Tomorrow sees a return to red ball relaxation. Or at least the test match against Ireland at Lord’s should be a relaxing experience for England supporters. We’ll get to sit back in the shade with a pina colada (or seven) whilst the players sweat buckets in the sweltering sun.
The match shouldn’t provide too much emotional stress either. England are huge favourites against test crickets newboys, so we’re far more likely to experience literal sweaty bums than the metaphorical variety on this occasion.
Having said that, we’ve been over-confident before and it’s come back to bite us on the bum (yes, another arse reference) in times gone by. Ireland will be hugely motivated, England might treat the game as a glorified training exercise as they nurse their world cup hangovers, and Ireland have a couple of players capable of making us blush.
The problem for the Irish, however, is that few people (including yours truly) can see it happening. The truth is that even without Jimmy Anderson, Mark Wood, and Jofra Archer, England’s bowling attack simply looks too strong for Ireland’s batting:
Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes are a skilful opening pair, Ollie Stone should provide plenty of fire power if utilised in short spells, Sam Curran provides left arm variety, and Moeen Ali and Jack Leach offer the ideal spinning combination. It’s hard to think of a more balanced attack.
England do have a slight weakness, however. And it doesn’t take Jacque Clouseau to figure it out. Our batting looks weak on paper with only Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow (who will be batting one place too high for a keeper-batsman) proven test match performers.
Yes one could argue that Jason Roy is dangerous player, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he destroys the opposition in this particular game, but he’s not a proven test batsman (yet). The latter can also be said of Rory Burns and Joe Denly. Meanwhile, a totally out of sorts Moeen Ali at 6 doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence and optimism.
Unfortunately one could argue that a top six of Burns, Roy, Denly, Root, Bairstow and Moeen is possibly the weakest top six England have fielded in a test match. I certainly can’t think of a poorer one. Perhaps only one of the makeshift sides we fielded in the 1980s, when the selectors would basically give every player on the county circuit a cap before unceremoniously dropping them again, could rival this top six for lack of quality and experience.
At this point I’d usually reassure readers that England’s batting is still better than Ireland’s bowling – and it clearly is – however, there is one small caveat I’d like to mention. And the caveat’s name is Tim Murtagh, the Middlesex stalwart and nephew of my old English teacher.
Murtagh isn’t a bad bowler at all if conditions suit. What’s more, he averages approximately 23 with the ball at Lord’s. Yes he’s a bit long in the tooth now, but age rarely withers those bowlers who had little pace to begin with. Murtagh still has some skill. England will hope that the pitch is flat and the skies remain blue so that he’s somewhat neutered.
Overall however, I’d expect England to win this match at a canter. Although Ireland have some talented players they’re a bit of a funny team really: a number of their best players are getting up there in age, and most of their lesser known individuals are yet to tear up trees.
Ireland might have been able to spring a surprise in white ball games in the past – apparently the mere mention of Kevin O’Brien’s name still gives Andrew Strauss palpitations – it would take one extraordinary cock up all round for England to lose this test match.