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Sunday, March 3, 2024

England are a great chance in next Ashes – Australia are in danger of decline

I was amazed that in the West Indies series they didn’t rotate the team just slightly to bring through one or two new players. With two all-rounders at No.4 (Cameron Green) and No.6 (Mitchell Marsh), they could easily have played a second spinner in Adelaide. Tanveer Sangha looks a decent leg-spinner. For the pink ball Test in Brisbane they could easily have rested one of the big boys, and played Xavier Bartlett or Lance Morris.

By the end of the Ashes, Mitchell Starc will be almost 36, Josh Hazlewood will be 35, and Cummins will be 32. They are great players, but that is the sort of age where they cannot just peel off all five Tests like they have in the past, and injuries will creep in. They need to find back-up. I can’t believe they haven’t taken Bartlett to New Zealand because he looks a serious bowler.

The Test tour to New Zealand appeared the perfect time to blood Xavier Bartlett in the game’s traditional format.

The Test tour to New Zealand appeared the perfect time to blood Xavier Bartlett in the game’s traditional format.Credit: Getty

Batting scars

I’d also be concerned about the batting if I was Australian. I think there are some scars in that batting line-up. In five Tests this summer, they scored two hundreds. Normally they make two hundreds in the first innings of the summer! They got 487 against Pakistan in Perth, but other than that there were no really big scores. Both Pakistan and West Indies came with decent, if raw attacks, and looked like they would bowl Australia out on pitches that did a bit but not loads.

I think Steve Smith will prove to be an outstanding opener with Usman Khawaja, but the question is around the knock-on for the middle order, where he was so brilliant. Marnus Labuschagne is in a lean spell, has been found out a bit technically, and perhaps the luck he enjoyed at the start of his Test career (when 50 per cent of the chances he offered seemed to be dropped) has run out.

Travis Head is a brilliant risk-taker, but you have tough periods if you play that way, and against high pace he looks vulnerable. Alex Carey too. I think Mitch Marsh is a really good player, who is technically strong and is a great reader of a situation.

Jake Fraser-McGurk has made an eye-catching start to his international career.

Jake Fraser-McGurk has made an eye-catching start to his international career.Credit: Getty

I understand why Cameron Green is being backed at No.4 because he has an outstanding record there for Western Australia. But he is so vulnerable to the ball on or around off stump early in his innings. A Jimmy Anderson-style bowler, probing away with a little bit of nibble, will cause him all sorts of problems. He’s got a lot of work to do to be comfortable with that. I don’t see loads of other batsmen knocking the door down, although in a few years Jake Fraser-McGurk could be a firecracker at No.5, and Aaron Hardie looks a very technically proficient all-rounder.

So for me it’s very obvious what England need to be working on. They need two bowlers who are operating above 135km/h every single ball, they need an attack leader with real consistency, and then a spinner to hold an end. I have no doubt they would have considered who could fill each role already. They need to catch well too, which is the most basic truth in cricket. If Pakistan had caught the ball, they would have won at Melbourne, and maybe Sydney. West Indies dropped loads in Adelaide. They were not far off Australia with bat and ball, but their fielding was horrendous at times.

Missing the mongrel


Another factor with Warner’s departure is that Australia just seem a really nice team to play against. There’s no mongrel, no Aussie larrikin in the team. There used to be about eight of them, then it went down to one in Warner. I’m not sure any of them are like that now.

England have loads to work out before they go to Australia, but they are on an upward trajectory and if the current management team is in place they have a chance. After COVID-19 scratched their chances of watching the last tour, I honestly think that there could be 25,000 Brits travelling over. Based on what I’ve seen in recent months, it will be must-watch cricket.

Telegraph, London

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