The Ashes 2013-14 October 23, 2013

England top order must revive old habits


Alastair Cook has put the onus on England's top order to lay the foundations for another Ashes success, well aware they are unlikely to be able to afford the same stuttering batting displays which characterised the home series.

England did not reach 400 once during the previous series with their highest total being the 377 they made at The Oval. Australia, by comparison, went comfortably past that mark twice but the counter to that is they suffered more match-defining collapses. However, while it may appear quibbling after a 3-0 scoreline, Australia is not a place so forgiving of underweighted batting displays.

In 2010-11, England began with a disappointing 260 at the Gabba and were under immense pressure when Australia replied with 481, but then went on a run-scoring surge which was only interrupted by the Mitchell Johnson-inspired reversal at the WACA. A world record 517 for 1 to save the Brisbane Test was followed by first-innings totals of 620 for 5, 513 and 644 in the three matches England won by an innings to take the series 3-1.

"Clearly top-order runs out in Australia are vitally important," Cook said at Heathrow airport ahead of the team's departure. "Last time we saw that big runs make a massive difference and set the game up. Sometimes in England 240-250 can be a good score with the overhead conditions, but the majority of the time in Australia 400 is the bare minimum. That's the job of the top order to make sure we do that."

Cook was central to England's run glut three years ago with a monumental 766 in the series followed by 544 from Jonathan Trott at No. 3. In the recent home series the pair managed 570 runs between them without a century; Cook's reduced output could be partly put down to the strains of captaining in an Ashes series, but Trott had his technique unpicked by Australia's quicks and his response to that will be one of the early themes of the return contest.

"You'd love to score runs every time you bat. I could have done better, a lot better," Cook said. "As captain you want to lead from the front. I did quite a lot of the hard work and if you don't go onto make big scores as an opener there's always a few low ones around the corner against the new ball."

"I had a good time last time in Australia. It would be great to repeat some of those feats. I enjoy batting in those conditions, the ball can be flying past your ears quite a lot, it is a real test of the skill you need to play fast bowling. We are going to get plenty of that over the next two months. The first 15-20 overs with the Kookaburra ball can swing more than the Dukes, but get through that stage, in the afternoon sessions, it's fantastic to bat."

Despite the concerns about the top three - Joe Root, despite his 180 at Lord's, also found life tough (which is not a sin) in his first stint as a Test opener - England depart for Perth as favourites to make it consecutive away Ashes victories and four in a row, the latter not achieved since the 1890s. England have not always been at their best when billed as frontrunners but Cook believes his side, who spent last weekend in the Midlands for a team bonding trip that he termed "interesting", are comfortable with the tag.

"When you win the last three series, and the last series was just two months ago, that's a fair description," he said. "Last summer was the first time we'd gone into an Ashes series as favourites and I thought we coped with that pretty well, the outcome suggested we did.

"If you look how many sides go to Australia, winning there is no mean feat. Speaking to the lads over the last weekend, everyone is excited by the opportunity we have. As an Englishmen you know it will be like. It will be quite hostile at times."

Andrew McGlashan is as senior assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mark on October 26, 2013, 8:06 GMT

    Looking at the weather to date I think the Pitches this year will be fiery, England will be Lucky to score 300, As Australian Bowling stocks Are pretty even down to about 10 back up bowlers in Australia Which is a vast difference to the last time England tour Aus Where Aus would have had 3-4 class Bowlers. . Look at the leading wicket taker for Last season in Aus he would be rated about 6 in the pecking order, As for Finns Pace there are about 6 bowlers in Aus bowling that equal or Better his speed. The big difference they know the pitches, As for Batting Aus will have a team that Can score 350 - 400 each time. England is 1-2 bowlers short of Disaster. And remember Hot 35 to 40 degree days will tax their Older bowlers more than the Aussie's

  • Martin on October 26, 2013, 7:02 GMT

    Hi guys. Yep - it's all warming up! @landl47 I see that you are in fine from once again - just like last time! Pitches here ARE going to be bouncy and fast. It has been a dry and mild winter in Sydney and bush fire season has started unusually early. More than ever I'm backing England to win this. Aus will puff their chests out like they always do - but it won't be enough. Aus are weaker now than they were in 2010/11 and they were pretty weak then. England are not as strong as they were in 2010/11 either - but even if our batting only half fires (as in England in this year) it will still be too much for Australia. England's bowling is better than Australia's and it's bowling that wins Test matches.

