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

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