Thanks to the great work of the Australian and UK governments, cricket boards, Joe Root, Joe Root’s dog and the not-so-stellar work of Tim Paine’s Twitter account, the Ashes is on this summer!
Much has been written of England’s current top-order batting woes, with some saying the occupants of slots one, two and three are perhaps the worst combination ever.
This raises two problems for England.
First is that it’s contributing to their current run of five losses in seven Tests. Second it’s hiding the fact that, with the exception of a certain JE Root at four, positions five to eight aren’t exactly setting the world on fire.
On paper Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali and Sam Curran looks a reasonable combination. On the pitch, not so much so.
Bairstow is perhaps a little unfortunate – a victim of the selectors’ obsession with Buttler, the one-day phenomenon, being made into a five day player. In football terms that would be like picking a five-a-side player to play for Brazil in the next World Cup.
In his last 31 innings, Bairstow has no centuries, three fifties and an average of 21.34.
As a wicketkeeper, Bairstow has played 48 matches scoring 3028 runs at an average of 37.85 with 173 catches and 13 stumping.
Buttler has played 32 matches scoring 1544 runs at an average of 32.17 with 110 catches and a solitary stumping.
As a pure batsman, Bairstow has 1287 runs at 27.38, while Buttler has 1249 at 35.69.
From these numbers the selectors have concluded that Bairstow is the batsman and Buttler is the keeper.
At the risk of labouring the point, as a number seven Bairstow averages 38.59 and at six 37.19, while at positions higher only 27.98. Buttler at seven manages 29.70 while at six he averages 48.90.
Unfortunately, with Ben Stokes absent, as a specialist batsman he would need to play at five where he averages only 28.63.
Perhaps muddying the waters further, Bairstow is only playing because England’s current great hope Ollie Pope was injured.
Pope’s position, once fit, seems assured despite a batting average of 31.50 from his 882 runs after 19 Tests and a 2021 of 237 runs in 11 innings at 21.55.
Combine this with a run of 15 innings without a half-century and the oft-made comparison with Ian Bell seems a little hollow.
To give a little perspective, Bell’s first 19 Tests contained 1337 runs at 46.10 with five centuries compared to Pope’s one, and six fifties to Pope’s five.
Incidentally, in a 215 innings career, Bell’s longest run without a score of 50 or more was nine.
Due to the lack of batting, Ali has been drafted in at seven and spinner because of his superior batting to Jack Leach.
When Ali arrived in Australia for the 2017-18 Ashes, he was averaging 34.67 with the bat and a genuine all-rounder. From that moment he has scored 583 runs, no centuries, only two fifties, and averages 17.15 (a decline that coincides with his, and England’s, success in the limited-over formats).
Leach incidentally has one fifty and an average of 13.65 to go with a far superior bowling average in that period.
Finally we come to Sam Curran, another high-class one-day operator and seen as a potential long-term replacement for Stokes.
Or at least that’s the plan. Curran’s king pair at Lord’s was a historic first at the home of cricket. It also gives him six first-ball ducks in his Test career, putting him only three behind that batting great Chris Martin (it would be unfair to count his two run-outs without facing a ball).
Curran has played 48 matches fewer than the Kiwi by the way.
His selection was to strengthen the lower order and, as with Ali, to compensate for the absence of Stokes. Yet again the logic is a little shaky.
In his past 26 innings he has a top score of 44 and an average of 18.00 which, when combined with Ali’s 17.15, doesn’t even add up to Stokes’ 37.05 (I won’t even include Leach’s runs otherwise the equation is even more lop-sided).
All in all, though England’s top order are attracting deserved criticism, they are masking an equally worrying lack of runs from those below Root.