Four tough questions for the England cricket team ahead of the 2017-18 Ashes
England will fly out to Australia on Saturday in order to prepare for the 2017-18 Ashes, which begins on November 23.Updated: Oct 28, 2017 16:41 IST
Agence France-Presse, London
England fly out to Australia on Saturday with many pundits having already written off their chances of retaining their Ashes before a ball is bowled in the first Test at Brisbane starting on November 23.
Below, AFP Sport looks at the key questions confronting England captain Joe Root in his quest for Ashes glory.
Former captain Alastair Cook and Root are the only mainstays of a frail top order set to be completed by the likes of Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Gary Ballance.
Vince did not feature this home season for England after notching 212 runs at an average of 19 in his seven Tests last year while Ballance would surely have been dropped during the home season had he not been injured.
It will be a welcome bonus if either can make useful scores but their recent international records mean opener Cook and Root can expect to shoulder a heavy burden with the bat.
A fear voiced by former England captain Michael Atherton is that this series could prove “one tour of Australia too many” for James Anderson, England’s all-time leading wicket-taker.
The swing-friendly conditions that best suit the Lancashire paceman tend to be less common in Australia, although he did enjoy a successful tour during England’s 2010/11 triumph ‘Down Under’.
Anderson and Stuart Broad are a proven new-ball duo who, while lacking the raw speed of of their Australia counterparts, are more likely to last a series.
The worry for England is that endurance alone could count for little if they fall too far behind too soon.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is among those who are adamant England cannot win the Ashes without Stokes, who would likely have missed the series opener with a broken finger in any event and who will still be at home when Root’s men depart as he waits to discover if he’ll face criminal charges as a result of his part in an incident outside a Bristol nightclub in September.
England great Geoffrey Boycott said the absence of the Durham star would persuade him to go with “Australia on paper”.
Boycott, not given to extravagant praise, summed up Stokes’s importance by saying: “He gives England great balance, he’s probably the third best bat in the team, an extra bowling option as fourth seamer and a brilliant fielder.”
Without him, England lose the ‘engine room’ of a middle order featuring Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali.
It all adds to England’s hope that pace-bowling all-rounder Chris Woakes can impose himself with both bat and ball in a series that regular third seamer Toby Roland-Jones will miss entirely after suffering a stress fracture of the back.
Stokes’s current absence has led to a recall for Steven Finn and it would be something of a fairytale if the Middlesex quick starred in Australia now, having being deemed “unselectable” when a loss of form saw him sent home early from the 2013/14 tour.
As the late Australia skipper Richie Benaud observed, “captaincy is 90 percent luck and 10 percent skill. But don’t try it without that 10 percent.”
Root showed a willingness to attack in the field during the English summer and how he deploys off-spinner Ali in his first overseas tour as captain will be interesting to see.
But much of Benaud’s “90 percent” concerns the good form of other players, without which even the greatest tactical genius can be left floundering.
Root might do well to follow the example of Yorkshire and England predecessor Len Hutton, an all-time great batsman and a far shrewder captain than he let on.
When it was suggested to Hutton following England’s arrival in 1954 that he was in charge of the worst England team to visit Australia, he replied: “Yes, it’s a young side; we’ve just come here to learn from you blokes and do our level best.” England won the 1954/55 Ashes 3-1.
First Published: Oct 28, 2017 14:48 IST