It is now just two weeks until the men’s Ashes begins, and it’s fair to say that things aren’t going to plan for England. In fact, it’s hard to see any realistic scenario in which things could be worse for the tourists.
This morning Jake Ball apparently suffered an ankle strain whilst bowling, the latest bowling casualty before the series even begins. Wood, Roland-Jones and Finn are all unavailable, as of course is Ben Stokes for an entirely different reason. Moeen Ali is expected to be fit in time for the first game, but the way England’s luck is going you’d be a fool to guarantee that.
None of these players are on their own irreplaceable (even Stokes), but having 5 fast bowlers with international experience all missing at the same time would tax any country’s reserves. Tom Curran is already travelling to Australia to replace Finn in the squad, and it seems likely another bowler will be called up to join him. There are no obvious substitutes waiting in the wings for England, who already have three uncapped bowlers in their squad.
Liam Plunkett, perhaps the first thought for most people who follow the England team, has apparently been focussing on playing limited overs cricket this summer. His most recent Test match was against India in 2014, and he only played 2 championship games this season. The only other fast bowler with international experience who might be available is Chris Jordan, but with an average of 32.83 in Division 2 this summer he isn’t knocking the door down.
The more likely alternative is another uncapped bowler. Saqib Mahmood and Tom Helm are the two fast bowlers in the Lions squad which will be touring Australia this winter, but neither has much first class experience to draw on. For all of the candidates, I feel massively underqualified to judge them as I don’t follow county cricket very closely. Whoever is selected, it’s a tough ask for such an inexperienced bowling attack to do well in Australia.
The performance of the current bowling attack today against Cricket Australia XI hardly filled me with optimism about the upcoming series either. After taking 5 wickets in the first 33 overs of the innings, England then seemed unable to dismiss the tail with an older ball. I don’t think it bodes well for when England have to face the full Australian side, although of course Broad was not playing in this game.
All of which doom and gloom leads me to England’s batting. Stoneman, Vince and Malan have all had very good tours so far, but it’s hard to look past their performances this summer when guessing how they will play against Australia. Meanwhile, Cook is currently averaging 8.00 on this tour and Root has been good but not great. With Stokes almost certain to be replaced by a bowler, England have much less margin for error from their specialist batsmen than they have enjoyed in recent times.
One point I noted about England’s batting yesterday was how much trouble they had against Australian legspinner Daniel Fallins in his debut first class game. He finished with figures of 5-73, and if he can manage something similar in the second innings then perhaps Australia might be tempted to call Mitchell Swepson or another legspinner into their squad. England’s failings against spin have been clearly evident in recent years, and Nathan Lyon is no doubt looking forward to facing them.
At least the fielding seems pretty good though. That’s something to hold on to.
As a sidenote, BT Sport have been showing the game against Cricket Australia XI for free on their Facebook page, as well as the women’s Ashes Test on their Youtube channel. Free English cricket is so rare nowadays, please enjoy it while you can.
As always, comments are welcome below. If you can give me some small scrap of hope about England’s chances this winter, that would be especially welcome.