England has already taken a positive step for the Ashes down under by declaring their squad even when Ponting and company are still feeling the blow of the Indian Series. To begin with, let us break down the English team down into various departments and understand how they will fare this Ashes.
This first analysis will take on the English batting.
Figure 1: English batsmen against Teams and Overall Standards (TS, OS)
Having a Team Standard (TS) average of 43 for the whole batting line-up looks positive compared to Overall Standard (OS) of 35 (Overall Standard – Standard of average since the most experienced player in the team debuted). In fact having 8 of the 9 selected to tour above the OS should help Strauss manage the batting department better.
However, the OS when seen in the light of specific individual analysis shows some hiccups.
Pietersen may show that he excels both on TS and OS but his recent form and situation raises a few worries, at least for Strauss. His average in last 10 matches (includes innings against Pakistan, South Africa and Aussies) is mere 26, well below both the standards stated above. The media hype around him which strongly points at Pietersen being a star already on a fall, could be a reason he could be benched by Strauss. Although it can also be a reason the batsman delivers when given a chance.
Morgan has been a cool element who has clearly given the edge that English needed in limited formats of the game. Clearly someone Strauss would spend his time pondering about as justifying an upcoming talent in such a crucial series is always difficult.
Bresnan may seem positive but clearly lacks the depth of experience. If Bangladesh is not included in the list, Bresnan’s selection in the team can easily be termed as a brave gamble or awful selection depending on the series’ result. His bowling may look handy, but it makes one wonder if England lack depth in domestic circuit to find a better person to fill shoes of an all-rounder which once starred players like Botham and Flintoff.
Trott, the best amongst the lot as it seems, is another rather inexperienced hand in the series. Even when one excludes performance against Bangladesh, Trott manages a healthy 43 which is at par with TS and above OS. He clearly should be captain’s pick amongst the concerns stated above. Easy one, this for Strauss.
The batting line-up therefore for Strauss so far looks like this:
- Strauss (Captain)
- (Morgan/Bell/Bresnan in that order)
- Prior (Wicket-keeper) / (Davies-debut)
Bresnan, Morgan, Bell and Pietersen fight for the two places although Strauss might go for Pietersen at 4 and Morgan/Bell at 6. Strauss, along with selectors, has cushioned himself with a wild card for this situation.
Davies finds himself in the touring list for a potential debut. A former under-19 captain, batting mainstay at Worcestershire and a keeper at duty, Davies is one of the promising talents of English future. As of now, however, he doesn’t exactly fight the three above, but one may not be surprised if Strauss decides to play him as specialist batsman under pressure. Davies’s debut, in a way, depends on Australia’s efficiency, something Strauss would not want for himself.
Experience against Aussies:
Collingwood, Strauss, Cook, Bell, Pietersen are the players how have had some Aussie experience behind them.
Collingwood might find solace in the fact that he averages 44 against Aussies on their turf. But that is a story from relative past and Collingwood will need to shoulder some serious accountability here. Also his drift in performance in last three matches of Ashes in general (averaging 13) should be a grave worry for Strauss.
Strauss has been one of the consistent performers against Aussies over years now. Although he has shown weak nerves in first match of Ashes generally (averaging 18), he fails to show any other weakness against Aussies. Not many worries about his own batting, but with captaincy pressure down-under, Strauss will need to maintain a cool head.
Cook may have a healthy batting record but when it comes to Aussies, Cook seems to shake a bit. An average of 26 against them should be a serious concern for Strauss. He will need to mentor Cook throughout the series if they want a steady opening partnership this Ashes.
Bell has had a similar case history as Cook and will need to raise his standards if English batting line-up wants to see a healthy middle-order. Perhaps that’s the reason why he will fight for the berth with Morgan here.
Pietersen is Strauss’s biggest worry but not for no reason. His super efficiency against Aussies can be a serious strength that Strauss wishes to give his middle-order. Only time will decide if Pietersen can do justice to himself, Ashes and Struass’s belief if he is given an opportunity.
Although not faced Aussies down under, Prior has shown that he could be the support good enough for the lower order against them. However this is another reason why Davies is in the team line-up probably. We might just see a future English keeper debut this Ashes. Much depends on if England can start the series with aggression and success.
The line-up that Strauss and selectors have taken for the Ashes tour is capable enough but is not the greatest they can have. Three main-stays are required for any batting line-up to look formidable. Right now England seems to have only one sorted out - Strauss. England will hope that Pietersen and either Morgan or Collingwood get it right. But hope isn’t good enough for Ashes.