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England's fragile top order threatens Ashes hopes

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165   //    30 Jul 2019, 18:51 IST

England v Ireland - Specsavers Test Match: Day One
England v Ireland - Specsavers Test Match: Day One

England are halfway to a golden summer. With the Cricket World Cup in the trophy cabinet, they will be intent on snatching back the urn.

Australia have not won an Ashes series on English soil since 2001 but this series may well afford them the opportunity.

England's problems are far greater than a World Cup hangover. The top-order is less than stable and very much in need of runs. England have not had a solid opening partnership since Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook.

In addition, Joe Root has been under constant pressure to perform and Australia's potent bowling attack may well be poised to exploit these frailties.

England's batting problems are nothing new and Trevor Bayliss was quick to point this out when quizzed recently. "You don’t have to be Einstein to work that out," was how Bayliss responded, and he's right. A quick look at the stats will show how dependent England have become on their middle and lower-order batters.

Runs by Batting Position since Aug 1st 2018
Runs by Batting Position since Aug 1st 2018

The graph plots runs, as a percentage of total runs, by each batting position since August 1st, 2018.

Until the seventh wicket, England have performed poorer than average. Incidentally, Australia's opening batters have scored most of their total runs, whilst positions three and four have not performed to a great extent.

With England's brittle top-order under constant pressure to succeed, Australia know that they can make early inroads. However, they will need to find a way to take advantage of the good positions they find themselves in, or else England will punish them.

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With the likes of Jos Buttler, Chris Woakes and Sam Curran in the team, England will expect runs down the order. In some ways, that is a luxury to have, but it also makes winning Tests hard work. India struggled to build on their advantages in England, and Australia must learn from this.

There is plenty of conjecture around the make-up of the batting line-up for England ahead of the first Test at Edgbaston.

Last week's abject first innings performance against Ireland at Lord's emphasized the problems that England have to overcome. Nightwatchman Jack Leach top-scored with a battling 92 whilst other, more accomplished, batters found the conditions difficult.

England tried another new opening partnership with Rory Burns being paired with one-day specialist Jason Roy. That experiment failed as well. In the last 12 months, England have seen just four opening partnerships exceed fifty and none of them have been converted to centuries.

Second wicket partnerships have not been much better either. Only one of these has gone into three figures and that was the one involving the unlikely hero Leach, in Lord's. England's answer could be to promote Joe Root to three but that might not be a smart move, for the captain has expressed his desire to remain at four.

Australia Ashes Squad Announcement
Australia Ashes Squad Announcement

Ultimately, whoever bats better over the five Ashes Test matches will win. The Dukes ball being used is the same one that was used in the England vs India series. Whilst England have their bowling dilemmas, such as whether to include Jofra Archer in the side, Australia have an abundance of bowlers to exploit the conditions.

In their intra-squad match in Southampton, the two Australian teams struggled with the bat on a dubious surface. However, players such as James Pattinson and Peter Siddle staked their claim through accurate and aggressive bowling.

With Pat Cummins a lock for one of the spots, there is going to be some disappointment for Josh Hazlewood or Mitch Starc. Or maybe even both.

England will need their batters to rise to the occasion. Looking at the last 12 months, batting averages do not make for good reading.

At the top of the pile is Ben Foakes, who is now surplus to requirements, with an average of 41.50.

More illustrious names: Buttler (37.00), Root (32.96), Stokes (30.16) and Bairstow (25.83) will need to improve their averages. If that does not happen over the next seven weeks, Australia will be confident of retaining the Ashes. It's up to England's batters to find some runs. Fast.

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