What a summer of cricket it’s been. With England gloriously succeeding in one of the most epic and nail-biting sporting finales you’ll ever see, little consideration was given at the time to the impending and rather sizeable task of the Ashes series.
The emergence of Jofra Archer and the aggressive, never take a backward step attitude of Jason Roy offered a reason for optimism ahead of the climactic cricketing contest against the Aussies.
However, another lacklustre batting display in the first innings at Lords against a disciplined but military medium Irish bowling attack brought fans crashing down to earth.
How can England expect to beat Australia in the tantalising summer bowling conditions we so often get, with the traditionally overcast and unpredictable weather at this time of year?
Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Josh Hazlewood will be quietly and confidently licking their lips, especially if they took a few minutes out of their day to watch England’s first innings against Ireland.
Of course, England has a potent attack of their own, but they’ll be a weary bunch if they have to take twenty wickets twice in three days over the next 6 weeks.
Jason Roy taking his spot at the top of the order is a no brainer, thanks to his no-nonsense approach, a mix of cockiness and flair reminiscent of former England tormentor Matthew Hayden, should be the perfect antidote to the fearsome Aussie bowling unit.
He deserves a crack where so many before him have failed, but it won’t be plain sailing. With an average of 38.5 in first-class cricket for Surrey, perhaps that’s a better starting point, with less emphasis and expectation from his performances in the longer format of the game.
Slightly concerning, however, is the fact that he’s played most of his games at No.3 or lower even batting at five and six. He’ll be tasked with providing a solid platform alongside a man who does open the batting for Surrey, Rory Burns.
Last year Burns led Surrey to the County Championship title with an average over 60 and looked consistent enough for many observers to claim England’s opening batsmen issues could soon be coming to an end.
But, and there’s always a but before the Ashes, Burns has looked woefully out of touch so far in 2019 and alarmingly so against Ireland as one of England’s batsmen at Lords. As it stands right now, Burns looks like a sitting duck, the kind of target Aussie bowlers have made mincemeat out of in the past.
Let’s hope this new look, more softly spoken, sincere Australia, who having had their wings clipped in the glare of the media spotlight are a little less ferocious than yesteryear, mind you, where’s the fun in that?
Further down the order, the untested Joe Denly hasn’t done anything wrong so far, it’s just a shame he hasn’t really done anything of note either.
Maybe a tad harsh, but a knock of 69 against the Windies is hardly a barometer, although if anyone came out of the Ireland debacle in one piece, it might be Denly. Perhaps the most worrying aspect surrounding his inclusion is that the man who ran him out in the second innings, Joe Root, has again been forced to offer his services at No.3.
This is an experiment England have tried before and it wasn’t the answer. Root is a specialist in his favoured role of four, and while he’s scored runs at three, his offer to move up the order again has the hallmarks of a crisis decision.
Moving Jos Buttler up the order should be a no brainer and long overdue, not because of any specific qualities that lend themselves to such a decision, but, moreover because if Buttler is not wearing the gloves, then what is the point in having him loitering at No.7, in no man’s land?
Buttler is the epitome of this England team. As shrewd a decision as it was by Ed Smith to bring him back into the fold, and as worthy of his place as he is, Buttler is another incredibly talented, destructive batsman, along with Bairstow, Stokes, Ali, maybe even Woakes and certainly now Roy, who while capable of turning a game on it’s head, seem to lack the steel and stubbornness to stick around when things aren’t going to plan.
Stokes is an exception to that on occasions, and he’ll need plenty of them this month. In many ways England’s hopes rest firmly on his shoulders, let’s hope he can summon the energy, he’ll likely be a busy man.
Perhaps the emphasis on Eoin Morgan’s relentless one day approach, that has been a marvel to watch, has inadvertently punctured the Test team. England needs just one batsman who can grit it out, to help out Root, and transform the look of this batting lineup.
If things don’t go well in the opening test, or god forbid the first two, who on earth do England turn to next? Many keen cricketing eyes felt Vince would again be back in the fold, some mentioned Malan at four or five, but this just emphasises the problem.
For too long England have ummed and ahhed, back and forth, Keaton Jennings will testify as much. Perhaps come hell or high water, England should just lay in the bed they’ve made, whatever the costly result, because maybe, just maybe through the intensity of the Ashes a Burns and a Denly might emerge as a long term solution. Helmets at the ready, it certainly won’t be one to miss.
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