Ashes Preview: The Battle of the Batsmen
It’s no surprise that all the talk leading up to the 2019 Ashes has been about the batting. Both teams will look pretty fragile whoever makes the starting line-up, and neither has had the greatest of preparations.
When Jason Roy walked out at Lords last week against Ireland, he became the 13th top order batsman to make his debut since the start of the 2015 Ashes. England’s top 4 for the first test then consisted of Cook, Lyth, Ballance and Bell and guess what? They were still 40-3. Joe Root, batting at 5, scored 134 – one feels like it may be down to him to do something similar this time around.
Although Roy scored 72 in that game, a red Duke’s ball nipping around at 90mph is the ultimate test for any batsman. If he gets in and he gains confidence then we could see fireworks. On the other hand is Rory Burns. His unusual technique and current form means that he’s going into cricket’s biggest series under monumental pressure. Root has confirmed he will bat at 3 and Joe Denly will bat at 4 for the first test. This has to be the right way to go. James Vince must feel unlucky to be missing out: he could have easily batted at 2, 3 or 4.
England’s strength is their middle order. The likes of Stokes, Buttler, Bairstow, Moeen and Woakes is impressive but these elite batsmen will not want to be coming in at 50-4 every game. This is the opposite to Australia. Their middle-order is arguably the weakest it has ever looked. The days with Hussey at 5 and Haddin at 7 are long gone. Tim Paine will need a good start to the series if he doesn’t want to lose his place and the captaincy. Presumably Matthew Wade will play as a batsman, and he’s someone who can be very destructive, but a green seamer under cloudy skies is a different proposition to a flat track at Perth. Personally, I would have picked Alex Carey at 5. He looked like Australia’s best batsman in the World Cup with what looked like the perfect temperament for test cricket.
With David Warner and Steve Smith at the top of the order you always have a chance. However, this is their first taste of test cricket since their bans and a packed out Edgbaston crowd will be far from forgiving. This, plus the added pressure of needing to score big in every match, will really test their mental discipline.
Will we see anyone match Alastair Cook’s 766 runs in an Ashes series? We can always dream, but I think England will be happy if 4 or 5 of them score 350. In what looks like a potentially low-scoring series, runs from the lower order could decide which side ends the summer on top.