An Ashes positive England should hang on to

Alec Swann Columnist

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    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.

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    The Crowd Says (20)

    • November 4th 2017 @ 9:06am
      Jameswm said | November 4th 2017 @ 9:06am | ! Report

      There’s always a first time

    • November 4th 2017 @ 9:30am
      Paul said | November 4th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

      And when Root doesn’t score a hundred, how do England go?

      Huge pressure on he and Cook to score big runs, more so than on Smith and Warner. England are screwed if Root has an ordinary series

    • November 4th 2017 @ 11:35am
      BurgyGreen said | November 4th 2017 @ 11:35am | ! Report

      “Root has scored three hundreds against the old foe and been on the winning side every time.”

      Unfortunately, none of those were in Australia. He won’t have great memories of how things went last time around.

      Of course, he is now a vastly improved player and has the brilliance to fight fire with fire even against a strong Australian attack. I relish the contests we’re going to see against him this summer.

      • November 5th 2017 @ 6:49pm
        Paul Nash said | November 5th 2017 @ 6:49pm | ! Report

        What’s Australias average totals when Smith and Warner don’t fire? This is Australia’s problem lack of reliable depth. If England had Stokes I would favour them to retain the ashes. Australia must be one up after the Gabba.

    • November 4th 2017 @ 12:13pm
      Liam said | November 4th 2017 @ 12:13pm | ! Report

      Here’s your issue.

      In England, against Australia, Joe Root has made 605 runs across 17 innings at an average of 40.33, with little under a third of those runs coming from a single innings of 180. So, while you can certainly rate Root’s career average, his average against Australia, even at home, is thoroughly more modest.

      Your case becomes even weaker if you compare his home average against Australia in tests with how he’s gone in Australia; 192 runs across 8 innings, at 27.43. Admittedly, this is a small sample size, and he was contending with Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris at the time, but that demonstrates that Root’s Ashes average regardless of location is the underwhelming total of 37.95.

      He has every opportunity to improve on this, but right now while England’s hopes are riding with him they are potentially setting themselves up for disappointment.

      • November 4th 2017 @ 12:45pm
        TheCunningLinguistic said | November 4th 2017 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

        Excellent points, Liam. Exactly what I was going to say, so I won’t!

      • November 4th 2017 @ 1:52pm
        ThugbyFan said | November 4th 2017 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

        Spot on there Liam, and note it was only 8 innings as England dropped J.Root for the last match in Sydney. Poor Joe, as with all the Poms on that tour, was mentally shot to bits. He got 1 score 50+ and basically nothing else. I would be fairly quiet on Captain Joe till we see if he can take the heat or crumble against bouncy pace like England did last time. However if its a dry Summer, the whole tour could be a batsman’s paradise on dead tracks and everyone is branded a hero.

        To be sure, Root has improved against the quicks on fast decks since then. On a comparable tour, for the England tour of South Africa in Jan 2016; Root scored 1 century and 3 of 50+ innings from 7 completed and 1 no innings . That was the series where Ben Stokes made 258 on a batting paradise. Being a night owl I did watch a fair bit of that series. Yes the English batsmen did well but it must be said that SA lost their gun fasties D.Styne and K.Abbott after the 1st test and had no spinner to speak of during the whole series. For me yes Captain Root does present a fair danger, but from that SA tour Jonny Baistow (and B.Stokes in one unreal inning) inflicted a hell of a lot of damage also (7 innings, 1 C, 1 x 50+, 2 x 40+) and could be even a bigger danger coming in at #7 against tired bowlers.

        S.Broad was easily the pick of the England bowlers, winning one match for England and always picking up wickets and I expect the same in Australia as Broad always gets lots of wickets in Australia. Jimmy Anderson did nowt on that SA tour, nor was he seen much in the debacle tour of 2013-14 where Mitch Johnson carved the Poms up.

        This Ashes tour could be a little different and perhaps even slightly favour the England bowlers; as from the Sheffield Shield games this season the pink ball day-night matches in Adelaide are similar to playing at Headingly. To me, that spells extreme danger to the fragile Aussie batsmen.

        • November 4th 2017 @ 3:21pm
          Liam said | November 4th 2017 @ 3:21pm | ! Report

          I fully expect Anderson to hibernate for most of the series then to wake up and strut like a prize stallion when the pink ball test comes around.

          Never have I seen a bowler’s body language and attitude vary so widely depending on the conditions in which they bowl, and the amount of time that has passed since they last got a wicket. Looks as interested as an elderly bulldog when the opposition is set or conditions aren’t suited – they don’t even need to be against him, just not suited – yet is more animated than the Simpsons when bowling to someone just in or under an overcast english sky with a duke ball in hand.

          • November 6th 2017 @ 7:48am
            George said | November 6th 2017 @ 7:48am | ! Report

            Ever watch McGrath chuck a strop?

          • Roar Guru

            November 6th 2017 @ 8:17am
            Chris Kettlewell said | November 6th 2017 @ 8:17am | ! Report

            Anderson’s overall record is dramatically skewed by his record in England compared to elsewhere, and he struggles outside of England in general, but he’s also in good form, and may well be England’s best bowler in this series. In a lot of ways I think a bigger worry for England may be Broad. Many expect him to be the best bowler for them because he’s had a history of doing well in Australia, but he’s actually struggled for form in the last year or two. While Anderson’s done incredibly well (admittedly all at home), Broad has struggled. And again, Anderson had a decent first warm-up match, while again Broad struggled.

      • November 5th 2017 @ 12:57pm
        John Erichsen said | November 5th 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

        And he was dropped on 8 in that innings of 180.

    • November 4th 2017 @ 3:45pm
      JimmyB said | November 4th 2017 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

      I’m fairly sure that you guys have slightly missed the point of what was a light hearted article.

    • November 4th 2017 @ 7:50pm
      Steve said | November 4th 2017 @ 7:50pm | ! Report

      England are really missing Ian Bell and James Taylor now..

      • November 6th 2017 @ 7:49am
        George said | November 6th 2017 @ 7:49am | ! Report

        The latter especially.

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