Alex Stockton turns his thoughts to The Ashes…
Generally speaking, November is possibly the most uneventful month in terms of English cricket. The county and club scenes have wound down, as has the international summer. Pre-season training normally starts in January, and that leaves very little for people in the game to actually talk about.
This year, however, is different. It’s an Ashes winter, which changes absolutely everything. England have already landed and their warm ups are in full flow. While this section of the magazine generally focuses on the cricket of Northamptonshire, it would be foolish not to pay some attention to England cricket’s most well-known set of fixtures.
How are England going to do?
Jumping straight in at the deep end, I’ll take a leap of faith and say “I don’t know”. Generally speaking, I’ve got a feeling about an England test series, but this winter’s Ashes could realistically end up with almost any score line. If Australia win, I can honestly say I won’t be surprised; that said, I’m not writing Joe Root’s men off at all.
Australia definitely hold the advantage. They’re at home, have a number of quick bowlers, and arguably have a more settled batting line up. They’ll fancy their chances more now that Ben Stokes isn’t out there, and will be licking their lips at the prospect of England’s number 2, 3, and 5. Mitchell Starc is widely regarded as the man most likely to emulate Mitchell Johnson’s heroics of four years ago, while Josh Hazlewood’s unrelenting accuracy and Pat Cummins’ searing pace has fuelled most of the Aussies’ 5-0 advocates.
That said, it’s not all been plain sailing for the men in Baggy Greens. Their batting line up is hardly nailed on, with clear selection issues at numbers 2, 6, and 7 (in the form of their wicketkeeper). Add into the equation the fact that England have some of the best players in the world, and a degree of the Australians’ gusto might begin to fade somewhat. The tourists will have learned a number of lessons from the debacle of four years ago, and will be far better prepared this time round.
Ultimately, a lot hinges on how England’s seemingly unstable batting line up. Mark Stoneman looks set to open up with Alastair Cook, and he’s started quite well during the first couple of warm up games. He’s hit three fifties in four innings, and is finding his feet down under. Elsewhere, James Vince will be hoping to surprise a few, and Dawid Malan has done just about enough to leave most fans open-minded. Should England start poorly in Brisbane, though, and find themselves 30-3, that might prove extremely damaging to their hopes.
What went wrong four years ago? Apart from Mitchell Johnson, you mean? In all honesty, the moustached villain played a significant role in ruining England’s winter. The tourists were in each game for the first few days of the test, until it all fell apart in the batting department. England’s bowlers endured some tough spells, but that’s almost inevitable against Australia in their own conditions. Without Johnson’s superb efforts throughout the series, it could have been a lot closer. The man took great pleasure in sending down rocket after rocket, every other delivery flying past the noses of Alastair Cook’s men.
That’s not to say that England are off the hook this time. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are both capable of working up consistent speeds over the 90mph mark, and have the potential to replicate Johnson’s untouchable form.
One thing that does benefit the tourists, though, is the fact that they know what to expect. They are going to get bounced, they are going to be intimidated, and they are going to have to adapt to those conditions. England didn’t adapt four years ago, for whatever reason. A number of the players on that tour have come out and said, in no uncertain terms, that everything fell apart. Players didn’t accept responsibility, were unprepared, and were stubborn (and that’s just what we’ve been allowed to hear). Senior players Alastair Cook, James Anderson, and Stuart Broad all played on that tour, and will have the memories of the 2013/14 winter fresh in their minds. If there is one positive to take from that embarrassing 5-0 defeat, then it is that the side have been through it. Experience is invaluable as long as it’s put to good use, and England do have that.
Let’s wait and see
England’s recent form has been ridiculously up and down. Their series victory against South Africa over the summer is a prime example. When they lost, Joe Root’s men lost badly. When they won, they were convincing and comprehensive. They are going to have to be more consistent over the winter, otherwise the cracks will be exposed. In English conditions with Jimmy Anderson, we can just about get away with a poor start. In Australian conditions, that will not be the case. If the side are as inconsistent there as they were over here, they will get beaten.
Joe Root is a quick learner, though, and with Cook and Anderson to help him along the way, the Aussies might have to watch out. Don’t take all of their arrogant, dismissive talk at face value. Glenn McGrath was convinced his side would win 5-0 when England retained the Ashes down under in 2010/11, and it’s all just talk. If England can negotiate Brisbane, they’ve got every chance.
The Ashes gets underway on November 23rd, at around midnight our time. If I had enough holiday left, I’d be staying up to watch every minute of it. As it is, I’ll have to rely on the dulcet tones of Geoffrey Boycott to serve as my alarm for a couple of months. I genuinely can’t wait. Note: there was absolutely no sarcasm intended there, I really am incredibly excited.