We have four entries in, so as usual, I will stick this up. I am awaiting Dennis Does Cricket, who volunteered, but he’s obviously incredibly busy with his site and has covered some of the ground already.
So, without further ado, let me introduce our esteemed panel. First up is Rooto, who is a regular here with a base in the South of France. Then we have Sean B, another loyal follower on here and on Twitter. We have our own Bogfather, who has responded in his own inimitable way, and finally, the blogger of all things West Indian, David Oram (AKA Col Blimp and Roland Butcher’s Hook). A great panel to match the two already, and they were put the usual five questions.
1. Australia appear to have lost Ryan Harris for the first two tests at least, and Mitchell Johnson thus far isn’t pulling up any trees? Has your confidence in England risen or fallen with this news?
Rooto – My confidence in England couldn’t fall, it could only rise. It’s perhaps important to state that first up, as it colours all that follows! This news only provokes the smallest, slightest quiver on the needle, however. Johnson could get a hot streak tomorrow and ride it till September. Now that Harris officially isn’t playing, it only renders concrete what was already being rumoured – that he wasn’t going to be picked anyway, because they have enough bowlers faster, fitter and (in Hazlewood) as tight as he. The reason we all like Ryan-o is that he isn’t quite so dangerously Aussie. Harris was the connoisseur’s fast bowler, or at least that’s what observers like Mike Selvey would have us believe. That’s great, and I don’t wish to speak ill of the retired, but I think the Aussie team runs on bloodlust rather than fine appreciation. The Aussies will play 2, maybe 3 Mitches and they’ll be full of confidence whoever puts on the annoyingly ubiquitous cap.
Sean B – Not really, i still think they have a very strong fast bowling unit in Hazelwood, Starc and Johnson, although i think Gary Ballance will be mightily relieved that Harris is not playing, his lack of foot movement would have made him a sitting duck for Harris to get him LBW. I watched the Aussies in the West Indies and Starc was the real danger man, he can swing it both ways at pace and is particularly strong at bowling to left handers, so it will be a real test for our top 3 and could largely decide who wins the series.
– Risen enormously! Luck plays a huge part in sport. Of course we want to compete with and beat the best – but if they are hors de combat, well then so be it! It’s no use crying over spilt milk, but nothing wrong at grinning like a Cheshire Cat when Glenn McGrath trips over a cricket ball. Harris was a fine cricketer – but his moment in time has now passed. We shall see whether the same is the case with Mitchell Johnson. Is he past his sell by date? Or is this his majestic swansong? Much has been made of the age of the Aussies. Are they over the hill? Maybe. It is fine line between players passing their peak, and being ‘past it’. Similarly teams. Recently I made this comparison of the age factors which defined England’s two recent Ashes whitewashes:
The 2006/07 series was characterised by a bunch of old blokes (Australia) who knew they had ‘one last job’ in them and, after the 2005 Ashes result, were determined to prove a point.
The 2013/14 series was characterised by a bunch of old blokes (England) who hoped they had ‘one last job’ in them, and after the 2013 Ashes result, were self-deluded enough to think they had nothing left to prove.
Australia are great on paper. As an Englishman, I hope they crumple and fold.
England are looking fresher. And in years to come we may look back as this being the defining breakthrough series for players who have promise, and may realise it.
The Bogfather: The formatting might go astray here….
Oh, No Harris
With Mitch J
On the spray
We’ll relax then…?
Yet the future is still Starc
As Hazelwood hits the mark
And Siddle can still riddle them…
Yet, I still expect
Each Mitch to click and collect
The openers and three
Bell too, intimidatingly quickly
Feeding on weaknesses known
As runs dry up amid ‘outside’ groans
Leaving 4 through to 8
To get us out of a state
Which won’t always occur
So forgive me if I demur
From taking the positives…
2. England have chosen two spinners in the squad. Is it for show, or would they ever contemplate playing two in the same team?
