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England set to slide down Test rankings

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Expert
16th September, 2019
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England are headed for two series losses, Jofra Archer is at risk of being bowled into the turf and Joe Root should consider giving up the captaincy. These are among the talking points for England in the wake of the Ashes.

England are headed for a rough patch
So far 2019 has been a shocking year for England in Tests. First they lost 1-0 in the Caribbean to the West Indies, who are so weak in the longest format that they’ve won just one of their past 40 Tests against Australia, India and South Africa.

Then England incredibly were rolled for just 85 by Ireland at Lords. They followed that by drawing the Ashes 2-2 against an ordinary Australian side.

Now they face two challenges more difficult than any they’ve encountered this year: tackling New Zealand and South Africa on the road. In just over a month from now England will arrive in New Zealand for a limited-overs and Test tour.

England had a shocker the last time they toured New Zealand 18 months ago, getting bowled out for 58 in the first Test and losing the series 1-0. The Kiwis have only got stronger since then, whereas England have become weaker. New Zealand will start this two-Test series as heavy favourites. The Kiwis have clearly the stronger batting line-up, with four players in the top 14 of the Test rankings – Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls, Tom Latham and Ross Taylor.

New Zealand also have a battalion of quality seamers in Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, Matt Henry, Lockie Ferguson and Tim Southee. If the Kiwis play to their potential, they will comfortably defeat England.

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The same goes for the Proteas, who host England for four Tests starting from Boxing Day. An incredible attack of Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander, Lungi Ngidi and Keshav Maharaj should slice through England’s vulnerable batting line-up with ease.

It’s shaping up as a rough few months for the England Test team. They’re set to slide down the rankings.

Ben Stokes turns for a run

(AP Photo/Jon Super)

Jofra Archer is already being bowled into the ground
It is understandable that Joe Root is excited to have at his disposal a bowler with the rare tools of Jofra Archer. Few quicks in the modern era have boasted his potent blend of intimidating pace, nagging accuracy, subtle variations, startling bounce and consistent lateral movement. He is a captain’s dream.

But at times in this Ashes series it seemed as if Root’s tactics did not extend beyond ‘throw the ball to Jofra’. The 24-year-old bowled far more overs per Test than any other of England’s quicks. While he averaged 39 overs per match, the rest sent down just 30 overs on average.

Despite his sensational Test record in England (70 wickets at 23), Chris Woakes was like a forgotten man at times as Root became Archer-centric. Woakes delivered just 24 overs per Test. While Archer didn’t often let Root down, the English skipper needs to think long term. England will want Archer playing all three formats. That is a huge ask for an express fast bowler.

If England want to avoid Archer being run into the ground and possibly suffering serious injuries, they need to manage his workload not just across series or calendar years but within individual matches.

Jofra Archer.

(Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

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Denly is not a long-term fix but Burns may well be
By virtue of being 32 years old when he debuted, Joe Denly was never going to have a lengthy Test career. And his questionable decision-making and looseness outside off stump give me the impression he’s unlikely to be a reliable performer for England, even in the short term.

The way he continually pushes at balls outside off stump with hard hands could cause him endless issues in New Zealand and South Africa, the two countries England tour over the coming months.

Rory Burns, though, looks every inch a Test cricketer. Like with Steve Smith, if you can ignore Burns’s technical foibles, then you will see that at the point of striking the ball he is consistently in a nice, balanced position. He also possesses the underrated skill of playing and missing.

Holding your line as swinging or seaming deliveries pass your edge is crucial for an opener. Burns had an outstanding Ashes and looks set for a long Test career.

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England need to find a way to rejuvenate Joe Root
England no longer have a single world-class Test batsman. Not long ago they had two in Alastair Cook and Joe Root. Now Cook is gone and Root’s Test batting has nosedived since he became captain. Arguably their best batsman now is an all-rounder in Ben Stokes who has a Test batting average of 35.

In the past two years Root has averaged just 35 with the bat from 27 Tests. That is an awful return for a hugely gifted batsman who, up until then, had a career Test average of 54. England desperately need to find a way to coax the best out of Root who, at 28 years old, should be at his peak right now.

It seems clear that two things do not agree with Root: being skipper and batting at first drop. His numbers are dramatically worse when he undertakes one or both of those tasks. England need to relieve him of at least one of those responsibilities.