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England in good shape for series that matters

Alec Swann Columnist

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    Alastair Cook has resigned as England's captain. (AFP PHOTO / Marty MELVILLE)

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    The appetiser may be scheduled to take place a week on Saturday, when the age-old foes do battle at Edgbaston in the Champions Trophy, but that contest hardly warranted a mention on the various platforms that may have an interest.

    And the plethora of journalists who have interviewed Ricky Ponting since he arrived for his short stint in Surrey’s colours have made no secret of the fact there is only one topic they are interested in talking about and it isn’t whether he’s had any luck on the greyhounds recently.

    The Ashes, in case you’ve been on another planet, are coming and England’s thumping of New Zealand in an all-too brief two Test skirmish has whetted the appetite just that little bit more.

    Michael Clarke et al may have most of their focus on the upcoming 50-over tournament, but I bet they partook in a touch more than a passing glance at events in Headingley.

    And they will, or should, have come to the conclusion that England are in pretty decent shape.

    In fact, they only have two issues to deal with before hostilities commence at Trent Bridge in July and that should mean the hierarchy are in a good place.

    The problems, if they can be considered to be that, concerns Alastair Cook’s opening partner and the anticipated return of Kevin Pietersen.

    The latter, by all accounts, is back practicing with his injured knee recovering as well as can be expected, and the debate surrounding the former will be sharpened when the Surrey man is back in the fold.

    It isn’t a wild guess to suggest one of Nick Compton and Jonny Bairstow will miss out and, of what I’ve seen, it has to be Compton who receives an unwelcome phone call from the selectors.

    The Somerset batsman deserves a lot of admiration for the way he worked his way into the international set-up through sheer weight of runs in domestic cricket, but his flaws have been too easily exposed in the past fortnight.

    His second innings effort at Leeds was the painful 90 minute showing of a man who knows his place is under threat and is drinking in the last chance saloon.

    Tense to the point of barely being able to function, the upcoming greater challenges will hardly lessen the load and while he hasn’t let anyone down, his time has to be up.

    Joe Root, who has taken to the international game as though he was born to it, is an opener by trade and the argument he is doing well at number five so he should be left alone is missing the point.

    Bairstow, while not the most orthodox going around, has something about him and assuming Pietersen comes straight back in, he should be left at six.

    Selections-wise, that is about it.

    Any talk of two spinners to probe away at the Australians’ supposed weakness against that kind of bowling is wide of the mark as England – even at The Oval, which normally encourages that approach – are reluctant to change a successful formula.

    Unless injuries crop up, the XI who take to the field in Nottingham will be the ones who beat New Zealand, with Pietersen instead of Compton.

    That constitutes a strong outfit.

    The preparation has been as good as it can be in this day and age of muddled up fixture programmes and the tag of favourites, which they were adorned with well in advance, looks more than justified.

    That takes care of the hosts and the microscope, once the one-dayers are out of the way, can turn its focus on the relative health of the visitors.

    So come on Australia, what have you got?

    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.

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    The Crowd Says (53)

    • May 31st 2013 @ 4:48am
      Aakash bhat said | May 31st 2013 @ 4:48am | ! Report

      No bell in the squad?

    • May 31st 2013 @ 5:46am
      Blaze said | May 31st 2013 @ 5:46am | ! Report

      Only takes one unlucky game and a couple of unfortunate injuries and England won’t look so hot… Wishful thinking I know, however stranger things have happened…

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

      • May 31st 2013 @ 11:40am
        James said | May 31st 2013 @ 11:40am | ! Report

        good grief what a horrid wish. wish for australia to win but wish that england play brilliantly but australia just play more brilliantly. you never want to win because injuries or unluckyness. i want england to dominate but im still hoping harris can play at least 3 games (i would wish for all 5 tests but it is harris and there is wishing and then there is insane wishing). im even hoping that warner has a cameo.

        • Roar Guru

          June 1st 2013 @ 1:04am
          nick richardson said | June 1st 2013 @ 1:04am | ! Report

          3 tests is extreme wishing. 3 overs is still wishing.

        • June 1st 2013 @ 8:18pm
          Blaze said | June 1st 2013 @ 8:18pm | ! Report

          Not a horrid wish at all…. Plenty of games have been won and lost due to injuries, and god knows the Aussies have had their fair share… All I ask is for it to be shared around… As for being unlucky, that’s cricket… Every game depends on luck, electing to bat on a great day, only for cloud cover to roll in, umpire decisions, hell, even the coin toss is ruled purely on luck…. Just time to share…. Just quietly, it doesn’t affect me in the slightest if we won back the ashes playing only a grade cricket side due to terrible injuries to the whole English team… But hey, maybe that’s just me.