Rooto – They’ll only play Rashid if the backroom staff have burnt the DVD of Cardiff 2009. It’s amazing that memories of that match have brought us this far, but so few writers (BTL is different) remember how ineffectual Monty and Swann were on that pitch. This pitch could, of course, be different. In which case why are the press talking about 2009? Either it’s as slow and low as before, and 2 spinners won’t help, or it’ll behave differently, in which case the parallels are unhelpful. On a different note, Bayliss may have ideas about Rashid’s greater mystery, and his ability to turn it the other way from Root, but Cook will be in his ear with different ideas based around familiarity and poor net-bowling in the Windies. My feeling is based purely on cynicism, but I don’t think they’ll play both this summer. If Rashid gets a game it’ll be because Ali has been suffering. I hope that doesn’t happen, though not because I don’t rate Rashid – I do, as much as I can without seeing him play much. Firstly, it’s because Ali seems like a good guy, and secondly as I have sub-zero confidence that Cook will be able to nurture, guide and help Rashid through his test debut. If the Aussies get after Ali in the first two tests, I want Cook to be played a video, on permanent loop, of Morgan putting his arm round Rashid and giving him the last over in that ODI at Trent Bridge.
Sean B – Absolutely for show – i think there is more chance of seeing Lord Lucan riding Red Rum down Queen Street than England playing 2 spinners at Cardiff. They had the perfect opportunity to play to 2 spinners at that bunsen in Barbados and still only ended up playing 1, so if they didn’t do it there, they won’t do it at all. I also don’t see who they would drop to accommodate 2 spinners – it would be madness to drop Stokes, but that would be my gut feeling on who would get the chop if they did.
– Yes they might. All-rounder Stokes is a credible third seamer, and if the came across a ‘raging bunsen’ England have the option of playing two spinners and still having enough seam options in a five-man attack. But it’s unlikely. I think we all expect them to start with Moeen, and turn to Rashid if we go a Test or two down. Personally, I wish we’d be bold enough to pick Moeen as a batsman, and Rashid as a bowler – though you could almost switch that around. My own England team would have 6 bowlers –
5. Moeen Ali
The Bogfather –
For sure it’s for show at the Mo’
Cookie won’t want to be Adil-do
By not having a clue how to win
By placing fields for twin spin.
If England wanted to show fight
They’d let Buttler bat higher and delight
Bring in Bairstow to keep up close
He’s more used to Rashid’s mixed dose
And Jonny’s in hot form with the bat
So what would be wrong with that?
If that means dropping Ballance or Bell
Then so be it, what the hell!
3. You are the last panel before the start of the series. You can give me a score if you want, but who do you pick to watch for each team as the key performer (one of you I know the answer from….)
Rooto – I’ll repeat my bold claim of 0-4. It’s hard to judge the weather forecast for Nottingham, Cardiff, London and Birmingham when I’m sat in sweltering Mediterranean heat (sorry to mention it), but in this mindset I can’t see Anderson thriving. Too dry and flat. This leaves England’s key player as Broad. He’s not going to be dropped in a panic as others might, and he just might swing a game for us (see question 5). My other answer is Cook, perhaps repeating other people’s responses. So much will trickle down from his performance. For Australia, we know what we’re getting with the bowlers, and with the quality batting that Clarke and Smith bring, so the crux for them, the known unknown perhaps, is Warner. He tees off successfully enough times, and our neck is feeling the hobnails again.
Sean B – For me, there are a number of people who could be key performers on both sides (Anderson, Stokes, Warner, Smith) but i would go for Root for England and Lyon for Australia (expecting some abuse with the latter choice). I think Root will need to play the same way as Ian Bell did in the 2013 Ashes series and score a mountain of runs for us to have a chance. I can see the Australian attack making early inroads into our batting order and with our late order batsmen sometimes flattering to deceive (they’ll either put on an extra 150 or fall over for 30) i think we are very reliant on Root. I have chosen Lyon because i think he is a vastly underrated bowler and I think spin could play a big part in the series. Lyon quietly goes about his business but he has the ability to either tie down an end or to be an attacking wicket taker. Whilst not a big turner of the ball, he varies his pace well and is a wily bowler (whilst the plaudits for the debacle down under should rightly going to Mitchell Johnson, Lyon took his fair share of wickets that series as well and i think he is even better now). If you offered me an English ‘Nathan Lyon’ i would snap your hand off, i just don’t think Moeen is quite good enough.
