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Ignore the hype – these are England’s Ashes

Ignore the hype – these are England’s Ashes


“Wait, what’s that?”

As Christmas approaches, you might be forgiven for wondering if the faint whistle you hear as the snow begins to fall is that of the mystical Polar Express steaming along. Christmas spirit, Christmas cheer!

Alas, you could not be more wrong.

No, this is not what you are hearing. Image courtesy Matt Johnson on Flickr.

No, it’s nothing Christmassy, or vaguely interesting for that matter. It’s just the Australian hype train, tooting louder and louder as it chugs over the tracks, heading inexorably for total oblivion.

Pre-series wars of words are always drab in international sport, but nobody does mind-numbing tedium with the relentless efficiency of the Australian players and media.

Which leads me to question: Why? Why do they feel the need to do this? Why must we repeat this exasperating routine with the predictability of a mid-game Andy Murray grimace?

They do it because they are worried. And well they should be.

Ignore the hype, and forget the experts (that one’s for you, Mr Gove), England are coming home with the Ashes.

Andy Murray reacts to the latest wave of hot air blowing over from Australia. Image courtesy of habervideotv on Flickr.

Australian Panic

All the pre-series chatter predictably focussed around the absence of Ben Stokes, but the make-up of England’s side is pretty much settled upon for the first Test.

The same can’t be said of Australia, whose erratic selection panel have landed upon the perfect mathematical formula for complete disarray. Talented opener Matt Renshaw has been dropped for debutant Cameron Bancroft. Wicketkeeper Tim Paine has been ferried back from the underworld by Charon for his first Test appearance in 7 millennia. Shaun Marsh has been recalled for the 950th time to plug a middle order gap with an even larger middle order gap.

Chaos theory. Good stuff selectors.

English Serenity

By contrast, the English side is largely settled. Mark Stoneman is the new Andrew Strauss but better, and Dawid Malan has nailed down the 5 spot by dispatching teenagers to the boundary ropes in warm-up matches. Stokes’s absence is a shame, but opens the door for Woakes, Moeen and Bairstow to move up the order, and another bowler to show that they are equally angry and prone to profanity as our dear Ben.

Winkling out Wickets

For all that Mitchell Johnson brought fire and brimstone in the last Tour down under, the metronomic control of Ryan Harris at the other end stemmed the run rate and tied down the England batsman.

Then enter into the equation that Tim Bresnan (the cricketing equivalent of James Milner) had an unbelievable series in Australia, and you realise it isn’t that difficult after all.

Broad and Anderson may not have express speed, but they are cunning operators – and are far less likely to break down with injury during the series. And for all that Cummins and Starc are quick, their bowling will be far more likely to disappear to the boundary should they get it wrong.

Stuart Broad is very good at cricket. Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr.

How they compare:

So, all things considered, how does a composite Australia-England XI actually look?

David Warner vs Alastair Cook

One is angry, punchy and moustachioed, one is handsome, stoic and clean-shaven. Unfortunately the former is scoring far more runs.

Cameron Bancroft vs Mark Stoneman

Two Ashes debutants, but Stoneman’s experience and rock-solid personality means he partners Warner at the top of our order.

Usman Khawaja vs James Vince

James Vince is about as reliable as Robert Mugabe reading a resignation speech. Khawaja all the way.

Steve Smith vs Joe Root

Steve. Smith. Most boring name in the world? Yes. Most overrated player in the world? Maybe. National treasure and God’s messenger on earth like Joe Root? Absolutely not.

Peter Handscomb vs Dawid Malan

Battle of the incredibly average nobody’s. Give it to Handscomb, though I’m not sure anybody cares.

Tim Paine vs Jonny Bairstow

Tim is not even the most famous T-Pain in the world. The ginger messiah crushes his opposite number under the sheer weight of never-ending runs.

Shaun Marsh vs Chris Woakes

Mismatch as they won’t occupy the same place in the order, but Chris Woakes is mustard and has only been dropped once by England. Shaun Marsh gets dropped three times a year.

