An Ashes positive England should hang on to

Alec Swann Columnist

20 Have your say

    As far as phoney wars go, the pre-Ashes offerings have been fairly standard fare. There’s been talk of opening up old scars, warnings being fired, fragile top orders, injury-prone bowling attacks, alien conditions, familiar conditions, applying pressure, home support, different line-ups, new players, old players and so on.

    In short, nothing that hasn’t been heard before.

    Some of it has been worth paying attention to, some of it has been absolute guff. Again, nothing that can be considered to be fresh and original.

    What is clear is that all and sundry are searching for the unique angle which will, in whoever’s eyes it might be, provide an advantage once the words give way to action in a shade under three weeks’ time.

    Australia will understandably start the series as favourites given their home advantage and more settled line-up, but I’m not so sure England are the easy beats many have them down for.

    Yes, they need decent outputs from a few in their top five and could do with their principal seamers staying fit – the same also applies to the lauded home attack – but they’re no mugs and are capable of playing some decent stuff.

    And one quirk that may stand the tourists in good stead applies to their captain, Joe Root. Of course how well the Yorkshireman fares will have a significant bearing on the eventual outcome and there is no doubt whatsoever that he is England’s most accomplished batsman.

    His record in the five-day game stands up to scrutiny compared to any of his peers – in excess of 5000 runs in 60 appearances at an average a fraction under 54 – and he has an all-round game with few flaws.

    If a hyper-critical view is to be taken, his tally of Test centuries, which currently stands at 13, could do with a boost given the number of times he has passed 50 (32), but this shouldn’t really count as a black mark as his scoring is consistently good and that is a pre-requisite for a top-class player.

    (AFP Photo / Carl Court)

    And the aforementioned angle referred to in relation to Root concerns his three-figure efforts: when he has reached three figures England have never been beaten.

    From his maiden century against New Zealand at Headingley in May 2013 to his most recent against West Indies under the Edgbaston lights three months ago, when England’s captain has raised his bat his team have either won (10 times) or drawn (three).

    You can read into this whichever way you want, but seeing as modern-day sport is all about ‘taking the positives’, this appears to at least have some tangible value.

    I’ve always found the ‘we’re targeting the captain’ mantra a bit strange given that surely that would be done anyway, but in this particular set of circumstances maybe it does carry some weight.

    England are heavily dependent, perhaps unhealthily so, on their leader, with Alastair Cook not too far behind, and this won’t be lost on his opposite number, who will be well aware that there is less support in the top order than in previous years.

    Everybody with an interest in the series knows this, so there is no claim to a groundbreaking exposé, but your hat has to be hung on something.

    And if Mitchell Starc and his cohorts are gearing up to expose the wounds inflicted four years ago, then why not counter with the fact Root has scored three hundreds against the old foe and been on the winning side every time.

    Before umbrage is taken, I do realise that none of the host’s potential attack at the Gabba played in the same fixture in 2013 and that the Root-led triumphs were all on the opposite side of the world, but let’s not allow such trivialities to gain traction.

    It is cold, hard fact (so far at least) that England do not get beaten when their number four adds another notch in the centuries column, so I for one wouldn’t mind seeing more the same.

    Starting in Brisbane, please, Joe.

    Alec Swann
    Alec Swann

    Alec Swann is a former Northants and Lancashire opener turned cricket writer. Outside of the joys of a Test match, Newcastle United and golf generally occupy his other sporting interests with a soft spot for the Newcastle Knights.

    The Ashes is almost here, and we want to know who YOU think should line up for Australia against England in the first Test.
    Pick your Ashes dream team here