Much as I’d like to write off Australia’s Ashes hopes, there’s this little thing niggling away inside me. Steve Waugh, a bloke whose cricketing brain I admire immensely, reckons Michael Clarke’s bunch of crocks could actually win.
Waugh believes that England are vulnerable; a fair opinion considering our abject showing in New Zealand. If there’s one thing consistent about the England team, it’s our inconsistency: poor against South Africa last summer, brilliant in India, then back to disappointing (bordering on the plain crap) in New Zealand. How do we know which England will turn up in the Ashes?
Thus far most analysts are looking at England’s side, comparing it to Australia’s likely line-up, and declaring Alastair Cook’s boys firm favourites. In the process they’re dissecting every conceivable Australian weakness, but ignoring our own.
Today we’re going to redress the balance – not because we really think Australia will win, but because playing devil’s advocate is fun, and sometimes it can be quite revealing.
Therefore, instead of writing off the likes of Phil Hughes and Ed Cowan (one unorthodox and exciting, the other orthodox and about as thrilling as an episode of Neighbours) we’re going to find weak links in England’s line-up. We’ll start at the top of the order:
Alastair Cook is a brilliant batsman, but he’s prone to extreme fluctuations in form: basically, he’s either a run machine (and seems immovable every time he arrives at the wicket), or a bit iffy. He didn’t score too heavily when England needed him against South Africa last summer, did he.
Then there’s his opening partner, Nick Compton. The Aussies might be licking their lips. Compton has shown a good temperament during his brief test career, but there’s no getting away from the fact that his first class career until 2012 was rather pedestrian; he was released by Middlesex not long ago, and even Phil Hughes would probably makes runs for Somerset at Taunton. Compton still has something to prove.
It’s pretty hard to criticise Jonathan Trott, but England’s middle-order has question marks. If you look at the stats, the engine room has failed miserably a number of times over the last few years (Matt Prior can’t keep coming to the rescue indefinitely).
Kevin Pietersen is a genius. But true genius is always flawed. Whilst KP has the potential to win matches, he also has a tendency to get out at the worst possible time. More importantly, however, he has the potential to disrupt the dressing room and throw the side into turmoil. I wonder if he’ll end up texting Shane Watson mid-series to exchange notes on being disruptive?
Next we come to the enigma that is Ian Bell. One day he’s a Rolls Royce; the next he’s a Lada. Although purists love to purr over Bell’s batting, he’s hardly the strongest character. If England are under pressure, can we really rely on Bell? His place in the side has been questioned so many times for a reason you know.
Finally there’s Joe Root. He looks really promising, right? Well the truth is he hasn’t actually been tested against a test-class seam attack yet. He’s showed a good temperament, and a sound technique, against spin on the slow pitches of India, but James Pattinson at the Oval is a different proposition. Root didn’t play particularly well in New Zealand, and his dismissal in the first test (when he looked rushed and guided a wide ball to slip) will encourage Australia’s bowlers.
Then we come to England’s attack. We’re not going to pick apart Anderson. He’s proven time and again that he’s a quality performer. The same could be said of Swann, although he’s not particularly effective against right-handers if the truth be told. However, there are significant question marks over Finn and Broad.
Broad in particular polarises opinion. He’s prone to big fluctuations in form and fitness. He was nothing more than a rank medium pacer against South Africa last summer, and whilst he improved against New Zealand, his career statistics are still very ordinary.
Finally there’s Finn. Has he really kicked on? He’s certainly good at kicking down the stumps in his delivery stride. David Saker persuaded Finn to experiment with a shorter run-up in February. It didn’t really work. He still tripped over the stumps, and his rhythm was awry for much of the series. In a four-man attack, England can’t afford misfiring seamers.
Now don’t get us wrong, we still think England will win the Ashes, but the above analysis provides plenty of food for thought. The odds on an Aussie series win are enticing to say the least – they are currently priced at 7/2 to win the Ashes with Ladbrokes – so pause for thought before you back England. You might expect Alastair Cook and Co to retain the Ashes, but do you really know more about cricket than Steve Waugh?
Written in collaboration with Ladbrokes