September 24, 2013

Injuries could decide the Ashes

Both sides are similarly matched in batting and bowling, so it may come down to who can stand up on the field longer

England will struggle on their Ashes tour if Anderson and Broad get injured © Getty Images

So it's all done and dusted then. Put away the glasses. The forthcoming Ashes series in Australia is a foregone conclusion. Boof has worked out all the England batsmen and has plans for them all.

England's squad was described by Darren Lehmann as "dour". Whilst I would have to agree with him that it's not exactly full of flashy strokeplayers, in the Test series just concluded they were, generally speaking, no slower than Australia's batsmen. They scored quickly when it mattered and played with caution when the situation called for circumspection. Exciting it may not have been but I'm sure Lehmann would have happily traded some of that dourness when Australia collapsed spectacularly at Lord's and Durham.

Isn't that what Test cricket is all about - adapting to the conditions and match situation, playing ugly when you have to and scoring freely when circumstances dictate? Like that final session at The Oval when England almost chased down the target created by a brave and desperate Michael Clarke. Dour? Sour perhaps. Grapes, that is.

Lehmann, of course, had a reputation for playing his cricket in an entertaining style, part of that reputation owing to his laidback approach to the game, cigarette trailing in one hand, beer in the other, larrikin and lovable rascal rolled into one. Having met him once or twice, he appears to be as good a bloke as his reputation suggests, full of casual good humour and irreverence. Certainly not dour. Yet his Test record against England belies his statement yesterday: "Dour. It's not the type of cricket I'd play." In five Tests he made 146 runs at 20.85 at a strike rate of 71. It's not dour by any means but it's hardly setting the blue touchpaper alight either, remembering that he played in an era when he batted at No. 6 in a dominant Australian team that was usually on top against England. No doubt his innings were played in context, even when Australia were winning the Ashes, much like England's so-called dour approach needs to be read in the context of a team that just won 3-0.

Looking at the England squad, I must confess to having some questions about their depth if injuries hit key players, as they inevitably tend to do on long overseas tours. Remove Jimmy Anderson or Stuart Broad from that attack for a few Tests and it starts to look a lot less potent. Graeme Swann will be important, but offspinners rarely win series on modern Australian pitches. Even outstanding offies like Muttiah Muralitharan, Saqlain Mushtaq, Saeed Ajmal and Harbhajan Singh didn't win any Tests single-handed in Australia, so an ageing Swann, increasingly prone to bowling the odd loose ball will struggle to lead the attack if the quicks haven't made early inroads.

The absence of Tim Bresnan is more of a loss in terms of the balance of their side. His batting was crucial in adding depth to an England tail that now looks a bit more fragile with most of the new bowlers not renowned for their batting skills. Whether Ben Stokes is a good enough bowler to be the third seamer and bat at No. 8 remains to be seen, but this is where England really miss a genuine batting allrounder in the mould of Jacques Kallis, Shane Watson, Mohammed Hafeez or even AB de Villiers, whose wicketkeeping skills allow South Africa to play an extra specialist.

The England batting looks solid enough without necessarily striking fear in Australian fans. It must be slightly worrying to think that players of the calibre of Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott rarely fail in consecutive series, but Australia could do no more than to contain them effectively in England and they will hope to build on those insecurities in the return series. Trott must be feeling some pressure, especially after the ODI series where his form plummeted dramatically. Australia will surely focus on trying to force England into a new No. 3, because as much as they feel they have the measure of Trott, it is his type of batting - calm, methodical and relentless in the Dravid, Kallis, Amla mould - that will provide the platform for players like Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Matt Prior to show that they are anything but dour when they come in on the back of a solid base laid by Cook, Root and Trott.

My belief is that it will be a series that will ultimately be determined by key injuries on either side. For Australia, Clarke's dodgy back, Ryan Harris' entire body and Watson's injury history will be crucial to their prospects. For England, the two players whose bodies will be most closely monitored will be Anderson and Broad. Bell, of course, is a massive influence with bat in hand but he doesn't appear to be injury-prone, so that is less of a concern. The pitch conditions are unlikely to favour one team significantly over another.

