Sports

Ignore the posturing, the Ashes really starts in a week’s time

Much has been made about the preparation England and Australia have undertaken for the upcoming Ashes series, but the reality is this is rubbish.

England pundits claim they have an advantage because they’ve played 18 Tests over the past couple of years and have forged a squad capable of winning in Australia.

The reality is their batsmen, apart from Joe Root, have made little progress in terms of their development, they’ve lost fast bowlers critical to their plans through injury and they have no settled spinner.

Australia, on the other hand, have not played any Tests since that series against India. Once again, many point out this is a negative in terms of preparation.

But with a settled side, bar two or three positions, I question whether more Test cricket was required, especially given the quarantine conditions that forced Ben Stokes to take a sabbatical from the game.

So both teams need to ignore all the posturing that’s taken place until now and concentrate on getting themselves 100 per cent ready for the first Test, which begins in less than five weeks.

England are aiming to have two intra-squad matches before the first Test and there’s no doubt all of their likely Ashes batsmen will benefit.

For all the Tests they’ve played under Chris Silverwood, none have been on wickets remotely like Australian pitches – maybe with the exception of the South African series, but that was soon after the Ashes in 2019.

Most of the Test squad haven’t played red-ball cricket since early September, so again, they’ll welcome the chance to get some solid centre-wicket practice.

Bear in mind too, these practice matches will be the only games England will play before the first Test.

Ben Stokes celebrates winning the third Ashes Test

Ben Stokes (Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

Sure, everyone will focus on Ben Stokes’ return, but the Australian brains trust should be more concerned about how Haseeb Hameed, Rory Burns and Dawid Malan look.

They in turn will want to adapt their techniques to the higher bounce and less pronounced ball movement.

In the other camp, talk about an Australian possibles/probables game emerged. This was a critical element in Australia’s Ashes defence in 2019, so it makes sense to try the same approach again, especially given the disrupted year Australian cricket has faced.

I want to talk about those players who would benefit the most from this match the most and what I think needs to happen if this game takes place.

Tim Paine, the skipper, needs to first of all prove he’s fully fit and that means keeping wicket for as long as possible, both to the quicks and to the spinner.

Tim Paine

Tim Paine (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

I also think he needs to get his captaincy head back in the game. It’s been a while since he actually had to make any on-field decisions and it would be good to make sure he’s sharp for the first Test.

On this forum alone, there are many who are questioning whether David Warner should be in the team, given his average run in the T20 World Cup.

He needs to take the pressure off himself by playing against the Australian attack and playing at least one long innings, i.e. more than an hour.

I also want to see the right-arm bowlers going around the wicket and really testing him out, just as Stuart Broad and co will do.

I’m sure the GOAT Nathan Lyon would be the first to admit he had a poor series against India and again, there are more than a few people asking whether he is still a force in the attack.

He needs to bowl a lot of overs with Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc, to get back in the groove he enjoyed a couple of summers ago.

Nathan Lyon

(Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

He’s a much better bowler when working in tandem with all of these guys. A large part of the reason why he’s not been at his best is because he’s not had them at the other end.

Marcus Harris, Bryce Street, Usman Khawaja or even Joe Burns – I have no clue which way the selectors will go with the other opener, but they need to see how candidates can bat with Dave Warner.

I’m a strong believer in batting partnerships, so selectors need to see Warner bat with the guy they think will likely open in the first Test.

I don’t think it matters too much how many runs are scored, but they must look comfortable at the crease and at ease batting together.

All other players will benefit from a hit out, but not necessarily in this type of match.

Steve Smith, for example, could simply play a Shield game to get his mind back on red-ball batting.

Others like Travis Head, Cameron Green and Marnus Labuschagne have already shown selectors enough to make a call on their positions, so selectors would not expect to gain a lot more insights from their participation.

As I said earlier, both squads need to forget about what’s gone on since they last met in an Ashes series and focus on getting everything exactly right for the game at the Gabba.

The team that wins that Test will gain an enormous advantage leading into the Adelaide and Melbourne games, so the lead-up matches these squads will play could well determine the outcome of the series.



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