-I’m backing my ‘Youth over Experience’ narrative for the series and England to win 3-1, possibly coming from behind – but definitely having the best of the luck and the weather. Little things we’ve mentioned lately in passing,but not focused upon, may have a bearing e.g. Australia’s behavior. If Haddin etc are as foul as they were in the World Cup I think the officials (consciously/unconsciously) will lean in England’s direction and we may be at the better end of those key border-line decisions and DRS reviews. This is nothing but a hunch. But a think a moment has been reached when the authorities have grown tired of their histrionics and may be less accommodating to them.
For Australia Mitchell Starc. And Pat Cummins. One-eyed joy at the retirement of Ryan Harris is tempered with the call up of Cummins. I first saw him and Starc during the 2012 World T20 tournament, and I thought ‘shit – these two will blow us away in next year’s Ashes (2013)’. Of course we didn’t see that happen – but my premonition may still come to pass.
The batting form of Smith, Warner and Clarke is also crucial. Is Smith the real deal, or a shooting star. Is he phenomenal or a phenomena? Likewise Warner. And is Clarke still great, or is this his last Test series? Is the decline of his back, and form, terminal?
For England Root and Stokes. Are these blokes good cricketers, or great cricketers? Ashes series decide these things. Root is going to overtake Alastair Cooks run scoring record about 15 years from now. He’s bound to have at least one 700+ victorious Ashes series. I’m hoping this is the first. Stokes has likewise got a Botham 1981 or Freddie 2005 in him. Is this their time?
Equally, several senior England players need to set their career record straight – further failures for Cook, Bell, Broad and Anderson could see all of them put out to pasture if England get stuffed. If they have a big part of an England victory, we’ll collectively gloss over 2013/14 (as we did 2006/07) and acclaim them as England ‘greats’ (though I do fear we may get thumped and wave farewell to them all as England ‘goods’).
2-0 after three
To the Aussies it’ll be
Then our leader is replaced
by the young and fresh faced
He’s held our batting together so far
Already lauded as a global superstar
He’ll take up the challenge with gusto
Watching him grow is a must…Oh…
Here he comes on a Wood-en horse
Leading us to win the last two of course
So a 2-2 draw, no Ashes regained
A flight of fancy? Must pull in my reins!
Opening morning of Ashes is dawning
MSM bow down with such fawning
As Cookie awaits the first ball to face
He prods forward, a buzz, a nick, at pace
An appeal, hushed silence. Hark!
Here cometh, Mitchell Starc…
4. Jonny Bairstow is in incredible form both in ODI and county cricket. Will he replace Bell or Ballance before the series is out?
Rooto – I hope so. The sooner the better. We need to ride the wave of his form. It would be very old-school England to pick him as it crashes onto the beach. If I was trying to convince Trevor Bayliss, I’d talk about Bairstow as an essential extra member of the squad; of the importance of having a squad of regulars, from whom the most in-form are picked, especially as it’s a tightly-packed back-to-back series; and therefore of the need to tell Ballance that he’s merely being rotated for a short while.
Sean B – They won’t drop Bell full stop unless he is injured (whether we agree that’s right is up for debate, but that’s just the fact of the matter). Ballance has looked in incredibly poor touch and is most at risk, his footwork has been non-existent and has looked like he has been trying to play french cricket for the past 6 months, which is a real shame as he was a revelation last summer. Bairstow is the next cab off the rank (and more worringly the only cab off the rank), so if Ballance has a poor couple of tests, then i can see Bell moving up to 3, Root at 4 and Bairstow at 5. If we get a couple of injuries to the batting line then i would be seriously worried, as i don’t think Lees is ready, Hales still needs to work on his 4 day game and Vince isn’t good enough. I like the look of Varun Chopra, but that is just a personal opinion.
David O – Yes without question. Bairstow is in wonderful form and ought to be in the side at this minute. I’m totally unconvinced by Ballance – and was when he was scoring runs for fun. But I hope I am wrong.
I think I covered this in Q2
And that is what I think they should do
But knowing how clever our selectors are
They’ll wait ’til the Aussies lead by two bar
and Jonny will then be so out of form
So they’ll pick him, isn’t that the norm?
5. Finally, give me a favourite Ashes memory that isn’t 2005 or Botham’s Ashes for the English respondents….
Rooto – Broad, Durham 2013. I thought we were going to lose that one. Also, I was able to watch it abroad on a legal, not-for-UK youtube stream. I think that was officially the last good thing the ECB ever did for fans.