Lyon vs Moeen Ali

Sometimes, cricket isn’t that important. Moeen’s beard 1 – Nathan Lyon’s beard – 0.

The beard that is feared. Image courtesy of Jumpy News on Flickr

Mitchell Starc – Craig Overton/Jake Ball

Begrudgingly, Mitchell Starc is quite good at cricket.

Pat Cummins – Stuart Broad

Pat Cummins is as likely to tear his hamstring while eating his cheerios as to take wickets, so as he sits out most of the series injured Stuart will be making Broad inroads into the Australian batting.

Josh Hazlewood – James Anderson

Jimmy is one of the greatest bowlers in the history of Test cricket. Josh Hazlewood is a village cricket pie-chucker. No comparison.


England to win the series 3-2 and retain the Ashes. No draws because nobody can bat.


Chef leaves the kitchen, Root gets cooking


image courtesty of Jumpy News on flickr

Alastair Cook was a very British captain. Solid, dependable, conservative, if perhaps a little uninspiring. A steady hand rather than a dashing innovator.

Joe Root’s ascendancy to the England captaincy will show him to be a very different man. Root can certainly play the court jester, and his reputation for a cheeky sense of humour is best encapsulated by the way he howled with laughter when Cook was struck in the unmentionables in an Ashes test.

But Root is far more than a mere joker, and any judgements of his character should be placed in the context of an individual of fiercely competitive disposition. No professional sportsman likes losing, but there is a definite nasty edge to Root that the dignified Cook, for all of his drive, never really had.

Time for the new daddy to score some daddy hundreds

For Root’s personal performance, the added responsibility of the captaincy could be just the tonic he needs to take his batting to the next level. The other great batsmen of his generation are already leading their countries.

Kane Williamson, Steve Smith and Virat Kohli have all elevated their games since captaining their countries. For all his brilliance, a tendency has crept into Root’s game of making stylish 50’s, but failing to convert them into match-defining hundreds. Captaincy could give him the focus to start delivering more innings that win test matches.

The Captain’s Lieutenants

Root will have the opportunity to mould this team in his own image. Whereas Cook inherited a side of established stars, this England XI is younger, rawer but with the potential to be as enterprising a test side as any around.

The real core of the team is Root, Stokes, Bairstow and Broad. Broad is just as fiery a character as the floppy-haired, lanky bowler who first burst onto the scene, while Bairstow is the perfect mouthy Yorkshireman to have behind the stumps – and has found a formula that is yielding score after score.

Ben Stokes though, is the talisman around who the team is built, and will make an intriguing choice as vice-captain. His talent is only matched by his temper, but as cricket moves into a more explosive age – Stokes and Root could make for a dynamic, if risky, combination.

image courtesy of Jumpy News on flickr

image courtesy of Jumpy News on flickr

What might Root’s England look like?

  1. Alastair Cook: The hope is that Cook’s resignation will see him return to the form that made him the best opener in test cricket. At his best, Cook is an insatiable run-machine, and they desperately need him to give a platform to an inexperienced batting line-up.
  2. Haseeb Hameed: Just 20 years old, but all the technique and mental characteristics that England have been looking for in an opener since Andrew Strauss retired. Also means England have a right-hand, left-hand combination at the top of the order, which is nice.
  3. Keaton Jennings: Stylish left-hander probably did enough in India to earn himself a run at 3. Has all the shots, needs to show consistency.
  4. Joe Root: Should move down to his preferred position at 4, which will give him some breathing space – expect massive runs from him.
  5. Moeen Ali: Pivotal summer for Moeen now, by the end of the India tour he was clearly secondary spinner to Adil Rashid. Has heaps of ability and is glorious to watch, this is his chance to make 5 his position.
  6. Ben Stokes: England’s talisman. Batting has matured and will want his slightly expensive bowling to become more efficient now too.
  7. Jonny Bairstow: Improving with the gloves but remains prone to the odd mistake. More than made up for by his sensational batting. Gives England invaluable depth.
  8. Chris Woakes: Has put an end to all questions over his suitability for test cricket. An industrious bowler who can swing the ball and a serious batsman.
  9. Adil Rashid: Did enough in India to earn a place in the side. Impressive at cleaning up the tail-end and with the depth of batting and seam-bowling, England can afford to take a chance on him. Could miss out with Jos Buttler preferred as an extra batsman,
  10. Stuart Broad: Has led England’s attack in the absence of Anderson and will be a crucial tactical mind for Root in guiding the other bowlers.
  11. Jimmy Anderson: England’s greatest ever wicket-taker is still an automatic pick. Though will have to be managed carefully to avoid injury. Jake Ball is waiting in the wings as his likely replacement given the inconsistency of Steven Finn and fitness struggles of Mark Wood.

