“I mean it is a joke, it is an absolute joke the batsmen that they have in that set-up.” Kevin Pietersen
Ben Stokes’ exclusion from the England Test team to travel Down Under to take on Australia in the winter has been met with widespread acceptance that without him Joe Root’s men have slim to no chance of retaining the Ashes. There are several reasons to believe the doomsayers wrong.
Firstly this Australian side is without the retired Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson & Shane Watson. It is not so much a question of whether England are good enough to beat Australia in Australia as it is are England good enough to beat this incarnation of Australia – one that is at an historically low ebb.
The list of Australians handed Test caps since England’s last troubled visit to the country looks threadbare at best:
Alex Doolan – 4 tests and averaging 23 with the bat.
Mitchell Marsh – 21 tests but averaging a meagre 21.74 with the bat & 37.48 with the ball. How many Australian teams of the last century would have allowed a player with those kind of returns the honour of 21 caps? Few I’d imagine.
Steve O’Keefe – 9 caps and nearly 33 years old – a bowling average of 29.40 actually makes him something of a sensation among this crop of Australians.
Josh Hazlewood – 31 tests in and having overcome earlier injury fragility his bowling average of 25.75 is as fearsome as it gets currently.
Joe Burns – 13 caps & a batting average of 37.95 in Tests which compares to his average of 38.97 in First Class cricket.
Adam Voges – a batting average of 61.87 is more like it but what do you know – he’s already retired.
Peter Nevill – a wicket-keeper with 17 caps and a batting average of 22.28.
Jon Holland – 2 caps and 5 wickets at 30 years of age doesn’t scream future Australian superstar.
Callum Ferguson – 1 cap, 4 runs for a man who will be 33 years old by the time the Ashes get going.
Joe Mennie – 1 test, 1 wicket & an average of 85 with the ball.
Peter Handscomb – 10 caps in he is averaging 53.07. Holds an average of 41.00 in 82 First Class matches.
Nic Maddinson – 3 caps, abject failure thus far scoring a grand total of just 27 runs at an average of only 6.75.
Matt Renshaw – 10 caps, averages 36.64 with the bat which isn’t far off what he averages in his limited first class career.
Hilton Cartwright – 2 caps, 55 runs in total.
That’s the latest crop of budding Australian superstars in the making – and it makes for hugely underwhelming reading. There is quality within the Baggy Greens to be sure: David Warner is a destructive, explosive run machine when in form & Steven Smith is a class act who’d have looked comfortable in just about any of the great Australian batting line ups of the past. Those, and only those, two aside – this is a historically weak Australian side. With fully 9 other berths to fill this is the furthest imaginable an Australian side could be to fearsome.
Let’s assume Ben Stokes plays no part in the Ashes (which he still could do) – England have several viable options open to them light years ahead of the hit and miss Australian generation above. To be clear the omission of Stokes is a loss in anyone’s language and I’m not for a moment arguing that it will do anything but weaken the side – but that impact can be limited, ameliorated if you like considering England’s myriad all-rounder options and batting order permutations.
How England should line up against Australia on 23 November at The Gabba, Brisbane:
- Alastair Cook
- Mark Stoneman
- Gary Ballance or Joe Root or Dawid Malan or James Vince
- Joe Root or Gary Ballance or James Vince or Dawid Malan
- Dawid Malan or Gary Ballance or James Vince
- Jonny Bairstow or Ben Foakes
- Moeen Ali
- Chris Woakes or Craig Overton
- Stuart Broad
- Steven Finn or Jake Ball
- James Anderson
England – even without Stokes – retain a solid spine of Cook – Root – Bairstow – Ali – Woakes – Broad & Anderson. That leaves just four places that need filling with players in form or capable of handling what Australia can throw at them.
No less an expert on Australian conditions as Shane Warne has stated he’s confident Mark Stoneman’s batting should do well in Australian conditions. Should that prove true the English would be up to 8 Test level performers – but how many does it take to succeed against Australia, in Australia?
Let’s analyse England’s 2010–11 Ashes series performances which led to a 3-1 Away Series win:
- AN Cook (ENG) 766 @ 127.66
- IJL Trott (ENG) 445 @ 89.00
- KP Pietersen (ENG) 360 @ 60.00
- IR Bell (ENG) 329 @ 65.80
- AJ Strauss (ENG) 307 @ 43.85
- MJ Prior (ENG) 252 @ 50.40
- GP Swann (ENG) 88 @ 22.00
- PD Collingwood (ENG) 83 @ 13.83
- TT Bresnan (ENG) 39 @ 19.50
- JM Anderson (ENG) 22 @ 4.40
- CT Tremlett (ENG) 19 @ 6.33
- ST Finn (ENG) 3 @ 3.00
- SCJ Broad (ENG) 0 @ 0.00
- JM Anderson (ENG) 24 @ 26.04
- CT Tremlett (ENG) 17 @ 23.35
- GP Swann (ENG) 15 @ 39.80
- ST Finn (ENG) 14 @ 33.14
- TT Bresnan (ENG) 11 @ 19.54
- PD Collingwood (ENG) 2 @ 36.50
- SCJ Broad (ENG) 2 @ 80.50
- KP Pietersen (ENG) 1 @ 16.00
Now clearly Cook’s batting endeavours in 2010-2011 – a feat bettered only by Don Bradman, Wally Hammond & Mark Taylor is Ashes history – will be very difficult to replicate but Joe Root, Cook himself, Jonny Bairstow & Moeen Ali are all capable of 400-600 run tours. England’s 6 leading run-scorers on that victorious tour managed 2,459 runs.
- Joe Root has managed 460 runs in his last 5 matches against Australia. Capable of scoring 550 runs plus in this series.
- Alastair Cook. Capable of scoring 550 runs plus in this series.
- Moeen Ali has managed 293 runs in his last 5 matches against Australia. Capable of scoring 350 runs plus in this series.
- Jonny Bairstow. Capable of scoring 350 runs plus in this series.
- Thus if Gary Ballance; Mark Stoneman; Dawid Malan & James Vince would be required to provide 709 collectively in order to keep pace with the successful class of 2010-2011.
Perhaps that is less of an ask given England general batting strength than matching the all important bowling performance of the class of 2010-2011. Indeed 86 wickets across: James Anderson; Stuart Broad; Chris Woakes; Moeen Ali; Craig Overton; Steven Finn; Jake Ball; Mason Crane & Joe Root – on the face of it – presents the more challenging obstacle.
James Anderson has a strike rate of 69.34 taking 43 wickets at 38.44 runs a piece against Australia in Australia (in 13 career matches there). Anderson, for all of his career wide success, is now 35 years old & his last 5 match performances against the Australia away from home have brought 14 wickets for 1143 runs at a strike rate of 81.64 – which is 46.2% less productive than his career strike rate of 55.84. Realistically, he can be expected to take no more than 20 wickets in this Ashes series.
Stuart Broad will be key to any English success with the ball – he is one of the few players in world cricket who enjoys better numbers against the Australians than he does everyone else. Broad has taken 84 wickets at an average of 27.69 against Australia at a strike rate of 51.08 – which is only 3 less wickets than Jimmy Anderson. Given his relative youth (at 31) – he could be expected to take as many as 25 wickets in this Ashes series.
That’s a total of 45 wickets maximum from England’s front line bowlers – leaving a shortfall of 41 required from everyone else.
Chris Woakes is largely untested against the Australians but is an undoubted talent who should be capable of chipping in with 10 wickets plus over the 5 Test series.
Moeen Ali will be a critical man with the bat and with the ball – should he be able to exploit what turn exists on Australian pitches and contribute some vital wickets. Given his relative lack of success against the Australians a return of 8 wickets would be seen as a success.
With only the second half of the first change plus any part time bowlers to come that leaves England needing a further 23 wickets to match the nation’s 2010-2011 wicket haul.
Mason Crane & Joe Root can realistically be expected to chip in 3 wickets collectively. Meaning Craig Overton; Steven Finn; Jake Ball – who of course won’t all play in all matches – would need to somehow put together 20 wickets. The challenge is not an easy one – but it is achievable – given England’s general upward momentum and Australia’s historical low ebb – there is no reason to think England can’t get the job done Down Under.