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DAMIEN FLEMING: Aussie batting strategy and venue twist give England a puncher's chance

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Expert
7th December, 2021
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Australia’s decision to load their batting order with left handers, and the prospect of a second day night Test to replace Perth, will give England a glimmer of hope that they can avoid a crushing defeat in the series that starts on Wednesday.

If we take weather out of the equation – and it could be a wet summer – I’m looking at a 4-1 series win to Australia, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s closer than that.

Conditions wise it’s not looking like a great series for spinners where we do have an advantage with Nathan Lyon over Dom Bess and Jack Leach.

The Gabba could do a lot, Adelaide does a lot. The MCG in the recent Shield game was a result wicket.
While it did get a bit two-paced, the ball was still coming through on day four so that’s set up for the quicks.

Overall though, our bowling has a bit more depth than England’s – especially with James Anderson already mising with a calf injury – and our batting is stronger.

From England’s perspective I think they’d be worried, if Ben Stokes bats at six, that he will be coming in at 4-50 quite a bit.

I’m not sure which of the four Tests England can win but man for man, day by day, session by session Australia are just going to be too strong, particularly with the ball.

And in Australian conditions Dave Warner, Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith will score more runs than England’s top three batsmen.

It’s a bit predictable but I expect Stokes to be England’s player of the series.

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He hasn’t had much cricket but unless his finger is a real issue he’s a match winner, and if they are to win a Test he’ll have to play a significant factor in that.

He can score Test hundreds and even with his bowling he gets big players out because he swings the ball both way. He’s a big partnership breaker.

Ben Stokes.

Ben Stokes. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Joe Root also has to have his best series in Australia for them to have a chance. He wasn’t bad last time, but he didn’t get a hundred.

Their X-factor with the ball is Mark Wood because he’s a bit different, yards quicker than everyone else in that team and goes wide on the crease. But he might only play three of five Tests.

For the Aussies, I think Smith will get back to his best in this series.

He’s talked about having a little bit of a tinker with his technique, which probably won’t surprise many people. He reckons his hands were a bit closed off recently and he wants to get back to where he was four years ago.

No Jofra Archer to put him under pressure is significant. None of those other bowlers looked like getting him out the whole series in 2019.

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I think Smith will also be driven by a bit of friendly competition between him and Marnus, who has been the man in the last two summers.

It’s interesting that Smith talks about how he likes coming in under pressure and with Marnus batting well he’s generally come in and the score’s been okay – that’s a little bit of a shift from everything being on his shoulders. If they have big partnerships it’s going to be hard for the English.

Smith might not get back to 2019 efforts, averaging 100, but I think he’ll be the dominant batter.
Pat Cummins will be the dominant man with the ball. I’m backing him to thrive in his own game with the captaincy.

Many bowlers who have done it, like Imran Khan, Courtney Walsh, Shaun Pollock, Bob Willis, have seen their bowling averages improve with the extra responsibility.

Losing Tim Paine late and having Cummins take the reins won’t be that unsettling. I think Australia have been preparing for this for a while – and he will get support from Smith and Marnus. Alex Carey – even though he’s on debut and will be nervous – is a leader.

Patty will be able to bowl the way he normally does and he’ll want the ball in his hand when Root and Stokes are in there.

Pat Cummins and Joe Root. (Photos by Getty Images).

Pat Cummins and Joe Root. (Photos by Getty Images).

As an X-factor I want to see progression in Cameron Green; I don’t want to make comparisons to Stokes.

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If Jhye Richardson gets a game he’ll thrive with a point of difference to the others – he’s shorter, skiddier and bowls genuine out swingers.

There has been a lot faith shown in Marcus Harris and Travis Head with their selections.

For me it’s getting close to their last chances. Harris averages early 20s and Head’s is 39 but that’s beefed up with heaps of runs against Sri Lanka.

They’ve both got a mountain of runs in Shield cricket and hopefully they seize the moment – they’ve never been more experienced than they are now.

Technically, they’re very similar. And England will have hope they can expose them.

I’ve noticed a change in how left handers play compared to the past – the way lefties like Allan Border and Mark Taylor used to cut.

Modern left handers, and I don’t know if this is the influence of T20, but they don’t step across and hit down on the ball when they cut it. They don’t use their back foot in the same way – they just drop it and uppercut.

It’s hard to hit along the ground but when they middle it, it looks fantastic.

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Head got caught at gully twice against India last time and I think against better bowling in Tests that technique gets found out.

Modern day right hand bowlers come a lot more around the wicket to lefties and that technique has really tested them.

Head has had a lot of scores in that 20-40 range so that suggests it’s not a pure technique issue and maybe a little bit of a mental issue. Maybe when he feels comfortable that’s a real danger sign for him.
Harris says he’s changed his game and averaged 50 for Leicester. I’m really excited to see what difference it’s made.

What I like most about Harris is he scores quickly. At this stage he’s a poor man’s David Warner but there are real hopes he can make that leap.

He’s got a lot of shots – drives well, pulls well, scores big at Shield level. He was impressive in his debut series. But a bit like Head was making starts and not making the most of it.

He was worked over in the 2019 series by Broad and co but so was Warner who’s one of the best openers that we’ve ever produced.

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Both Head and Harris are free flowing, quick scoring game advancing left handers but these 20s, 30s or 40s – half of them have to be turned into hundreds.
They’ve been picked for two Test and you’d want to get at least one score there.

Harris probably has a little more leeway but if they fail Usman Khawaja can fill either role, opener or five, although he’ll be coming off no cricket.

Stuart Broad took 7-35 against Warner last Ashes. Anderson and Ollie Robinson also bowl well to lefties so I think England will be happy with the mix in the Australian batting order.

The lefties are the story this season.

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