          • June 2nd 2013 @ 7:36am
            Dan said | June 2nd 2013 @ 7:36am | ! Report

            James – lighten up. I was whooping with glee when McGrath did his ankle in 2005. It’s part of sport – he’s not wishing them dead.

            (Are you??)

            • June 2nd 2013 @ 10:52am
              James said | June 2nd 2013 @ 10:52am | ! Report

              i didnt like it, i never want to win because of injuries or luck though with luck i completely believe that luck evens out so if you lose today youll win tomorrow because of it but to lose because you are not against the best 11 is a horrible way to win. win because you are the best on the day not because the opposition wasnt at full strength, thats such a hollow victory. and im not saying its not part of sport, im saying you should never wish for it. the dream should be england and australia both being at full strength, both happy with the teams, both confident. and england crushing them.

              • June 2nd 2013 @ 6:57pm
                Dan said | June 2nd 2013 @ 6:57pm | ! Report

                I would agree with you if McGrath had been hurt in a car crash, or punched in the face – and God knows he needed that – but he was injured prepping for a match. That’s life, tough titty.

                By your logic, no one played the best Windies team available after Ian Bishop or Patrick Patterson were injured, so it didn’t really count.

              • June 2nd 2013 @ 8:56pm
                James said | June 2nd 2013 @ 8:56pm | ! Report

                i never said it wasnt life infact im pretty sure i did make allusions to injuries and the ilk being part of cricket, my point was that you should not wish injuries upon the opposition because its in bad taste. you should want to win because your team are better.

                and the injuries to bishop and patterson are more along the lines of those suffered by watson whilst the injuries that we are talking about are of the unforeseen short term mcgrath out for a little while 2005 ashes type. i assume that no one wishes career ending injuries on opposition players. once a player suffers from chronic injuries that are not an accident but their bodies not being able to cope with how they bowl or bat then they cease to be in the best team.

    • May 31st 2013 @ 5:46am
      Blaze said | May 31st 2013 @ 5:46am | ! Report

      Comment from The Roar’s iPhone app.

    • Roar Guru

      May 31st 2013 @ 6:59am
      Tim Holt said | May 31st 2013 @ 6:59am | ! Report

      You talk about the Compton issue which is valid, but equally as valid is he has a ready made replacement in Root that would in fact improve the Team….

      Compare this to the Aussies, who at present has a batting line up in flux. No one knows who will bat where and the only certainty in it is Clarke, and he could bat any where from 3-5….

      Hardly helps the certainty of the main weakness of the team by developing an understanding in the ranks and sets it up for a mighty fall

      I think England are primed and it could get very ugly for the Aussies

      • May 31st 2013 @ 12:40pm
        Nudge said | May 31st 2013 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

        Your an Aussie basher Tim. Come up with something new

        • Roar Rookie

          May 31st 2013 @ 2:56pm
          Golden said | May 31st 2013 @ 2:56pm | ! Report

          Agreed Nudge – Tim’s gout has really been playing up lately

          • Roar Guru

            May 31st 2013 @ 5:11pm
            Tim Holt said | May 31st 2013 @ 5:11pm | ! Report

            trying to be a key board warrior again Nick and picking fights………Yawn…………so Generation X ๐Ÿ˜‰

            • Roar Rookie

              May 31st 2013 @ 5:31pm
              Golden said | May 31st 2013 @ 5:31pm | ! Report

              he he he. Tim you’re wide of the mark there. Peace brother.

        • Roar Guru

          May 31st 2013 @ 5:09pm
          Tim Holt said | May 31st 2013 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

          Ok Nudge, ill pretend I am a character from an 80’s sitcom, and rather than be honest, ill live in Fantasy like you :)- watch that Mr Kelly tho…..

        • May 31st 2013 @ 5:15pm
          Disco said | May 31st 2013 @ 5:15pm | ! Report


          You’re being unAustralian and that’s upsetting to Nudge’s sensitivities as a cheerleader.

          Oi! Oi! Oi!

          • May 31st 2013 @ 5:38pm
            Nudge said | May 31st 2013 @ 5:38pm | ! Report

            All sweet here pal. Oi! Oi! Oi!

            • June 1st 2013 @ 5:41pm
              Disco said | June 1st 2013 @ 5:41pm | ! Report

              Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!

    • May 31st 2013 @ 7:34am
      Ian M said | May 31st 2013 @ 7:34am | ! Report

      I watched Sky Sports UK coverage of the Headingley Test and in the preamble to the game I was shocked to find myself agreeing with Ian Botham. His point was that the Ashes series was England’s to lose but Australia will grow an extra leg and put up one hell of a fight because they always do. I think England will win the series but I expect Australia will return down under with their heads high after just losing out in a tight series probably 2-1 or 1-0.

