England are building nicely towards the next Ashes series, which is only 15 months away. Chris Silverwood and Joe Root are putting in place the pieces they hope will bring the urn back to England, and to date they’re trending in the right direction.
An underwhelming series loss in New Zealand – who then beat India 2-0 – has been followed by series wins against South Africa and the West Indies. At the time of writing – the end of the third day of the third Test – England look to have the Pakistan series wrapped up, leading that match pretty comfortably, so three series wins in fewer than 12 months is a very creditable achievement.
Australia too has had a strong 12 months, with the drawn Ashes series in England followed by the home series wins against Pakistan and the Black Caps.
Now Australia and England have the prospect of facing India in two series that could very well define how each team goes in the 2021/22 Ashes.
First up, Australia, who have a four-Test series starting in November.
The Aussies are currently top of the Test rankings, but there are only two points separating us from New Zealand and India. The key areas the team needs to focus on are batting, batting depth and tactics when India is at the crease.
The last three series Australia has played have shown up some serious inconsistencies in our batting. The ease with which the side won games covered up issues that a team like India can easily expose.
The Australian batting philosophy now is about batting long, batting safely and grinding out the runs. It relies on lots of guys contributing and all batsmen minimising the mistakes in order to build big totals.
Joe Burns has to get runs, it’s as simple as that. If David Warner Burns don’t regularly get the side off to good starts, Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith will be exposed early on to Jasprit Bumrah and co, who will be a very different proposition from the attacks the team faced last summer.
Matthew Wade in particular needs runs. Yes, he scored centuries in the Ashes, but his batting other than those two innings has been below par and his inability to handle Neil Wagner and the manner in which he struggled in that series would have been noted by both India and England.
Travis Head needs to keep developing so that the pressure is taken off Warner, Labuschagne and Smith to make runs. The Australian tail hasn’t been overly productive in recent series, so if there are only going to be six specialist batsmen, none can be passengers.
India recognised the way to beat Australia was to use players like Cheteshwar Pujara to grind out big totals and England appear to be following a similar pattern in recent series.
Tim Paine and the coaching brains trust have to come up with tactics that will work against this style of batting. The bowlers have shown they are world-class at building pressure and some of the spells last summer were scary good. The difference this summer will be the step up in class of batsmen the bowlers will face. If they can consistently keep India to low totals, not only will it go a long way to winning the series, it should also act as a blueprint for how to attack England in the Ashes.
Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI President, recently announced India will play England in a five-Test series starting sometime in January and will likely include a day-night Test. England will have a long list of items they’ll be checking off in this series, including:
Joe Root has stated his belief that England can take over as the world’s best Test-playing nation, and there’s no doubt Tim Paine and the rest of the team will be hell-bent on keeping Australia at No. 1.
India are a powerful team that will be incredibly difficult to beat in Australia and at home. Naturally, most Australians will be hoping to win the series this summer and have India comfortably win their home series against England, while English supporters will be hoping for the complete reverse.
The six months of international Test cricket from November onwards should be some of the most interesting in a very long time.