After The Ashes: England at the crossroads
Today The Oval saw the conclusion to a long bittersweet summer for English cricket with a 135 run win over Australia to salvage the first drawn Ashes series since 1972. England won the prize they so desperately craved by claiming a first World Cup in July, but the 2-2 test series draw means the urn will stay in Australia, at least until the 2021 series kicks off in Brisbane. Test skipper Joe Root pointed out the preparations to regain The Ashes must now begin as England look to consolidate their place at the top of white ball cricket whilst rebuilding the side in Test Cricket.
Changes at the top
Trevor Bayliss is finishing his four year stint as England coach this summer and the search for his successor or successors is on. Bayliss’ time with England has been marked by excellence in white ball cricket and inconsistency in the red ball format of the game. There have been high points in Bayliss’ tenure in Test Cricket, notably regaining The Ashes in 2015 and winning away to South Africa in 2016. However the lows have been marked by numerous double figure batting collapses, most embarrassingly against Ireland this summer.
The ECB seem in no hurry to appoint a new coach and it seems are set on one coach to oversee the England teams in all formats of the game. The wisdom of such a move is questionable given how the last four years have worked out, but Ashley Giles has publicly stated the priority is now to improve the Test team.
One name who should be prominent in the ECB’s thinking is Jason Gillespie. The former Australia paceman has proved an excellent coach with Yorkshire and Sussex and crucially has strong relations with key men Joe Root and Jofra Archer.
Whoever the new man at the helm turns out to be, his first conversation will be with Root and deciding on the captaincy. Root has endured plenty of critiscm this summer, particularly for England’s inability to come up with a successful plan to get Steve Smith out and his seeming mistrust of Chris Woakes with the ball. That said Root’s Australian counterpart Tim Paine has made more mistakes this summer, particularly with DRS reviews and the strange decision to bat first at The Oval.
Root has stated he wants to stay on as captain and the obvious problem with replacing him is a lack of clear alternatives. Jos Buttler has been earmarked to replace Eoin Morgan as captain in white ball cricket, but it’s surely too much to expect him to also lead the test side. Ben Stokes is another contender but England have made mistakes appointing great all-rounders as captain, notably in Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff.
Top Order Resolved Too Late
England’s batting has been at best erratic through this Ashes series. They failed to reach 400 in any of their innings with their batsmen only hitting three centuries between them. England have had issues with their top order batting since the top three read Strauss-Cook-Trott. England may just have found a top three that works, but it came far too late to win back The Ashes.
Rory Burns has proved a pleasant surprise, hitting 133 at Edgbaston and averaging an impressive 39. Burns has struggled on occasion with the short ball but seems to have corrected his technique, whilst his slip fielding has been excellent, Burns will now have an extended run in the side.
Having finally tired of Keaton Jennings & James Vince, England went for World Cup hero Jason Roy to partner Burns and it backfired horribly, with Roy averaging just 13.75 through the series. Roy’s attacking mindset and uncertain defensive technique make him a poor fit to open the batting, if Roy has a future in the test side it must be at six or seven where England already have plenty of options.
Joe Denly moved up to open the batting in the fourth and fifth tests and did far better. Denly hit a gutsy half century at Old Trafford, and then a patient 94 at The Oval. A good athlete and decent part time bowler Denly has done more than enough to make the plane to South Africa, but at 33 he’s not the long term answer.
It all means there’s a place in the squad for a young top order batsman with two likely contenders. Warwickshire’s Dominic Sibley is a natural opener and has averaged 55.6 with 3 centuries in County Cricket this season. Kent opener Zak Crawly is another option, the 21-year-old has averaged 38.1 in County Cricket this season and the youngster has experience in Australia having played grade cricket in both New South Wales and Western Australia.
With star man Root now playing at number three, it’s vital England aren’t constantly exposing their best batsman to the new ball when it’s only a few overs old. England’s infamous collapse to 67 all out at Headingley was in part caused by Root getting out to a brilliant delivery from Josh Hazelwood, deliveries like that are always likely when the number three batsman is being brought in after just a handful of overs. In Denly and Burns, England may have stumbled on a combination that alleviates that problem.
Middle Order Mess
A persistent problem for England this series has been middle order collapses. Chief Selector Ed Smith banked on carrying the momentum from the World Cup into the Ashes, but for the majority of the series England’s batsmen have struggled with the transition to red ball cricket. Jos Buttler admitted the World Cup took more out of him than he’d expected. Buttler and top scorer Ben Stokes, who averaged 55, are the only middle order batsmen guaranteed a place in the middle order.
The experienced Johnny Bairstow has averaged just 23.8 this series with Roy’s struggles continuing after playing at four. England have an excess of players who want to play at six or seven in the destructive manner of Adam Gilchrist, but there is a shortfall of Ian Bell type batsmen who can patiently build a big score.
There aren’t a huge number of options for England to bring in, however Surrey’s Ollie Pope has won plenty of admirers. Pope missed the start of the season with a dislocated shoulder but has rebounded with an unbeaten 221 against Hampshire to put himself second in the County Championship batting standings behind Root. Bairstow’s struggles with the bat may also bring the wicket-keeping duties into question with Surrey’s Ben Foakes hoping for a recall.
Changing of the Guard?
England’s bowling hasn’t been as consistent as Australia’s but there have been some excellent individual performances and the emergence of two new stars. England did suffer injury blows in this series with record wicket taker Jimmy Anderson pulling up injured after just 4 overs of the first test. Anderson will be 39 by the time the 2021 Ashes commence, but England should not discard their premier strike bowler. Anderson’s long standing new ball partner Stuart Broad has bowled wonderfully well this summer, keeping the destructive David Warner in his pocket throughout and remains a key player.
In Anderson’s absence, in came Jofra Archer whose 90mph pace was at times reminiscent of Brett Lee. Archer was brilliant at Lords and destroyed Australia at The Oval taking 6-43 in the first innings. The prospect of Archer facing Smith on the fast bowling tracks of Australia is enticing, however Archer needs time to develop his game alongside Broad, Stokes and Anderson. Another new star who made a late cameo was Sam Curran, who took 3 wickets at The Oval, having come into the side to take over the all rounder responsibilities from Stokes.
Chris Woakes managed to remove Smith for less than a 100 twice and will keep his place in the squad ,with Mark Wood & Ollie Stone also due back from injury. England have a lot of options with pace, but need to rotate their young quicks and injury prone seamers with their veteran strike bowlers.
Finally Moeen Ali looked a busted flush as he failed to match Australian spinner Nathan Lyon at Edgbaston. In came Jack Leach who played his part in Stokes’ heroics at Headingley and troubled Australia with his off spin. Leach will start in New Zealand and South Africa.
Possible England team vs New Zealand 2019 First Test:
Burns- Denly- Root- Pope- Stokes- Buttler- Bairstow- Archer- Leach- Broad- Anderson
Possible England team vs Australia 2021 First Test:
Burns- Sibley- Root- Pope- Stokes- Buttler- Foakes- Archer- Leach- Wood-Broad
Featured Image: Cricket.com.au
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