It hasn’t been the ideal preparation for England ahead of the Ashes. Can they overcome Australia on their home soil? (3:38)
Keep Australia in the field
The Australian seam attack is terrific. It offers pace, swing and variation. But it’s also fragile. Pat Cummins has played only 15 first-class matches in his career – five of them Tests – while Mitchell Starc has recently recovered from a stress fracture in his right foot. Both operate at their best in short, sharp spells which means the burden on the only other specialist seamer, Josh Hazlewood (who suffered a side strain not so long ago), could become onerous. This is, remember, an attack lacking the all-round depth given by the likes of Shane Watson (who has retired) and Mitchell Marsh (who cannot bowl at present due to injury) in the past. If England can keep them out in the field for four sessions, it will put them under tremendous pressure and decrease the chances of the first-choice attack playing in all five Tests. The reserve bowlers – the likes of Jackson Bird and Chadd Sayers – are good cricketers, but they don’t offer the same level of threat as Cummins and Starc. Keeping Australia in the field also allows England’s bowlers some recovery time. A feature of the 2013-14 Ashes was England bowling well in the first innings – the first four or five Australian wickets often fell relatively quickly – only to then see their batsmen fail and be forced back into the attack without adequate rest. It does have to be pointed out, though, that England won in 2010-11 with a four-man attack.
Kevin Pietersen attracted a lot of criticism for his 2013 dismissal in Perth – caught on the long-on fence attempting to hit Nathan Lyon for six – but there was some logic behind the stroke. Had he been able to hit Lyon out of the attack, he might have been able to force Mitchell Johnson or Ryan Harris into another spell in energy-sapping heat. It didn’t work, it looked ugly and it may have been a simplistic approach, but if England are able to negate Lyon this time – or even hit him out of the attack – it will make life very difficult for Steven Smith. Lyon is going to be asked to bowl a lot of overs and, if England allow him to settle, it will also allow the Australian seamers to be rotated to their needs.
Move the Kookaburra
Recent history would suggest that, on flat pitches – the sort we saw at Lord’s and The Oval during the Ashes series of 2015 – Australia have the upper hand. While England’s seamers require some help from either seam or swing – certainly finding a way to dismiss Smith without either could be tricky – Australia have a couple of bowlers with the pace to take the pitch out of the equation. And while the England seamers have a good record in England, where the Dukes ball offers more assistance, a couple of them have a bit to prove overseas and in Australia, in particular. So it is essential England find a way to move the Kookaburra ball either in the air or off the seam. The evidence of the warm-up matches in Adelaide and Townsville was generally encouraging, though the final day in Townsville underlined the lack of potency in the attack without that lateral movement. It might be that the pitches to be used in this series offer England’s bowlers a little more than anticipated. Certainly Adelaide, where grass will be left on the pitch to protect the pink ball, is likely to offer a little more to the seamers than usual and it might also be that the balance of the Australia attack – containing only three frontline seamers – might have persuaded CA to order more seam-friendly surfaces. There is, however, considerable doubt over whether any of the curators would take much notice of such requests; they tend to be fairly independent minded.
Take their chances
It is hard enough for the bowlers to create 10 chances an innings; England cannot afford to ask them create 12 or more. The early signs on this tour are that Dawid Malan, the new third slip, and James Vince, at gully, have settled in well and both have taken some sharp chances. But the absence of Ben Stokes is felt as much as anywhere in the fielding and Joe Root, who has taken Stokes’ position as first slip to the spinners, has dropped a couple of relatively straightforward chances. If Smith or David Warner are missed early, they could spend the next four or five sessions making England pay for it.
It is an interesting point of difference between the sides that, while most of Australia’s bowlers are going to be used as ‘shock’ bowlers, most of the time, England’s are going to be used as ‘stock’ bowlers. While England’s plan with the ball – to be “very monotonous” in Paul Farbrace’s words – isn’t something you’d want to stick up on marketing posters, it does make some sense. Instead of chasing the game – attempting to have batsmen bounced out or delivering over-pitched balls in search of the perfect yorker – England will aim to bowl as dry as possible in those periods when the ball isn’t moving and the batsmen are set. They may well attack them for the first 20 balls or so of each innings but, after that, we can expect a huge amount of just back-of-a-length bowling on or around off stump with relatively defensive fields in the hope that Australia’s batsmen will become frustrated. Steven Finn’s struggle to fulfil such a role saw him dropped in 2010-11 despite his wicket-taking record. That phrase about “playing on the egos” of batsmen might be relevant here, too. In 2015, Moeen Ali claimed a couple of vital wickets (Warner and Smith) in Cardiff when they tried to destroy his bowling. Had they been content to milk it they might have won that Test and the series. Instead they tried to take him apart and, in doing so, gave away their wickets. If they are so inclined this time – if they try to impress their own supporters or fast forward the game – they may fall into England’s trap.
See their allrounders shine
One of the areas England have something of an edge over Australia is the presence of several allrounders in their team, even in the absence of Stokes. But for that to prove decisive, they will need Moeen and Chris Woakes to flourish with bat and ball. England need Woakes to improve his overseas record (he has 42 Test wickets at a cost of 24.28 apiece at home and eight wickets at a cost of 63.75 apiece overseas) and show that he can be potent with the Kookaburra and on these wickets. They will also need him to score a few runs at No. 8 as the last three in the order look more fragile than has been the case for a while. Moeen, meanwhile, faces a hugely demanding tour where he is sure to be tested by the short ball – probably his weakness in international cricket to date – and asked to bowl on pitches offering him very little. It might be worth remembering that Graeme Swann claimed a relatively modest 15 wickets in the series in 2010-11 but conceded only 2.72 runs per over. If Moeen can replicate something like that, he can probably congratulate himself on a job well done. And if Stokes should appear at some stage, England will be strengthened in all three departments.
The last couple of times England have won in Australia, the relative success of their opening pairs proved crucial. In 1986-87 it was Chris Broad (who averaged 69.57) and Bill Athey (who averaged 33.66) and in 2010-11 it was Alastair Cook (127.66) and Andrew Strauss (43.85) who helped England see off the new ball and made life easier for the middle-order. With England’s middle-order – well, the No. 3 and No. 5, at least – lacking experience and England carrying no reserve opener in the squad, it might prove more important for Cook and Mark Stoneman to start well this time. Stoneman has only one Test fifty to his name at present, but so impressive has been his form in the warm-up games – he has passed 50 every time he has batted and made a century in Townsville – that England are bullish about his prospects. Cook’s record, meanwhile, requires no repetition. It is interesting to note, though, that his second highest average in overseas Ashes series is more than 100 lower than his 2010-11 effort: he averaged just 24.60 in 2013-14 and 27.60 in 2006-07. While hoping for him to average 100 is unrealistic, England will surely need to him to average well in excess of 30 if they are to win this time.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo