Happy new year everyone. Sorry about the delay between articles. I’ve just had my first extended break in nine years of editing (and co-editing) The Full Toss. Where have I been? Skiing in The Alps. Was it any good? No not really. I have all the balance of Channel 9’s commentary team. Throw in the inherent anxiety of a diehard England cricket supporter (the fear that disaster lurks around every corner) and I was less Eddie The Eagle and more Bambi on ice.
Basically I spent the whole time shitting myself and falling over. My French ski instructor Stephan, who must have felt a bit like Graham Gooch trying to verse Alan Mullally in the finer points of batting, eventually became exasperated and called me “a refuser”. He wasn’t wrong. I quit before the next lesson.
Anyway I digress. You’re here to read about cricket not my feeble attempts to look competent on the slopes and win some pocket money. And the big news over the last week or so has been India’s triumph in Australia. Well done to Virat Kohli and his team. It was a well deserved victory and it doesn’t bode well for Aussie cricket at all.
Although the Aussies were certainly hamstrung by the absence of the two cheats – I love the way we can say this without consequences because they admitted it – our antipodean friends must have been really disheartened by their bowlers’ persistent failure to knock India over cheaply and keep them in the game.
Personally I was surprised. Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins and Lyon are a formidable foursome (with or without sandpaper) and I expected them to cause some carnage. In the end, however, Kohli, Pant, and the superb Pujara in particular, were just too good.
Unsurprisingly Indian supporters are now claiming that their team is the undisputed No.1 test team in the world. And you can’t blame them. It’s the first time I can remember India winning down under. The fact they made the Aussie follow on at home for the first time since 1988 is one hell of an achievement – although the absence of Smith and Warner obviously means there’s a significant caveat alongside this statistic.
Although I tend to agree that India are indeed the best team in world cricket right now, I don’t think it’s clear cut. Let’s not forget they were beaten by an emphatic 4-1 scoreline in England just a few months ago. And everyone knows that England are hardly world-beaters at present. Things weren’t looking so rosy for India then – even if the series was probably closer than the official margin of victory suggests.
Luckily from England’s perspective India’s win definitely dents Australia’s morale ahead of this summer’s Ashes. If England beat India comfortably, and India beat Australia in Australia, one would think that Australia’s chances of succeeding in a part of the world where India lost are pretty slim. At least in theory.
Unfortunately, however, things are rarely that simple in the topsy turvy kick you-in-the-crotch and spit-on-your-neck world of English cricket. Smith and Warner will be back by the time the Ashes begins – their rehabilitation during the World Cup could well be old news by August – so their balsa wood batting order will be bolstered considerably by the time the teams emerge at Edgbaston. And then there’s the Aussie pace attack to worry about.
Although some will point out that their seamers haven’t been anywhere near as effective since the contents of Bancroft’s pants were exposed last year – feel free to raise your eyebrow at this point – the fact remains that Australia’s main four bowlers are rather handy.
Yes Starc can be a bit hit and miss but he remains destructive on his day. What’s more, Cummins, Hazlewood, and Lyon are indisputably world class performers. They’re all in the world’s top 14 (Cummins is now No.2) with very good averages and a history of success against England.
If these guys stay fit they could really do some damage – especially against England’s pretty woeful top order batting. This presents England with a bit of a problem …
England’s strength over the last few years has been our lower order’s ability to dig the team out of a hole. This has become Ed Smith’s signature philosophy (even though it began way before he was even on the scene). England pack the team with all-rounders (or ‘the best eleven cricketers) in the hope they’ll cobble together competitive totals as a unit.
There’s just one flaw with this cunning plan: it’s a lot harder for tail-enders to score runs against genuine pace and quality spin. They tend to crap themselves like cricket bloggers on a ski slope.
Big Ed’s plan therefore may not work too well against the Aussies. Sam Curran might be able to smack a tiring Suranga Lakmal around the park with a cheeky boyish grin, but it’s a different proposition when a fired up Pat Cummins is trying to kill you. Just ask Moeen Ali.
Consequently, although I still think England are favourites for the Ashes – especially as the Aussies haven’t won in Blighty since 2001 – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Aussies emerge victorious. They’ll be a different beast with their captain and vice-captain in situ, and taking twenty wickets shouldn’t be a problem for them.
And then there’s the World Cup factor to think about. There won’t be a lot of preparation time after the white ball festival has ended, and who knows what kind of hangover England will be nursing. Will it be complacency after English cricket’s day in the sun? Or will it be despondency and disgruntlement after yet another flop at the worst possible time?
Let’s hope the likes of Root, Stokes and Buttler are fully focused, fit, and firing.