Injuries could decide the Ashes
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