  • John on October 25, 2013, 8:03 GMT

    @ShutTheGate on (October 24, 2013, 22:17 GMT) Bell's a strange one. Technically - when he's on top of his game - he is superb , but there are times when he has looked mentally weak. For me he's a player who goes through purple patches and when he's in a purple patch you wonder how he struggled in other series and when he's in a slump you wonder how he ever looked so brilliant when he was going through a purple patch. I don't think it's a case of him doing well/struggling on certain pitches. He was awful on slower pitches early in 2012 and has done well against pacemen on pacier pitches. It really just depends on which version turns up

  • Nathan on October 24, 2013, 22:17 GMT

    @JG2704 - Youre right I haven't been following Bell's career from 2011 until pre ashes.

    Watching the last ashes I thought that the slower pitches suited Bell and wondered how he would fair with more pace, bounce and seam. Mentally he's still strong and focused but I'm really looking forward to seeing the contest between Bell and our quicks down here. Should be great viewing.

    I'm going to go ahead and make a claim. I think Watson will be the form batter of the ashes, he'll play to his potential and score a few tons.

  • Vinod on October 24, 2013, 19:12 GMT

    There we go..ASHES countdown begins..!! Less than a month left for the last complete test series.This could very well be my last test match series as far as viewing is concerned. We will be privileged to see the legends KP and Clarke playing their 100th test resp. alongside Cook.I would say this invincible ENG side are all set to create a record of winning 4 ashes test series after 1900. I would like ENG to shut all the mouth's who were saying like AUS should have won irregardless of lacking knockout punch during crucial junctures.You all can see the difference between 2 sides. ENG are set to play warm up test matches and AUS are playing meaningless ODI's. Their lies the difference in Mindset and preparation. I sincerely want ECB to take the decision of touring PAK(Dubai) and SA in 2014 to complete their dominance in World Cricket. I predict KP and Trott pummel them throughout this ASHES. In one liner "AUS weakest ever side versus ENG strongest ever side with BALANCE in ENG squad too"

  • John on October 24, 2013, 17:39 GMT

    @ ScottStevo on (October 24, 2013, 10:09 GMT) You are right in that the top order have not been doing what they did a few years ago but another way of looking at it is that the results are still good and the lower middle order have at times put on pivotal partnerships - which is something that was not happening before this year - so you could ask what will happen when the top order find their form again. So many imponderables - I genuinely think it's a series which should be close but it would not overly surprise me if either side wins 3-0

  • John on October 24, 2013, 17:27 GMT

    @landl47 on (October 24, 2013, 12:19 GMT) To be honest stating the 5-2-0 record is enough. If we start doing the could have/would have thing then there would pretty certainly have been a 1 in the 3rd column and you'd have to say Aus were on top of the other drawn test , before rain intervention/declarations etc

  • Jackie on October 24, 2013, 17:14 GMT

    What is missing in this analysis is pressure in Ashes Tests. Who stands up to pressure better? Well Cook who was Ashes captain for the first time didn't do that well. He isn't a natural captain and stress took its toll on his batting. Joe Root certainly didn't cope with pressure apart from one big innings and neither did Bairstow. Trott out of form was targeted.That left KP and Bell, old Ashes hands by now. KP isn't that affected by pressure and Bell has proved very adept at rescuing England in the last few years. If he's asked to stick in he will. Batting in Australia requires different skills but Cook, Trott, KP and Bell all batted well last time round. It doesn't need everyone to fire each time but it needs three/four out of the six. Given that Root and Bairstow are suspect that is a lot of work for 1,3,4,and 5. We carried one such batsman last time because Colly was fading. To carry two is going to weaken the batting. That should have been sorted by now.

  • Scott on October 24, 2013, 15:32 GMT

    @landl47, apologies if I wasn't clear enough in stating I was discussing the batting line up that wasn't doing too well - even thoguh that's exactly the point I was making when replying to a comment made referring to the top order failing - or is the whole team in the top order now? Based on 4 shoddy innings you would say that deck was a 200 and a bit deck? Hardly. Just because one team batted very poorly and the other team even more so doesn't mean the wicket wasn't better than 200 runs. And how do you exactly is mentioning something along the lines of 5+ series is a too narrow for you? Pfft, almost certainly wouldn't have come close to the last test had it not rained, and were more likely going to lose other than an extremely sporting declaration from Clarke made something of the match. Rose tinted view, my friend.

  • sam on October 24, 2013, 15:03 GMT

    Yep the good 'old habits' of Eng not that long ago. To be fair they had 1 of the greatest of all teams - the mighty Aus to deal with. But this Ashes, Aus would like to return Eng to the said 'old habits' ,and they don't have to look too far back for the last of them.Yes, famous 5-0 W/Wash by the -still mighty- Aus that glorious ed of year that also marked the end of an era in cricket history with the end of a few legendary careers. Aus will be delighted with something like that ,but it is going to be much tougher task. Although with their pace stocks, home pitches and Clarke they have a great chance for creating their own history with win back of the Ashes. 5/0 or not .