The timing of the change feels right and Root feels like the right man. It’s hard to escape the feeling that this could be the dawn of an exciting era for English cricket.

ICC World T20 – Can Anyone Stop India?

Image courtesy of scrollededitorial on Flickr

Image courtesy of scrollededitorial on Flickr

With the group phase of the T20 finished and the Super 10 phase set to begin, we ask if anyone can stop India from winning in a home T20 World Cup. Here is our breakdown of what to expect and who to watch out for.


Australia – Semi-Finals

Have been in formidable form since their shock Ashes defeat to England last summer. No concerns over a batting line-up that is packed with experience and destructive hitting. Warner, Khawaja, Finch and Smith are capable of obliterating any bowling attack. They also have the added bonus of two match-winning all-rounders in James Faulkner and Mitchell Marsh who add depth and balance to the bowling and batting. The worry for them is the lack of a top-class spinner in Indian conditions. If Zampa or Agar can’t contribute, expect an all-pace attack missing Mitchell Starc to struggle.

Players to Watch: Batsman: David Warner – The complete opener. Busy and aggressive. If he fires, Australia will fire. Bowler: Adam Zampa – 23 year-old leg-spinner who shot to prominence in the Big Bash, Australia need him to perform and add another dimension to their attack.

New Zealand – 3rd in Group A.

Can’t be underestimated, but will struggle to get out of a group that contains India and Australia. Kane Williamson has been as consistent as any player in world cricket in the last 12 months while Ronchi and Guptill can go through the gears quickly enough to win games almost single-handedly. Also boast a well-balanced seam attack with the disciplined Southee and Boult alongside the aggressive McClenaghan. Hard to ignore the Brendan McCullum-sized hole in their batting line up and lack of an international-standard spinner. Still, don’t bet against them pulling off a shock.

Players to Watch: Batsman: Kane Williamson – composed and technically perfect. Plays the ball late and his game will be suited to the sub-continent. All-Rounder: Corey Anderson – absence of a frontline spinner means Anderson will have to support the frontline bowlers and contribute with runs down the order.

Pakistan – 4th in Group A

A terrifying pace attack but a batting line-up with all the resolve of a chocolate fireguard. Mohammed Amir has stormed back onto the international stage in a blaze of form while Wahab Riaz’s yorkers and man-mountain Mohammed Irfan’s extra bounce will trouble plenty of batsmen. Shahid Afridi is always fun and has become an extremely effective T20 spinner. Sadly hard to see where the runs will come from, Umar Akmal and Mohammed Hafeez will have to really perform above themselves.

Players to Watch: Batsman: Umar Akmal – Has always had bags of ability but too often his own worst enemy. Time to deliver. Bowler: Mohammed Amir – reduced India to 8/3 in the Asia Cup recently. Very fast, clever, skilful and still just 23 – will dominate the international stage for the next decade.

India – Winners

Impossible to look beyond an India side packed with world-class players in a home T20 World Cup. Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are the men to watch with the bat, while all-rounder Hardik Pandya is coming into the side off the back of an incendiary Indian Premier League campaign. They boast comfortably the best bowling attack in the tournament too. Ashwin and Jadeja are very difficult to take on while the opening pair of 22-year-old Jasprit Bumrah and wily old Ashish Nehra are a deadly combination of youthful exuberance, cunning and experience.

