With Ben Stokes nursing a broken hand, a bruised ego, and a ruptured reputation, England might find themselves short of runs this winter. However, one unintended consequence of long batting line-ups is that individuals sometimes lose focus and don’t take responsibility for scoring big runs. Instead they assume that someone else will dig the team out of trouble somewhere along the line.
Consequently it’s possible – and I admit this is just a tenuous theory – that losing Stokes might actually help the team build big totals. Every batsman will be forced to dig in and make every innings count … because they’ll know there isn’t as much batting to come.
With this uncharacteristically optimistic hypothesis in mind, I’d like to ask you who you think England’s star batsman might be this winter? Will it be Root, who often switches off once he’s well set? Will it be Cook, who must be desperate to cement his legacy as (ostensibly) a modern great? Or perhaps one of the less heralded batters will suddenly blossom. Could Mark Stoneman do a Chris Broad? Stranger things have happened.
So with rose tinted glasses firmly in place, here are the runners and riders …
Joe Root – Forget Root’s baptism of fire down under in 2013. Forget the fact the Aussies will set a point, two gullies, hang the ball outside off-stump, and wait for Root to commit hara-kiri. Joe is England’s best batsman for 30 years. He’s bound to come good, right?
Alastair Cook – Forget the fact he’s only played well in one Ashes series out of six. Forget the fact he hasn’t scored a century against Australia for seven years. And forget all those articles claiming he’s past it. The Aussies fear Cook. They know what he can do. And he’s a master at silencing critics.
Johnny Bairstow – Despite scoring runs consistently over the last two years, no English cricketer has properly ‘arrived’ until they’ve bashed some Aussies. Although Jonny might be a little vulnerable to deliveries moving back into him, he’s a fine player with a pugnacious game that could thrive down under.
Moeen Ali – With a promotion to No.7 likely, Mo will have more opportunities to score big runs. With his elegant driving and propensity to flail wildly outside off-stump, Mo’s the closest thing we’ve had to David Gower for years. And here’s the good news: Gower averaged more in Australia than he did in England!
Dawid Malan – He might not have played much test cricket but he’s a mature cricketer with the ability to concentrate for long periods. And maybe the selectors have got something right for a change? The law of averages suggests one of their punts will come good eventually.
Mark Stoneman – He’s not afraid to play his shots and he’s got nothing to lose. Stoneman doesn’t have any obviously weaknesses so he’s got a chance.
James Vince – Erm, he bats a bit like Michael Vaughan? Got to admit I’m struggling here.
Gary Ballance – If you look at things from a certain perspective, and squint hard enough, it’s possible to argue that hell might freeze over one day. And if that’s possible then why can’t Ballance be the leading run scorer in the Ashes? Food for thought my friends. Food for thought.
Chris Woakes – Why not? He has a sound technique, a calm head, and often looks more composed than the so called specialist batsmen. He might be the closest thing we have to a like-for-like replacement for Stokes. He might relish the extra responsibility too!
What do you think?