable averages in Australia, and Jimmy took the most wickets (24) back in 2010/11 when England won. If either he, Broad or anyone else, can repeat this, we will be in a good position. Roland Jones has made a good start to his Test career, and he will certainly be in consideration come the first test in Brisbane. My concern will be losing one of Jimmy or Broad.
You would be forgiven for thinking that I may have written England off with the negativity surrounding the preceding points but it is important they are highlighted.
Equally important is to note that in spite of all this, England have one of the most feared batting line ups on the global stage and one of the best bowlers ever to play the game. The opposition know that Cook, Root, Ali, Stokes, Bairstow and to some extent Broad can take a game away from you with the bat.
With the ball, it very well could be final time we see Jimmy in Australia and he would love nothing more than to finish on a high against the Aussies.
There can be too much of a good thing, and the three Ashes series between 2013 and 2015 was certainly a case of this. We need to look after these historic battles without allowing the financial side of things to interfere. Put simply, after a proper two-and-a-half-year break, the old rivals are ready to battle again, and I can’t wait.