India and England have impressive depth, Australia not so much
In pandemic-era cricket, teams with a large pool of players have a huge advantage over those who don't
It has become abundantly clear during this pandemic-ravaged era that one of the prized ingredients in a cricket squad is depth. Ideally it should be both in batting and bowling.
Even the home team squads are now larger in case concussion substitutes are required or for when players test positive. Touring parties are far larger to accommodate both replacements and pre-series inter-squad matches. This situation favours the wealthier countries and those with a robust development system.
India displayed their ample depth - particularly in quick bowling - in defeating Australia on their recent tour. In making six changes from the first to second Test and still defeating England comfortably at Edgbaston, New Zealand surprised with their talent too. England have displayed both depth and flexibility by comprehensively blanking Pakistan in their three-match ODI series. Their prospects for the Ashes in Australia were also boosted by the skilful showing of both Saqib Mahmood and Brydon Carse, two bowlers whose pace should be an asset on bouncy pitches.
History has shown that strength in fast bowling is a requirement for success in Australia, and England are building up an impressive group. However, good pace bowling alone isn't a guarantee of victory in Australia. The bowlers need good catching support and sufficient runs to provide a decent margin for error. It is the latter that should most concern England.
On that score, though, the forced selection of a whole new squad for the Pakistan series may turn out to be a blessing. I'm not convinced that Rory Burns and Dom Sibley, with their dubious techniques and quirky habits, will have much success against a thoroughbred Australian pace attack. Consequently, the reminders served by Dawid Malan and James Vince against a quality Pakistan pace attack should be sufficient for them to be included in an extended Ashes squad. On the last tour of Australia, Malan and Vince performed well at the Gabba and the WACA, showing they were comfortable coping with the extra bounce.
Some might dispute that assessment of Vince, but his sublime half-century at the WACA was terminated by an unplayable shooter, and he was well on his way to a century in Brisbane until he was run out by a direct hit. If either of those innings had turned into something substantial, he might by now have well been an established member of the Test side. There's no doubt he has the talent to be a very good Test batter. The only query is whether the mental side of his game can match it. Those reservations aside, there should be a place for both players in an extended Covid-era touring party.
The other bonus England may gain from having to unveil a second team was legspinner Matt Parkinson. He is a big improver and his style of bowling can be useful in Australia. His ability to flight the ball and his typical "confident Northerner" temperament could make him a valuable Ashes asset. The one major team whose recent performances haven't implied substantial depth are Australia. Batting is the main area of concern and the batters haven't flourished in the Caribbean, with only Mitchell Marsh making his mark. But Marsh is unlikely to replace Cameron Green as the Test allrounder batting at six.
Once again the Australian batting was shown to be fragile when David Warner and Steve Smith are missing. A glance at the Sheffield Shield batting performances for the last couple of seasons doesn't inspire much confidence that the new wave of stars is on the horizon.
When it comes to batting talent, India are best placed of all the teams. Their development system, which produces players with "traditional techniques" and provides ample opportunities at first-class level, is one to be envied.
Mind you, the extent of India's reserves will be fully tested on the England tour as they have already had to react to isolation requirements and they haven't even played a warm-up game. Just another example of why modern cricket teams consider depth king.
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist