For the next few of weeks England can rightly bask in the glory of a third consecutive Ashes win. But we all know the job’s only half done. With just 85 days separating the final day at The Oval and the first day at Brisbane, this was always going to be a 10-Test double-header rather than two distinct series. We take a look at some of the crucial questions that England need to answer as they prepare for their winter down under.
Can They Handle The Aussie Backlash?
Last time out, in 2010/11, you couldn’t say there was an overflow of punters shouting for England. It was still a novelty to think about them winning it at all, let alone winning it in Australia. But now the game has changed. Not this time will Australia be hording a gaggle of fading legends by sheer force of will; four years on from that Melbourne humbling, their new breed – raw, fresh, perpetually unproven – are fighting not just for their lives, but for the self-respect of an entire cricketing nation.
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Australian cricket, so they say, is in crisis. And as if to prove it, ageing beasts lock horns over everything from Argus Reviews and first-class structures to backyard cricket and grassroots neglect. That’s the media narrative; just as Stuart Broad being a blatant cheat is a media narrative perpetuated by Darren Lehmann’s late-night call to idiocy.
If anything, Boof’s comical stab at trash talk showed us just how riled they are. Australia, he said, had been calling Broad “everything under the sun” since Trent Bridge, and he urged the public to do the same “right from the word go” when England arrive down under.
Okay, so urging his public to barrack Broad so hard that he cries and goes home may have been the work of a desperate man, but it also demonstrated just how anxious Australian cricket is right now. They’re terrified: of humiliation, of losing four in a row, of never coming back; and in turn, the crowds will feed off that anxiety. The atmosphere on tour last time was “fairly good-natured” according to Andy Flower. It won’t be this time. A cricketing powerhouse feels under threat for the first time in a generation and Lehmann’s “incitement”, admixed with a burning sense of injustice shot through with fearful indignation, could well turn this tour grippingly ugly.
Who Do They Take As Back-Up Spinner?
A month or so ago this wouldn’t have warranted a mention, with Monty Panesar firmly established as deputy twirler to Graeme Swann. But, as you may have heard, Monty’s been having a tough time of it of late and there are serious question marks whether he’s in the right frame of mind to spend a couple of months down under.
It’s a tough call for England. To abandon a troubled soul when times are hard would seem callous. But is picking Monty going to be beneficial to either him or the team, particularly when his primary role is likely to be drinks carrier?
Then there’s Simon Kerrigan [pictured below]. Monty’s indiscretion unexpectedly opened the door for the Lancs spinner at The Oval but on the big occasion he froze and sent down eight wayward overs for 53 runs. It was painful to watch but with 55 first-class wickets in 2013 – to add to 50 in 2012 – the left-armer is currently county cricket’s most prolific spinner by some distance and the England set-up aren’t so fickle as to write him off after one bad day.
It does present a conundrum though. England won’t play two spinners in Australia so if Kerrigan was to get a game he’d be on his own and, based on the 24-year-old’s nervy debut, there have to be doubts about how he’d cope in front of a partisan Aussie crowd on a track likely to offer little assistance to the spinners.
All of which brings James Tredwell into the equation. With 13 Championship wickets at 56 in Division Two of the Championship, the Kent offie is hardly banging down the door. But as an integral member of England’s limited-overs set-up they know what they’re getting from him. If Swann goes down injured on the morning of a Test then Tredwell would be the more risk-free option and that could swing it in his favour, with Kerrigan left to develop his game and get some much needed practice with the Performance Squad.
What Happens If Bresnan Isn’t Fit?
Tim Bresnan is a major part of England’s plan due in no small part to the fact that he is so adept at bowling to a plan. Recalled for the second Test at Lord’s, it quickly became clear that the third seamer slot was his to lose. Of his deliveries at Lord’s, 71.9 per cent were hit to the off side and 81.9 per cent were dot balls. He’s a bowler that a captain can set a field for and in a side which places such importance on meticulous preparation, that’s worth its weight in gold.
In many ways Bresnan embodies the current England set-up. Words like ‘wholehearted’, ‘reliable’ and ‘metronomic’ are often used to subtly denigrate him. They shouldn’t be – they are major strengths in his armoury, and that isn’t a backhanded compliment.
But Bresnan’s involvement has been thrown into doubt since he suffered a stress fracture to his lower back. England will be doing everything they can to make sure he’s fit for Brisbane but if he’s not, then who replaces him? Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett are the front-runners, with Graham Onions and Chris Woakes next in the pecking order.
Finn and Tremlett are both formidable fast bowlers who took 31 wickets between them last time round in Australia. There’s no cause for panic. But neither of them is known for their ability to bowl long, miserly spells, cranking up the pressure, as Bresnan does, and frustrating the opposition into playing loose shots. Finn and Tremlett would be fitting replacements for Stuart Broad, while Onions could fill a similar role to that of James Anderson, but who’s the like-for-like cover for Bresnan?
It’s been suggested that the selection of Woakes at The Oval was an indication that Bresnan’s injury is more serious than first feared; that England wanted to take a look at the 24-year-old allrounder in case he was needed to fill in at No.8 in Australia. But while Woakes would offer more than capable cover with the bat, on debut his bowling looked some way short of the consistency and penetration required from their third seamer.
If Bresnan is ruled out then England will be a different force with the ball – not necessarily a weaker force, but certainly different – and Alastair Cook will find it harder to build sustained pressure. England’s stable of pacemen is well stocked but Cook will be desperate for Bresnan to be on that plane.
To read our analysis of who should bat at No.6 for England and the AOC editorial team’s Ashes squads, pick up a copy of the latest issue of All Out Cricket magazine.