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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.