Ashes 2019: Fragile batting, but options with the ball - assessing England and Australia after the series

By Sports Desk September 16, 2019

So, what did exactly did the 2019 Ashes series tell us? Steve Smith can definitely bat, Jofra Archer is seriously quick and no cause is ever seemingly lost when Ben Stokes is still at the crease.

Delving a little deeper, the five Tests made clear the obvious flaws in both teams, but also demonstrated their strengths. Now, though, they can draw breath, recharge their batteries and start thinking about the future.

Australia, who retained the Ashes courtesy of a 2-2 series draw, return to the Test arena against Pakistan in late November and with spots up for grabs, all eyes will be on the start of the Sheffield Shield season. England, meanwhile, have tours to New Zealand and South Africa to look forward to before the year is out.

Having examined the state of both squads at different stages during the year, we now offer one final assessment while also looking ahead to the future.

 

BATTING

Not even retaining the urn has been enough to silence the questions that were already there before the Ashes about Australia's batting.

Smith's heroics were enough on this occasion, but coach Justin Langer has work to do going forward.

David Warner, who should be Australia's second-best batsman, became Stuart Broad's bunny, making just 95 runs at an average of 9.50 during the series and falling to the England paceman seven times.

Between Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Marcus Harris, Australia's opening stands during the Ashes were an average of 8.50 runs, immediately putting themselves under early pressure.

Marnus Labuschagne was a revelation after getting his chance, scoring 353 runs at an average of 50.42 to cement his place in Australia's top-order. But, going forward, places are up for grabs.

Matthew Wade combined two centuries with eight scores of 34 or less, while Travis Head (who averaged 27.28) and Usman Khawaja (20.33) were both dropped during the series.

Harris and Wade top-scored in the Shield last season, but the likes of Kurtis Patterson, 26, Will Pucovski, 21, and Jake Lehmann, 27, should all be sensing an opportunity.

Given the others have failed to take their chances, albeit in tough conditions, perhaps the time has come to build around Smith and Labuschagne while preparing for the future.

Like their opponents, England have gaps to fill in the top six.

Rory Burns (390 runs at 39) had success at the top of the order, but the gamble on Jason Roy failed to pay off. Joe Denly may have received a stay of execution with his 94 at The Oval, but it is hard to see how a 33-year-old who has spent recent domestic seasons further down the batting list is the long-term answer.

Joe Root had made clear in the past that three is not his favoured role, so it will be interesting to see if Trevor Bayliss' replacement is happy to drop him one position lower.

The team's success in the longest format has often come courtesy of rearguard actions in difficult situations, but the time has come to start batting big.

Stokes (441 runs at 55.12) showed the way with two second-innings hundreds, but Jonny Bairstow has reached 50 only once in his last 14 Test innings and Jos Buttler is in the strange position of being picked as a frontline batsman that comes in at seven.

A busy winter schedule offers an opportunity to blood some fresh faces. Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley are the two openers regularly talked about as possible candidates to have a go alongside Burns. 

Ollie Pope is waiting for another crack at international cricket, while Ben Foakes could return behind the stumps for the struggling Bairstow, who should perhaps consider giving up the gloves to focus completely on his batting. 


BOWLING

Unlike their batting, Australia's bowling is far more settled and with good reason.

Pat Cummins won the Allan Border Medal in February and the paceman showed he can lead his nation for years to come. The 26-year-old played all five Tests – a fine feat for a player with his injury history – and was comfortably the leading wicket-taker in the Ashes with 29.

Cummins took his 29 wickets at an average of 19.62 and economy rate of 2.69.

Such is the depth and talent in Australia's attack, Mitchell Starc played just one Test, selectors perhaps looking elsewhere to capitalise on the English conditions.

Josh Hazlewood has long been expected to be the man in such situations and he grabbed 20 wickets at 21.85 in four Tests.

Peter Siddle and James Pattinson played three and two Tests respectively and while their spots are far from certain, the ability of the attack to deliver as a unit would have pleased Langer.

They were helped by Nathan Lyon, who bowled more overs than anyone else on his way to 20 wickets at 33.40.

Siddle (34) is the oldest of the group, but Cummins, Hazlewood (28), Starc (29) and Pattinson (29) look to have several years ahead of them in an excellent sign for Australia. Even Mitchell Marsh took his chance with the ball in the fifth Test, grabbing seven wickets, although the all-rounder is often criticised for his performances.

The bowling was expected to be Australia's strength during the series and it proved just that, with few signs of it being an area of concern going forward.

Similarly, for England, there are reasons to be cheerful over the attack. Broad benefited from the chance to hone his skills in county cricket prior to the Ashes - and went on to torture Warner and the rest of the left-handers.

While his regular new-ball partner prospered, James Anderson endured a wretched campaign. Forced off after four overs of the opening Test with a calf injury, the Lancastrian failed to reappear in the rest of the series. He remains committed to playing at the highest level again, but England should not need to rush their leading wicket-taker back.

That is mainly because of the emergence of the blistering Archer. He claimed 22 wickets in four Tests, knocked down the seemingly immovable Smith at Lord's and provided an added dimension to an attack otherwise lacking variety.

Sam Curran's patience was finally rewarded with an outing in the fifth Test, where he again demonstrated his knack of making things happen, but Chris Woakes flattered to deceive, both with bat and ball.

Craig Overton's selection at Old Trafford was an unexpected call and maybe brother Jamie, as well as another Somerset bowler in Lewis Gregory, may get a go ahead of him in future.

As for the spin department, Jack Leach became a cult hero among fans and an easy fancy dress costume for a day at the Test.

