Thoughts On The Ashes

| September 2, 2019 | Reply

Before getting to the cricket, I thought I’d mention that next week I’m going to try to answer one of my own questions, which is:

In horse racing, when is it more or less likely that big outsiders will win?

Before looking into this, I’m guessing it’s more likely when something is ‘hidden’ and by that I mean when there is something unknown that catches the market (and quite possibly connections) by surprise, such as a first career run, dramatic improvement following a first run or a long break, a change of conditions and most often when there is a short-priced favourite who fails…

I also suspect it will be more likely with younger horses who have yet to (fully) show what they can do and less likely in handicaps and with older horses who have shown their hand many times before. We will see.

Meanwhile, is there something that’s been nagging away at you?

Maybe there’s an expression you keep hearing that you wonder whether it’s true or not?

Do you have a theory but don’t know if it holds up?

Are there some specific stats that you could do with knowing?

If so, drop me an email at putting ‘Question’ in the subject box and I’ll do some digging and report back in these articles over the coming weeks.

Back to Steve Smith’s Ashes, Jofra Archer’s Ashes, Ben Stokes’s AshesThe Ashes.

The peculiar aspect of England this summer has been that they have managed to reach their highest points shortly after falling to new lows and yet are equally capable of capitulation directly after new ascension.

Qualification for the World Cup knockouts looked unlikely after unexpected defeats to Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but victories against India and New Zealand enabled it to happen. At several points during the final, victory looked less than improbable and yet they found a way.

Prior to the World Cup, there had been a Test series defeat to a West Indies team in transition and the first session of Test cricket following the World Cup saw them bowled out before lunch by Ireland for 85. Despite a first innings deficit higher than their first innings total, it was a test they would go on to win.

In the opening Test against Australia, they had the visitors at 122 for 8 in the first innings yet Australia were able to reach 284 all out. When taking Australia’s 3rd second innings wicket, England were still 15 runs ahead and yet were to lose by 251 runs.

If England’s management team are to be applauded for instilling resilience and determination in the face of adversity then, to be balanced, they are also the ones responsible for such remarkable inconsistency…

Seldom has a sporting side so hugely and frequently overachieved one day then underachieved the next and vice versa. Whether this is seen as an overall positive or negative depends upon ones disposition but, either way, it has made for compelling viewing and increased interest in the sport as a whole.

Much of this is surely down to the brand of attacking batting that Trevor Bayliss and his assistants have directed…

From Bayliss’s declaration of wanting at least two out of the top three in the batting line-up to be attacking players, through Joe Root’s bizarre claim that ‘you don’t win games by batting for long periods of time,’ to the repeated selection of batsman based on one-day form rather than a solid technique and record in red ball cricket, it’s clear how the head coach wants his team to play.

While such an approach has gained huge success and transformed England’s one-day approach – it’s under four and a half years ago since England’s one-day side had Alistair Cook and Jonathon Trott as an opening pair, playing with an emphasis on not losing early wickets – it’s hard to argue that England’s batting in Tests has moved in a similarly positive direction in terms of progress.

Bayliss inherited the majority of the current squad, yet Ben Stokes is possibly its only member to be a better Test batsman now than at the beginning of Bayliss’s reign, despite many now being of an age when they should be at their peak.

Of those who featured in Bayliss’s first match in charge, the averages of the likes of Cook, Root, Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad have all been lower since than before and even James Anderson was averaging surviving 26 balls per dismissal with the bat under previous management, when his mission was clearly to keep his wicket intact, but this has fallen to just 16 under Bayliss as he now seems more likely to bring out a reverse sweep than play back a maiden.

The continued inclusion of Jason Roy as an opener, who averages 34 in Surrey’s middle-order, and Jos Buttler – for all his intelligent one-day skills, he is a wicket-keeper/batsman who isn’t keeping wicket and has fallen down to number 7 – with a sole century to his name in 34 tests, divides opinion.

Joe Denly has shown guts and stickability at number 4 and has more experience as an opener in the longer version of the game than Roy. Wouldn’t a switch of positions offer the Australian new ball bowlers a tougher test while giving Root more protection if he is to persevere with batting at number 3?

This may not be of immediate concern, but other than Archer, the twelve players to have featured so far in this series for England are all 28 or older, with seven either 28 or 29…

There is the danger of this side growing old together and needing an almost complete revamp in a very short period in a few years’ time. With Buttler out of form, wouldn’t this be an ideal opportunity to give someone like 21 year-old Ollie Pope – fresh from a County Championship double-century – a relatively low pressure role at number 6 with Jonny Bairstow looking after the tail at 7?

Another dilemma England face is that because Jofra Archer’s rise to prominence has coincided with Moeen Ali’s fall from grace, while England now have a better balanced attack with the ball, suddenly the tail starts far earlier than has been the case for a considerable number of years.

An attack consisting of the fit again Anderson, Archer, Broad – who has been excellent throughout the series so far – Jack Leach and Stokes is arguably as potent as any that England have been able to put on the field at one time in recent decades.

The downside is that a batting line-up with 7-11 consisting of Buttler, Archer, Leach, Broad and Anderson is by far their weakest lower order in the last decade and this change has strengthened a weakness but also weakened a previously key strength. With Chris Woakes below his best at Headingly, this looks the most likely option and, in a series in which bowlers have already had the upper-hand, ball is likely to further dominate bat.

So, questions remain as does the feeling that this is a squad who could yet win back the Ashes if playing to their full ability and combining that with a more moderated application.

For all of Stokes’s big shots at the climax of the last Test, an underrated part of his innings was at the beginning. In his first 73 balls, Stokes only scored 3. He identified the danger as the 2nd new ball and played to survive it. Once the ball had softened he began to attack.

It was the sort of innings building that has rarely been seen by an England player in recent years when the tendency has been to attack and, if that fails, attack a bit harder. Whether or not the rest of the England team and the coaching staff can take a leaf out of Stokes’s book remains to be seen, but it could be key in deciding the outcome of this enthralling series.



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