They've both got similar strengths in batting and bowling. Australia's batting looks potentially more explosive but with that potential comes increased combustibility too. We've seen that already this year. Crash and burn, or dour and safe? I know which approach I'd choose if I was Boof.

Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on September 25, 2013, 13:19 GMT

    The title should have read " Injuries could decide the margin of England's win". Similar strength in batting and bowling?? Does Australia have anyone even remotely close to the innovative Kevin Petersen? Can any Aussie batsman, except perhaps Clarke, play out more than 2 sessions( England have Trott, Cook, KP, Prior)? What about spin- Swann and Panesar are way ahead of the Aussie spinners ( can we call them that!!!)At the most this Aussie batting line up can put up a fight and draw tests. They cannot win any, excepting perhaps in the case of someone like a Ryan Harris coming up with an inspired spell of swing bowling.

  • Amit on September 25, 2013, 7:07 GMT

    Batting: is completely mis-match. England are far more settled batting unit, AUS are completely opposite having struggled with their batting in past 2 years.

    Bowling: Again England have an edge because they have ended up on winning ends and are more consistent that Ausies.

    On field: Fielding could be neck to neck but use of DRS again gives edge to England.

  • John on September 25, 2013, 2:17 GMT

    Similar strengths? In 2010/11, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell and prior averaged over 50 and they're all back this time. Only Mike Hussey averaged over 50 for Australia, and he's retired. I suppose in some alternate universe the thirty-odd Aus centuries, 2/3rds of the by Clarke, might equal the 80-odd England centuries, but not in this one.

    Other than that, it's a good article, although I might suggest that Aus would be far less able to cover injuries to Harris and Siddle than England would to Anderson and Broad. With Starc already out, the remaining Aus bowlers don't have much going for them.

    Still, I'm expecting a good battle- better than 2010/11, anyway.

  • Dummy4 on September 25, 2013, 1:30 GMT

    their is nothing even about this side except mayb the fielding. England are way ahead of Australia in batting and bowling. England have Cook, Trott , Pietersen and Bell all of whom have produced match & series winning performances with the bat on numerous occasions as well as played key rescue/ recovery roles from bad positions. Other than Clarke Australia has nobody really. If his back goes that almost it really. Then the bowling Only Siddle & Johnson are not injury prone in the Aussie attack While apart from Tremlett & Bresnan 'who r not really 1st choice' All the England quicks are pretty solid Swann is also a far better spinner than any the Aussies have in their armory & Prior is a better wicketkeeper batsman than Haddin / Wade by some distance.

  • David on September 24, 2013, 20:16 GMT

    Fair-minded article. England are a good team who are beginning to age and creak a little. The Ashes may well change hands this winter, and then perhaps the Australia supporters and players will actually have something to crow about in the media. Which will be a welcome change. From the way they carry on at the moment, you'd think it was them who'd won the last 2 Ashes 3-0 and 3-1.

  • Fahad on September 24, 2013, 16:35 GMT

    Good atricle, though please pleas exclude hafeez as a test player. Dont disrespect poor old watson by comparing him to hafeez.

  • Robert on September 24, 2013, 15:08 GMT

    England have the greater mental strength, that has been plain to see during the recent Ashes series, and in 2009 when we won the big moments. Probably not the case in 2010/11 when England just steamrollered Australia.

  • xxxxx on September 24, 2013, 11:18 GMT

    One of the keys to success in international cricket is to play your natural game and to your strengths as much as possible. Historically and for these current sides this means for Aus it is to attack and for England it is the "methodical and relentless" approach. Both approaches are equally valid and have worked in their distinct ways for both teams over the decades.

    Another key to success is to bring pressure on the opposition to play out of their comfort zone which is what Lehmann is attempting to do with his comments - something the author has either missed or, perhaps, failed to acknowledge in this article.

  • Dummy4 on September 24, 2013, 10:52 GMT

    I really do think there is a bit of wishful thinking about the Australian batting in this piece. It has repeatedly failed when put under pressure for some time now, whilst the English team just won 3-0 at home when at least 4 of the top order were in horrific form.

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