“Dour. It’s not the type of cricket I’d play.”, as soon as the 17 member English squad for the upcoming Ashes series was announced Australian coach Darren Lehmann made his views clear about the opponents.
Lehmann, during his playing days, was known for his flair and aggression with the bat and as a coach he is keen to inculcate the same spirit in the team. But, though the Australian team was lauded for playing an enterprising brand of cricket in the recent Ashes series in England, in his heart of hearts Lehmann would happily trade some of Australia’s flamboyance for the test wins that England secured with the help of ‘dour’ cricket.
There are a few surprise selections but, unless injuries dictate otherwise, the players who are likely to earn caps during the test series will more or less be the ones who participated in the recent Ashes win in England.
The batting, especially the top order, was below par in England but batsmen like Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott are too good to fail in consecutive Ashes series. It also should be noted that on their last tour to Australia the duo had a combined tally of over 1200 runs.
Joe Root made a solid start to his test career but since being entrusted with the task of opening the innings, save a chancy century at The Lord’s, he has had very little to show for his efforts. Even though there wont be much seam movement and wickets are expected to be true the youngster will face the biggest challenge of his test career so far. The 33 year old Michael Carberry, who recently made ODI debut, pipped the more accomplished Nick Compton as the reserve opener and his services can also be called upon if the team decides to move Root into the middle-order.
The shortcomings of the top order were taken care of by the middle order in the recent Ashes series and once again the English team will have the experience and competence of Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell to fall upon. Most of Australia’s bowling plans will undoubtedly revolve around the pair and their form over the summer might very well decide the fate of the series.
The number six spot has been a subject of debate in an otherwise stable English lineup and despite a quite Ashes series at home the selectors have retained their faith in Johnny Bairstow. His competition will be with the Zimbabwe born Gary Ballance, whose selection ahead of the likes of Ravi Bopara, Eoin Morgan and James Taylor came as a surprise. Though he has scored plenty of runs for Yorkshire this to merit a berth in the squad it was very unlike England to blood in an uncapped player on a tour to Australia.
The team management will also have the option of going with an all-rounder in Ben Stokes, who can be gusty with the bat and contribute as the fifth bowler. Though it was Chris Woakes who made his test debut in a similar role in the final test at The Oval, Stokes’ extra nip with the ball seems to have tilted the balance in his direction.
After Australia were subjected to a humiliating whitewash in India earlier this year, no one was surprised when England opted for dry surfaces during the Ashes series in England. England’s trump card Graeme Swann was touted to be the difference between the two attacks and he duly came to the party to end up as the highest wicket taker in the series with 24 scalps.
Though the pitches in Australia won’t be as helpful and traditionally off-spinners haven’t had much success there, Swann, with his guile and experience, will still be a key factor.
Despite his recent antics and loss of form, Monty Panesar has been chosen as the backup spinner. Though it is very unlikely that England are going to employ two spinners in any of the five tests Panesar’s inclusion in the squad gives a fresh lease of life to the left-arm spinner’s career which seemed dead and buried.
His selection also betrays the lack of option for England in the spin department. While the pretender Simon Keerigan was brutally exposed by Shane Watson in his debut test the limited overs regular James Tredwell has struggled in the four day format.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad, England’s new ball bowlers, will be expected to do most of the work in the pace department but the talking point has been the makeup of the support cast in the pace department. In Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin the visitors have three tall and strong seamers who can exploit the bouncy conditions that are expected in Australia.
Though the thought process in the selection cant be faulted the exclusion of Graham Onions is baffling. The Durham pacer has been in excellent form in the county scene of late and he could have had a vital role to play given his control and seam movement, especially at a time when England will be without the services of the injured Tim Bresnan.
In the 2010-11 series England had, successfully, adopted a horses-for-courses policy. While Finn and Tremlett were used along with Anderson in Perth, Bresnan was included in the team for tests in Melbourne and Sydney to exploit the reverse swing.
It will be interesting to see if the team can replicate the same success with a fairly one dimensional attack.