There has been lots of talk that this year’s Ashes contest will be exceptionally one-sided. Former England star Kevin Pietersen labelled their squad as “horrendous” and Michael Vaughan expressed concerns that the series has already been lost. Most of these comments were made after Ben Stokes was arrested in Bristol, but after the commotion has settled down it is clear that England should not be written off.
Before bed, I have a comment on England’s Ashes squad – it’s horrendous! They may as well not go!
— KP (@KP24) September 27, 2017
One of the main concerns raised about this England side is their fragile batting unit. Relatively inexperienced players such as Mark Stoneman and James Vince will be exposed to the new ball in tough Australian conditions. However, as Sean Brown pointed out in his earlier piece, a simple solution to this could be moving Joe Root up to the number three slot. Stoneman has had a relatively successful start to his international career, and he ended the County Championship in fine form for Surrey. With Alastair Cook holding firm at one end, Stoneman will be relatively free to play his natural game but it will be a baptism of fire nevertheless. If England do shift Root to three, then if Stoneman’s dismissed cheaply, England’s two best batsmen will be at the crease at the time when they are most needed.
Admittedly, the composition of England’s middle order is far from certain and does have some weak links. Gary Ballance is set to have an extended run in the middle order, after Tom Westley was omitted from the squad. If England have confidence in him, he could occupy the number three spot. His lack of experience in Australian conditions is a concern though, which also applies to whoever will take the number five slot. The current competition for the spot is between James Vince, Dawid Malan and Ben Foakes. Dawid Malan has had several opportunities this summer and failed, and England will be reluctant to turn to Foakes to make his debut in this series. All three of these candidates, of which Vince is the current favourite, are very inexperienced and in the case of Vince and Malan have not delivered in international cricket so far. This is by far the weakest aspect of the England side, as their lower order consisting of Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes is very strong and provides a great deal of depth to this England side.
While this is not looking particularly optimistic at the moment, Australia are actually having similar problems too. Australia have not played as much Test cricket this year compared to England, and they have demonstrated several weaknesses in the games they have played. Their tour to India got off to a very bright start but then faded fast. Their middle order of Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell and Peter Handscomb was very inconsistent, either scoring big runs or failing to reach double digits. This problem resurfaced again in the tour to Bangladesh a few months ago, where Maxwell didn’t reach a fifty in the two Tests. Moreover, they have failed to have find a combination to stick with, Hilton Cartwright was introduced in the Second Test, who only managed a score of eight. In fact, Australia’s middle order problems are no better than England’s and the Australian selectors have been agonising who should fulfil that dreaded number six role. Therefore, England should feel confident running through Australia’s middle order if they pick up a few quick wickets.
On that theme, England’s seam attack is arguably stronger than Australia’s, but the home conditions undoubtedly give the hosts the advantage. England’s new ball pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad is their best ever combination and these two bowlers are both experienced and in exceptional form. Moreover, Broad’s history with the Australian crowd will no doubt fire him up and we can expect this pair to really trouble the Australia top order. Equally, Chris Woakes will play a crucial role in this side. Joe Root admitted that he may have brought him back too early after his injury, but Woakes will have had time to recover and find a good level of fitness. Moeen Ali’s off spin could also potentially be a large threat at some of the Ashes venues.
It is not all doom and gloom for England. There is no doubt that it will be one of the toughest Ashes series, with the absence of Ben Stokes, but Australia’s batting unit is not that much stronger. It is hard to understand why the media has been so negative towards England’s Ashes chances, but perhaps the role of underdogs will play into the hands of the England players as they look to come out fighting down under.
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