The England test team doesn’t have many strengths these days. But it can win, and usually does, if the groundsman prepares an archetypal seamer’s wickets and the weather Gods feel sympathetic enough to provide overcast skies. This is the brew that’s been hiding our general frailties for a few years now. And this very specific elixir – this time gobbled up gratefully by Broad and Woakes – came to our rescue once again at Lord’s on Friday.
Ireland needed 182 for victory this morning, and once canny observers looked up at the skies, and noted the typically overcast conditions, they realised it was an extremely difficult task. Forget all the hype about Ireland pulling off a sensational chase. It was never realistically going to happen unless England bowled particularly badly and a couple of Irish lads played out of their skin. The Ireland team simply doesn’t have enough (or any?) quality batsmen.
Ireland’s demise was quicker than most of us expected – we can thanks Woakes and Broad for hitting the right areas immediately and relentlessly – but an England win was always on the cards. And now the management can spin their usual positives. Yes, it was a good comeback in the end, but we played quite poorly for six of the game’s eight sessions. And extremely badly in the first one. England’s batting is a mess, and deep down everyone knows it. The fact that Jack Leach was named man of the match – for his batting – shows what strange and unsettling times we live in.
What astonishes me is that so many observers are putting down England’s lamentable showing in the first innings, and their fairly mediocre performance in the second, to burn out or exhaustion after the World Cup. I’m sorry to break this to you guys, but we’re about to embark on five test matches in the space of about five or six weeks. Things aren’t going to get much better from a burn out perspective. If tiredness is going to be the excuse now, what are they going to say in early September?
What’s more, the notion that England should have rested even more players from playing this week is bizarre. Do they really want all their key players to go into an Ashes series without playing (in some cases) a single first class match this year? It’s ridiculous. I would’ve told Stokes and Buttler to play their best, win in three days, and then put their feet up.
The bottom line is this. The Ashes start next week. And never before in the history of English cricket will we field such an underprepared side. Our only hope is that several members of the Australian squad have also been involved in the World Cup and might feel similarly jaded and under-cooked.
There is one caveat to this assumption though. Aussie captain Tim Paine (and batting coach Graeme Hick) have been quietly preparing for for this series for quite a long time. What’s more, a few of the Australian squad – James Pattinson and Cameron Bancroft immediately come to mind- have been playing a lot of first class cricket recently and look in very good form. England, on the other hand, will have been preoccupied with the World Cup and will have to concoct all their strategies at very short notice. It’s totally inadequate.
Talking of the Australia squad, what do y’all make of it? It’s pretty much as we expected. The batting looks weak, with two notable exceptions, but the bowling looks absolutely stacked. Australia could pick any three of Starc, Hazlewood, Cummins, Pattinson, and Siddle without weakening the team at all. And then there’s the possibility of Jhye Richardosn, who’s one of the (if not the) most exciting fast bowling prospects in the world joining the squad at some stage.
At this point my gut tells me that the series will be decided by three factors (a) who wins the crucial tosses, (b) whether Root and Buttler can score as many as Smith and Warner, and (c) whether Australia’s less celebrated batsman – the likes of Head, Bancroft, Harris, Khawaja, or whoever they pick – can chip in with more runs that England’s collection of unproved (or just not very good) batsmen.
I expect both attacks to cause absolute mayhem so I think the bowling will be a score draw.
Before I sign off, I’d quickly like to acknowledge that this was a 4-day test – something I haven’t mentioned this week. What a load of absolute bollocks that idea was. May it never be repeated.