England have the fast bowlers to win in Australia. Do they have the captaincy?
Archer, Wood, Stone, Stokes and Co make for a formidable line-up, but Joe Root doesn't quite have the leadership skills to match
England face a couple of tough Test challenges this home summer. First up is a tilt against New Zealand, the No. 2-ranked side, followed by five matches against the top team, India.
Though these two opponents present an enormous challenge, it is the Ashes series in Australia later in the year that is generating much discussion in the England camp.
There's no doubt England are a good side - they are currently ranked No. 3 - but do they have the right combination to win in Australia?
In preparing a blueprint for success on bouncier Australian pitches, England only have to look at India's last two successful tours to find a common denominator: penetrative pace bowling.
If they require further confirmation of how best to achieve success, perusing their own team's past history should suffice. There are three England series in Australia that stand out; the Bodyline tour of 1932-33, and the wins in 1954-55 and 1970-71. Those three tours all featured great England fast bowling and some imaginative captaincy. In 1932-33, England's enforcer was the "Notts Express", Harold Larwood, who took 33 wickets at 19.51, and ably assisted by Bill Voce and Gubby Allen, curtailed Don Bradman's rampant run-scoring. Douglas Jardine's tactics in employing a packed on-side field created controversy but he was a shrewd and ruthless captain. He acknowledged the need for good fast bowling and the necessity to curb Bradman's effectiveness. The series result was a validation of his tactics, even if their application did nearly split the empire apart. In 1954-55, Frank "Typhoon" Tyson was the enforcer and he was the difference in the series. Tyson took 28 wickets at 20.82 and had capable allies in Brian Statham and Trevor Bailey. England were successfully led by the obdurate Yorkshireman Len Hutton, who slowed the over rate down in order to play on the patience of the Australian batsmen and give Tyson a breather before unleashing another onslaught. In 1970-71, John Snow made the difference with 31 wickets at 22.83. His back-up in the fast-bowling department were Peter Lever and Bob Willis. Canny Yorkshireman Ray Illingworth also shrewdly employed the economical spin bowling of "Deadly" Derek Underwood as well as himself to control proceedings until Snow was ready for another accurate spell of pace bowling.
There's a pattern to those successful campaigns that should give England cause for optimism; good fast bowling and two Yorkshire captains.
In Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Ollie Stone, England possess a strong pace trio if they are fit. Jimmy Anderson will be invaluable in the day-night Test and will provide testing spells on other occasions. Stuart Broad is insurance in case of injury or fatigue. Add the dual skills of allrounder Ben Stokes and it means England have selection flexibility. They will carry a large squad to cope with bubble requirements, so other pace options will be available. India's last tour of Australia showed the immense value of having ample and capable back-up pace bowling.
England possess a potential series-winning group of fast bowlers. It is the top-order batting and Joe Root's captaincy that should be cause for concern.
The opening combination of Dominic Sibley and Rory Burns is both ungainly and unconvincing. Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood should rejoice if both names appear in the top slots on the team sheet at the Gabba. Given the skill of Australia's pace trio, poor starts could be a death sentence for England.
Root's captaincy often lacks imagination and reason. His tendency to have long discussions with senior players is reminiscent of Alastair Cook at his worst. There's a difference between a captain who consults and one who is uncertain; dithering is a bad look for a captain. There are times in Australia when a captain has to be imaginative in order to force the issue and this is not one of Root's strengths.
England definitely have the pace options to repeat the successes of 1932-33, 1954-55 and 1970-71. However, they won't win if the fast bowlers aren't complemented by strong leadership and sufficient runs.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist