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Ashes shapes as survival of the fittest

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Expert
18th July, 2019
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After an already-taxing period of cricket, it appears half the battle for the impending Ashes could be keeping players on the park.

News emerged this week that England quicks Jofra Archer and Mark Wood will miss the start of the series, both with side strains.

The hosts are hopeful Archer can recover in time for the second Test, at Lord’s, while Wood’s injury could see him out until the fourth Test at the earliest.

England’s bowling stocks are further stretched when you consider Jimmy Anderson’s calf complaint, although reports suggest he will likely play at Edgbaston on August 1.

The news brings into sharp focus player fitness – particularly for fast bowlers – over the five-Test series, long held to be one of the most mentally and physically gruelling in world cricket.

World Cup-winning skipper Eoin Morgan, a white ball specialist, said players now switching to five-day duties needed a rest.

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“I think everybody needs it,” he said. “This tournament has taken a lot out of us as a team, both mentally and physically. And I think energy levels will drop quite quickly unless the guys are looked after and I think I’m pretty sure they are going to be looked after.”

The key issue here, though, is time. The Ashes begins in less than two weeks, leaving little time for proper recovery before intense preparations begin.

Players from both nations have been in demanding environments since March, the impact of which Chris Lynn noted is underestimated among the general public.

“Some of these guys have gone from the IPL, straight into the Australian camp, a World Cup and now the Ashes,” Lynn said in a recent episode of The Grade Cricketer.

“That’s a long time, and people actually underestimate the time away from home and the toll it takes on you.”

At least in the short term, Australia have an advantage. Having wrapped up their World Cup campaign three days earlier than the hosts, they are yet to report any injuries to any of their quicks.

Further, their fast-bowling depth is perhaps the best it has been in years. With Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc likely locks for Edgbaston, selectors have a choice between Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle as a third seamer.

Mitchell Starc

Mitchell Starc (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

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And if several of those bowlers were to, let’s say, tread on a loose ball in the warm-up in Birmingham (sounds unlikely, I know), the stocks don’t stop there. Jackson Bird and Chris Tremain are far from the worst options in English conditions.

Given the demanding nature of the series and likelihood for injury (although Australia did have a charmed run in the 2017-18 series) it’s likely several bowlers will play their part. Pattinson has already been spoken about as an impact option for perhaps two or three Tests.

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Shifting back to England, and there are also questions over whether Archer can withstand the demanding nature of five-day cricket from a fitness standpoint.

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While the 24-year-old took the world by storm in the recent World Cup, bowling the most dot balls in the entire tournament to shut out opposition batsmen, pundits have speculated his ability to come back late in the day in the longer format.

Can he bowl upwards of 20 overs a day? Can he be effective in a third spell? They’re legitimate queries, especially when you consider he also hasn’t played first-class cricket since September.

Archer’s ability is unquestioned and is likely already causing Justin Langer headaches, but his endurance could be key to the impending series.