The captain-coach axis must also work out what they see as the future role for Moeen Ali, a player far too talented to be left languishing outside of the national set-up.


CURRENT OUTLOOK

Smith's form tilted the balance enough in Australia's favour to secure a 2-2 result, but now it will be fascinating to see how both nations develop as they go their separate ways.

For England, the preparations for the tour Down Under in 2021-22 should begin immediately, or else they may be waiting a little longer to get the urn back.

Related items

  • Jermaine Blackwood scored most runs but Alzarri Joseph topped the batting averages Jermaine Blackwood scored most runs but Alzarri Joseph topped the batting averages

    Jermaine Blackwood scored most runs but fast bowler Alzarri Joseph topped the batting averages during the recently concluded West Indies Championships.

  • Coronavirus: England players in 'ongoing discussions' with ECB over central contracts Coronavirus: England players in 'ongoing discussions' with ECB over central contracts

    Representatives for England players will continue talks with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) over how to help the game during the coronavirus pandemic, though they have not received any demands from their employers to take a pay cut.

    Having already revealed this week that they will provide a £61million support package to help ease the financial issues caused by the COVID-19 crisis, the ECB announced on Wednesday measures to reduce employee salaries as they aim to protect jobs in the long term.

    Chief executive Tom Harrison has agreed to take a 25 per cent cut, while members of the executive management and team board will see their wages lowered by 20 per cent.

    A report by ESPNcricinfo earlier in the day suggested the England squad had so far declined an invitation to follow suit, though all-rounder Ben Stokes called the story “utter lies" on Twitter.

    In a statement, the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) said discussions for both the men's and women's team continue with the ECB over "all aspects of the game", including contracts.

    "Regarding the England players, both men and women, separate and ongoing discussions are taking place between the ECB and the management boards of both the Team England Player Partnership (TEPP) and the England Women's Player Partnership (EWPP), which respectively represent these players," the statement read.

    "Contrary to media speculation in communication this week, the ECB confirmed to centrally contracted players that there would not be any demands placed on England players to take any wage reductions to their central contracts.

    "However, the England men's players through TEPP and the England women's players through EWPP have been and will continue to be in regular communication with the ECB.

    "They will be discussing all aspects of the game that the ECB and the players are currently facing and most importantly how the players can best support their employers, the game and the country in the short, medium and long term. These issues shall also include the wellbeing of the entire cricket family, the playing of the game and the players' contracts."

    Limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan made clear he is “extremely willing to help” amid the global crisis, with the English season not scheduled to start until May 28 at the earliest.

    "In the extremely uncertain times at the moment where nobody seems to have any answers about the actual impact it will have on international cricket, English cricket, county cricket - I'm open to absolutely everything," Morgan said.

    "I'm very aware of how serious the situation is, I'm very aware that everybody will be affected from top to toe within the game and every sport, so I'm open to helping when and where I can."

  • Opinion: Hosts keep missing the point about COVID19 Opinion: Hosts keep missing the point about COVID19

    The hosts of the various big events in the world of sports have been missing the point over and over for the last three months, much like many governments have.

    The COVID-19 Pandemic has inch by inch, ground sports to a halt all over the world and looming events have had to be either cancelled or postponed as it becomes clear that the word ‘pandemic’ is as horrifying as it sounds and the world won’t get over this issue in a few weeks or months as administrators seem to feel.

    But even more important than that, these administrators seem to feel that whether or not an event can go on, depends on the environment at the event.

    But I suggest there is more to it than that.

    The Olympics, for instance, in Tokyo, Japan, seemed to hinge on whether or not the island could get its COVID-19 problems under control before the rest of the world would travel to the event.

    When it became clear that this would not be the case, the event was postponed.

    However, up until that time, even as preparatory events for the Olympics were being cancelled and/or postponed all over the world, the International Olympic Committee had been asking athletes to prepare as if there would still be an event in July of 2020.

    That, I believe, was unfortunate, because it meant, even without travelling to meets all over the world, training was putting athletes at risk of contracting the virus.

    The danger of picking up the virus becomes even more acute when you consider team sports and how much contact it takes to get one working in unison and performing at a high level.

    For that to happen, there needs to be a combination of technical staff, trainers, teammates, and much more. That will up the chances of contracting a virus and therefore it doesn’t matter what is happening at whichever venue in the world, the athletes are at risk.

    I am acutely aware that much planning goes into putting on a large event like the Olympics or the UEFA Champions League, and that there is a lot of money riding on the event going ahead as planned.

    These considerations, I believe, make decisions grey and not as completely black and white like it might from the outside, however, sports and entertainment being the last to get on board with social distancing was, in my mind, slightly callous.

    But that’s just in my mind. These organisers may well have foreseen the financial fallout for the athletes themselves and wanted to save them, for as long as they could, from months without earning in some cases.

    Whichever way you see it, the truth is COVID-19 is likely to bankrupt far more people than it kills.

    Many of the reports on COVID-19 have also indicated that it hurts people with underlying conditions and the elderly, so the athlete with his fitness at the peak of their value, along with usually being under 40, is not in any real danger.

    But how about the person the athletes give it to? And, as was the case of 21-year-old Spanish coach, Francisco Garcia, who knows who has an underlying condition that this virus may attack?

    Garcia, a coach at Atletico Portada Alta, found out he had undiagnosed Leukemia, after being admitted to hospital with coronavirus symptoms. By then, it was too late.

    How I see it is that people and countries can recover from going broke. It happens all the time.

    I’ve never seen anybody recover from being dead.

    Cricket West Indies and the England Cricket Board are entertaining the idea of having a series between the two, scheduled for June, behind closed doors.

    Hopefully, they think better of it in short order.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.