Sean B – As i’m banned from saying 2005 (I pulled so many sickies at work that series to watch the cricket), then i would say the Melbourne and Sydney test in 2010/11. I have always dreamed of watching an England team travel to Australia and then completely crush and dominate the hosts (unlike the normal spineless demises of past and present). This was a demolition job, an absolute embarrassing pounding from both ball and bat and it was wonderful. To see the normally chipper hosts (I was watching the coverage in Malaysia at the time on channel 9) be an embarrassed and meek shell of themselves was extremely fun to watch. I don’t think i’ll ever see an Australian team rolled over by an innings, 2 matches in a row, at home again and i revelled in it. I also really liked and connected with the England team back then as well – The Swann sprinkler, Chris Tremlett (who i had a bit of a man crush on in that series), KP, Trotty, Bresnan, it was just a great and likeable team and we played some wonderful cricket in that series.
– 3rd Day at Edgbaston 1985. I was 16. My Dad and I and some of his friends went up for the 5th Test, for the first three days, series level at one-all. After 2 rain-effected days Australia were 330-8. When we got up my Dad looked at me with shock and horror. One of those awful looks parents give teenagers, and we just want to say ‘fuck off!’ I said, “what?” “Look in the mirror”. I did. I was covered in spots. I felt fine – but that was it, we were heading home. When he rang home my Mum revealed that my brother had come down with German measles. Ah.
We drove home to London listening to the cricket. England took both the final wickets in the day’s first over, and despite Gooch going for 19, Gower and Robinson creamed the Aussies all day in glorious sunshine, adding 331 for the 2nd wicket. By the close we were ahead with plenty of wickets in hand, and in a position to boss the match. I’d missed one of England’s great days of Aussie bashing. My Dad had got home in time to pick up his Spurs season ticket and head off to White Hart Lane. First day of the season, Tottenham unveiling new signings Chris Waddle and Paul Allen. They won a spanking 4-2. No wonder he made such a quick decision that morning without protest.
I got through my German measles. I didn’t get to see Ellison’s decisive series-winning spell on the Monday evening live on TV – the BBC had left the cricket when the extra hour took play into their normal evening scheduling – but I can confirm that despite my incapacity, I saw clearly and distinctly Gower take a clean catch off a Wayne Phillips cut via Allan Lamb’s boot on the Tuesday afternoon. It was nowhere near the ground. Obviously. Ever.
Not an Ashes memory, but my first Eng v Aus experience. As a bit of background, my initiation to Test cricket came in ’76, watching Greenidge, Richards, Roberts, Holding et al on the box, as well as Hampshire at the United Services ground, Portsmouth. Then, in March ’77 came this…
I lay awake in pure excitement
Radio tight to my ear
Awaiting the Centenary Test
from Melbourne, near midnight here
My first exposure to radio commentary
And from 12000 miles away
Determined to stay awake
E’en tho’ I had school the next day
Sound kept low so as not to wake
Anyone else in the house tonight
Crackling lines and Aussie tones unknown
Yet still Arlott was there to delight
What a first day
Australia blown away
McCosker felled, as seagulls stood in a line
Lever and Willis, Old and Underwood
Only Greg Chappell briefly withstood
This was more than mere dreams, so sublime
Then England were shattered
Lillee and Walker battered
All out for less than a ton
Greig top scored with eighteen
I remember him yorked, it seems
Leaving Willis, not out, one
Second innings commencing
No more tepid batting or fencing
Aussies building, Hookes imperious
Marsh, a century fightingly serious
Aussies cheered and clapped
The score mounted, 463 to win
Surely impossible, imagine Lillee’s grin
Early wickets fall
Brearley grinds and nicks
Then Randall fidgets and refuses to fall
Except for a back-roll after a Lillee ball
He doffs his cap as the bowler glares
Passes 150, supported by Amiss’s share
And Greig, then Knott edge us past 400
Until Knott, LBW, Lillee’s 11th wicket plundered
So near yet so far, and an amazing final stat
45 runs the final difference,as was 100 years before that…
Well, that was different. The panels will be mixed up now, and it’s not to late to get on one by the way. You have our e-mails and twitter feeds, so on certain days we might get you to comment on the days play or some big issues. Thanks thus far, and we’ll certainly reconvene at the end of the 1st test…..