Players to Watch: Batsman: Virat Kohli – Truly world-class, plays conventional shots but scores runs by the shedload and loves the big stage. Bowler: Ravichandran Ashwin – Best spinner in the world, teams must choose to go after him and lose wickets, or target other bowlers and milk him for singles.

Bangladesh – 5th in Group A

A cricket-mad nation and if anyone could cause a big upset in this competition, it might just be Bangladesh. Equipped to cause problems for some of the bigger sides in their group but will fall short.

Players to Watch: Batsman: Tamim Iqbal – A bruising left-handed batsman, will have to hit big runs if Bangladesh are to have a chance. Bowler: Mustafizur Rahman – Mystery seamer who has exploded onto the scene with some fantastic Asia Cup performances.



England – Runners Up

Suffered a setback in a recent One-Day and T20 series loss to South Africa but this is the most exciting England squad in a generation. They bat all the way down to number 10 and Hales, Morgan, Root, Buttler, Billings and Stokes are all good enough to hit the ball a long, long way. The pace attack is the concern, Willey and Topley are generally too expensive opening the bowling, but Rashid and Moeen are becoming one of the better spin-partnerships around. If England play to their potential they will run any side close, but a lack of experience and mental frailties (sound familiar?) could hold them back. Still, England to get to the final.

Players to Watch: Keeper-Batsman: Jos Buttler – Second only to AB De Villiers on a list of most destructive batsmen on the T20 circuit, if England give him a platform then he could win them the tournament. Bowler: Adil Rashid – mystery-spinners are gold dust in this format and his 3-15 in the warm up against New Zealand is evidence of the damage he could inflict.

South Africa – Semi Finals

A mercurial outfit equally capable of decimating an opponent or imploding in the space of five minutes. No team with AB De Villiers can be discounted, he is unquestionably the best batsman on the planet and Hashim Amla’s form is on the up since he resigned the captaincy. Quinton De Kock completes a top three that will have opposing bowlers sweating. The problem for South Africa is that their batting looks thin after those three. Dale Steyn remains a fierce competitor while Imran Tahir is still an understated menace in this format.

Players to Watch: Batsman: AB De Villiers – Who else? The best player on the planet, could single-handedly drag South Africa out of the group, can he take them all the way though? Bowler: Kagiso Rabada – Has burst onto the international scene after annihilating the English batting in the recent test and one-day series. Serious prospect, very fast and surprisingly disciplined for one so young.

Sri Lanka – 4th in Group B

This is the weakest Sri Lanka side in recent memory. The losses of Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakarra simply can’t be over-emphasised and it is hard to see who in that batting line-up will dominate an opposition bowling attack. The bowling does boast the vastly underrated Rangana Herath but an injury to Lasith Malinga is a massive worry – they have to get him fit.

Players to Watch: Batsman: Angelo Mathews – Taking on the captaincy after Malinga resigned last week, he has to lead by example both in the field and with the bat. Bowling: Lasith Malinga – imperative that they get him onto the pitch, still one of the best exponents of yorker bowling about.

West Indies – 3rd in Group B

Not short on quality, but the question with the West Indies is always whether their heads are in the right place. Haggling over payments between players and the West Indian authorities have dominated headlines over the last few years, can they shrug off the controversy and finally focus on the cricket? I’m not sure. But if they can, Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Dwayne Bravo are three of the best players T20 has ever seen while you always feel Darren Sammy could have something special in him. Expect the unexpected.

Players to Watch: Batsman: Chris Gayle – the biggest-hitting batsman on the planet, can smash the ball out of any ground but if you can starve him of the strike, he struggles to run between the wickets and rotate strike. Bowler: Dwayne Bravo – experienced and has an impressive armoury of cutters and slower balls which make him an effective death-bowler.

Afghanistan – 5th in Group B

Have done fantastically well to reach the Super 10 phase for the first time in their history, will do better still to avoid losing every match in their group. Will take some heavy punishment.

Player to Watch: : Batsman: Mohammed Shahzad is capable of getting the Afghans off to a quick start and giving a more established nation a scare.