Ashes batting concerns leave England under-prepared for 'greatest challenge' – Strauss

Champagne corks ready to be popped as Joe Root lifts the trophy © Getty Images

Holes in England’s batting leave Joe Root facing “the biggest challenge an England captain will ever have” in attempting to win the Ashes in Australia, according to Andrew Strauss.

Strauss, the last England captain to lead his country to success in Australia in 2010-11 and currently director of England cricket, believes Root has “a great chance” but accepts that question marks over the top-order batting leave “some vulnerabilities”.

As a result, he feels it is essential England start the tour well, and says it is vital that the more inexperienced players are fully aware of the challenges – on and off the pitch – that await them.

“It’s the biggest challenge an England captain will ever have,” Strauss said. “That is why, if you are able to win, certainly for me it was my greatest moment as an England captain.

“A lot of the challenges are off-field. You are living in this incredible bubble for a long period of time. Everything is directed towards you as England captain in terms of being responsible for what’s happening on the pitch.

“The preparation work both before you arrive in Australia and in that first month in Australia is absolutely crucial. We need players arriving there who have done all the hard yards off the pitch, prepared themselves in terms of what is to come with short bowling, in terms of conditions in different parts of Australia and physically they are in a good place. That’s crucial in those hot conditions.

“The reality is there are two teams with really strong assets and some vulnerabilities. Our challenge is to start the tour well. If we start well, hit the ground running and some of those guys who have not played a lot of Test cricket get an early score, then I think we are in a great position to win.”

Strauss’s reservations over England’s prospects are founded on their failure to establish a settled batting line-up. Not only have England struggled to find a new opening partner for Alastair Cook since Strauss’s own retirement in 2012, but there are two other places unfilled in the top five.

“The concerns I have are the concerns most people have, which is we haven’t been able to establish a team where 11 players are fully established,” Strauss said. “There are two or three places up for grabs, which is never ideal, and our consistency hasn’t been what we want.

“I’d be lying if I said we were going to Australia with absolute clarity on what our best XI is. We’re just not in that position at the moment.”

While Strauss defended the selection of the side over recent months, he accepted that, in several cases, players’ form had declined after a decent start in the England team. Keaton Jennings, Sam Robson and Adam Lyth all made centuries in their first two Tests, for example, while Gary Ballance enjoyed a prolific start to his Test career before running into difficulties.

“There has been a bit of a trend with a lot of those players,” he said. “They have proved they are capable of playing at that level and can score runs but the issue for a lot of them is that their form has dropped off after an initial high. We have to ask ourselves why is that the case?

“Maybe it is technical, maybe it is mental. So can we do more to prepare them for the off-field stuff around Test cricket, such as the attention, expectation, media and pressure because that plays a part in this as well.

Andrew Strauss’s victory in Australia in 2010-11 was his greatest achievement as England captain © PA Photos

“I would resist any narrative that says we have been chopping and changing. Most of these guys had a good length in the team and would hold their hand up and say it wasn’t a bad decision to remove them for a bit. I think the reality is that the secret to a long England career is not how good you are, it is how consistent you are and those guys have not been consistent enough.”

Strauss also revealed that, over the next 12 months, England will use international T20 games as an opportunity to take a look at more fringe players.

“Part of our long-term planning for the 2019 World is to use the next 12 months as a way of introducing some more people into that team environment,” Strauss said. “We don’t just want the same 14 or 15 to be playing cricket for England over the next two years.

“Given that there is no T20 World Cup, we see T20s as a way of introducing more people into that environment. In the South Africa T20s you will have noticed Tom Curran, Mason Crane, Dawid Malan and Liam Livingstone came in. We will probably be doing something similar over the next 12 months.”

He also hinted that England players will once again be released to play in the IPL and reiterated his view that, if players such as Jos Buttler decide to pursue a future as white-ball specialists, it was “not an unhealthy thing”.

“We have to accept the IPL is a unique case,” Strauss said. “The potential pitfalls of not allowing our players to play in it are big. We have to accept that is going to be a constant moving forward and there is huge benefit in our players going out there and playing as well.

“There are advantages to having specialist players for formats. The international schedule makes life difficult for players playing all formats and we overcome that by having more specialist players. So, from our point of view, the separation between the teams is not an unhealthy thing.

“From an individual player’s point of view it is 100 percent their own decision what they want to do with their career and the last thing we would ever say to a Jos Buttler or Alex Hales, or anyone, is ‘there’s no chance of you playing Test cricket again’.

“That’s a choice they have to make and we will select our teams based on who we think are the best 13, 14 or 15 players for that format. What we are not going to do is select a Jos Buttler on an Ashes tour just to prevent him becoming a one-day specialist. That would be the wrong way to think about that.”

Strauss maintained that England “have to be happy” with their progress in white-ball cricket, but admitted that failing to win the Champions Trophy was “a missed opportunity”.

“In terms of white-ball cricket we have to be happy with the progress made,” he said. “We’ve moved from an average of losing more white-ball games than we win to winning over 70 percent of our ODIs over the last 12 months.

“But I do think the Champions Trophy was a missed opportunity because the confidence that comes from winning a global event is massive. We headed into that semi-final with every reason to expect to win that event. We shouldn’t take anything away from the way Pakistan played that day: they outplayed us, and there are some lessons for us to learn about knock-out cricket.”

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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