The Ashes: How Are England Shaping Up?

by Tim MacBain

This year is really rather a bumper year for English cricket. Two test series against New Zealand and the subsequent ODIs, the Champions Trophy, and the delicious prospect of back-to-back Ashes series. As far as I’m aware, the Ashes is the only five-test series in existence at the present moment, which means that the side with the best mental preparations and abilities will definitely have an advantage. Therefore, it’s probably best to take a look at England to determine what chances we have in the first series, starting at Trent Bridge on 10th July.

We need to talk about Kevin
Our squad is settled. Fairly strangely for English cricket, we actually have a plethora of batsmen and bowlers, more people than we can fill places with. This squad and the team has been working very well for some time now, and there isn’t a huge difference to the team that beat India in India just before Christmas. Such stability will very much aid us, and as will the surplus.

In terms of batsmen, Alastair Cook seems to be defying the vast majority of past England captains (Andrew Strauss excluded) in not allowing the weight of the captaincy to adversely affect his batting. He is still actually scoring runs, although he needs a century soon to maintain his air of invincibility. The second opening spot is an area of some dispute; should it be Nick Compton or Joe Root? There are arguments for both sides; Compton is more mature, and proved his mettle in New Zealand earlier this year. However, four successive failures on the return leg called his place in the side into question, and seeing as Root has been opening so immaculately for Yorkshire this season, being the form man, appears to be the natural successor. My question to the England selectors is this: why are they taking such a gamble in favouring Root ahead of Compton, as they appear to be doing? If Root loses form he could very easily end up losing not only his place in the side but also his confidence, resulting potentially in a fallow period for him. We all remember Ian Bell’s explosive appearance onto the Test arena in 2005, scoring beautifully and prolifically just before the Ashes, but, when it came to it, he was like a lamb going to slaughter. Admittedly, that was against Shane Warne and Glen McGrath, but the point still stands.

With Jonathan Trott’s place secure, it is obvious that the competition for Compton’s place is being directly caused by the return to fitness of Kevin Pietersen. We need to talk about Kevin. Sorry for the dire joke, but how do you solve this problem? He is arguably one of the most destructive, soul-destroying (for a bowler) batsman in the world, but that’s only if he’s on form. He is an integral part of the team, but has his behaviour made him a liability? I don’t think so, but let’s hope not, eh? Ian Bell at five is a must; he’s pretty much exactly who you want (who’s playing today; I don’t think anybody would refuse Steve Waugh on song) to bolster the middle order. Jonny Bairstow is, in fact, who I would drop given the chance, and keep Root at six; this would give Compton the chance at the top of the order and remove the debatable form of Bairstow. Matt Prior will always be our best Test wicketkeeper, as imperious with the bat as he is with the gloves. Although you can find holes in our batting line-up, it has people with enough talent and versatility to step up to the mark if it all goes pear-shaped.

Jimmy Anderson
In terms of bowlers, we’re pretty much set. Jimmy Anderson is at least the second-best pace bowler in the world. Stuart Broad, although a little temperamental nowadays, can still turn a match around in a spell; the Oval in 2009 is an example of that. Graham Swann has thankfully recovered from injury, and is really rather good. Steve Finn and Tim Bresnan fight it out for the last bowling place, and both of them are actually worth having in the team. The fact is, we’re not carrying anybody, all the players fully contribute to the performance of the team. Thank goodness.

Fielding: we’re not at the dizzy heights of the 2010/11 Ashes, but, in Anderson, Bell, Broad and Prior, we have some of the best fielders in the world, and, although Cook is a little inexperienced as captain, he learns quickly from his mistakes. The team is a unit, is well constructed, and, with Andy Flower at the helm, I can’t see an enormous amount going too wrong.
  Therefore, I’m going to predict an optimistic 2-1 win; the unknown Australian bowlers may well do some hefty damage – look out for James Faulkner, he’s had a successful IPL and can be quite tricky to face – and therefore I think we will definitely lose one Test, but, allowing for two draws, we’ll come through with a greater understanding of the Australian team, just in time for the return journey later in the year.


  1. George Kimber-Sweatman11 July 2013 at 16:57

    Looking a bit dodgy at the moment after Mr Agar's heroics... great piece though Tim, can't say I disagree with too much of that.


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