      Compton and Bairstow is a much tougher selection decision than it appears. Bairstow is in better touch but I would trust Compton’s temperament more when the acid goes on. Opening with Root would give England some much needed momentum at the top of the order and allow Cook to settle into his natural scoring rhythm rather than forcing the pace a bit as he needs to with Compton and Trott at 2 & 3 but I could see promoting Root up the order backfiring spectacularly as well.

      For the opening test, I would bring Pietersen in for Bairstow and shift Bell down to 6 leaving Root at 5.

      • May 31st 2013 @ 12:34pm
        Nudge said | May 31st 2013 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

        Well said

    • May 31st 2013 @ 11:29am
      Montero said | May 31st 2013 @ 11:29am | ! Report

      “His point was that the Ashes series was Englandโ€™s to lose but Australia will grow an extra leg and put up one hell of a fight because they always do”

      This is one of the things that I hate about this hyped up sporting events. People just start throwing rubbish stereotypes around. Where was this extra leg last series when Australia lost by an innings three times? Why didn’t England ever go an extra leg during the 90’s and early 00’s? It’s all just BS!

      • May 31st 2013 @ 11:48am
        James said | May 31st 2013 @ 11:48am | ! Report

        yeah that stereotype of australians being mongrels, south africa chocking i think alot of that has to do with the opposition you are playing forcing what happens upon you. i imagine its much easier to grow a pair when you have a batting line up of hayden, langer, ponting, hussey and bowlers like warne, mcgrath etc. how many commentators were wondering why all these teams played like little girls in the 80s against west indies then looked down and saw half the balls every over hitting the guys helmets and then looking up and seeing a man a foot taller than themselves glaring at them.
        australia did grow a pair, when they had a truly great team and had that certainty that man for man they were just better. australia does not have that, clarke has an equal in cook and one or both may think they are better but they dont know they are. australia and before them west indies knew and just as importantly the opposition knew that the australians and west indians were just better.
        ex players should not be listened to, they have to be so politically correct and most likely still have friends playing so are nice. shane warnes commentary after the last ashes where he have every australian a 6/10 or higher was evidence of that just as botham saying this is evidence of pr at work. england grew a pair against nz and india because they had that belief and so came back from losing positions. australia shrank in india because they knew they were not good enough to win.

        • May 31st 2013 @ 1:38pm
          Ian M said | May 31st 2013 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

          It’s tough for me to reply to this as I agree with you that Botham is very much a blowhard and most ex-pros are, as you say, too friendly with the current players to offer up criticism when it’s deserved. You are spot on about Warne, he’s a brilliant commentator when he doesn’t have a horse in the race but all other times the rose tinted spectacles go on and he makes ridiculous comments (just look at the players he’s annointed for greatness).

          However, I think Botham’s point about growing an extra leg was that Australia will fight harder than they did in India because it hurts the players more to lose to England. I’m not Australian, let alone an Australian international cricketer so I can’t say whether that is an accurate statement but I will accept that there are some teams you want to avoid losing to more than others.

          Montero – the extra leg kicked briefly in Perth when Australia bounced back and absolutely took England to the cleaners after being equally as smashed in Adelaide. Unfortunately for Australia, England responded in a similar fashion in the Melbourne test that followed. England needed more than an extra leg in the 90’s and early 00’s, they were deservedly bottom of the test rankings but I would argue that the start of the improvement coincided with the injection of some players with a bit of mongrel (and Ashley Giles – the king of spin).

          I think we are in agreement that attitude isn’t going to win you tests against opposition with greater abilities but it can make the difference between an absolute shellacking and honourable defeat. My point was that Australia will bring that attitude and will come closer to getting a result than people seem to think.

          • May 31st 2013 @ 2:59pm
            Disco said | May 31st 2013 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

            Regarding the Perth Test: England won by an innings in Adelaide whereas at the WACA, Australia won but still struggled with the bat … which carried onto the MCG and SCG matches. I suspect the WACA pitch had the kick in it – not the Ponting-led rabble.

            • Roar Guru

              May 31st 2013 @ 3:47pm
              JGK said | May 31st 2013 @ 3:47pm | ! Report

              Wasn’t it more Mitchell Johnson’s biennial world class bowling spell that won us that Test?

              • May 31st 2013 @ 4:07pm
                James said | May 31st 2013 @ 4:07pm | ! Report

                biennial? you are an optimist. i see johnson as more of a fibonacci number guy 0,1,1,2,3,5,8 being the amount of years between good performances.

              • Roar Guru

                May 31st 2013 @ 4:33pm
                JGK said | May 31st 2013 @ 4:33pm | ! Report

                A bit harsh.

                WACA 2008
                WACA 2010
                MCG 2012

              • May 31st 2013 @ 5:11pm
                Disco said | May 31st 2013 @ 5:11pm | ! Report

                Indeed – nothing to do with a collective kick in the tail.

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