Authors: Rio Sports
Chris Rogers chose “weaknesses”, Ryan Harris went for “vulnerable”, and Trevor Bayliss spoke of “concerns”. None of these are words a touring team want said about their batting at the best of times, let alone when they are entering Queensland 11 days from a Test at the Gabbatoir, where, of course, Australia have not lost for 29 years.
For England, however, such words are indisputable – they have problems with their batting from top to bottom. Alastair Cook is beyond rusty; three of the top five have played fewer than seven Tests; their engine room of all-rounders is missing its spearhead, Ben Stokes, while Moeen Ali is yet to play a game on tour; Stokes’s absence also compromises their depth (which has bailed them out so often in recent years) and exposes the elongated tail, which faces the prospect of the Big Bad Wolf Mitchell Starc, who blows them away with relish; they collapse at both ends – in the first innings in Adelaide they lost their last five for 22, and in the second the first seven went for 45; they are yet to score a century on tour.
Let’s open up by opening up. Cook, says Bayliss, “would be the first to admit that he always looks a bit rusty”. He has 47 runs in three innings, and looks exceptionally scratchy. “It’s a concern for any individual batter I suppose at different times through their career, but with Cook having played almost 150 Tests, I’m sure he’s been through this before.”
Pleasingly for Bayliss, Cook’s callower colleagues have spent time in the middle but, more irksomely, are making a habit of giving away starts. “The No1 thing for us is that 60s are not enough. We need 160s,” he said, with a nudge for Mark Stoneman (three half-centuries), James Vince (an 82 and two starts) and Dawid Malan (two fifties), adding that he hoped the intensity of the competition in Brisbane would “really kick the batters into gear”.
The long, lush outfield in Adelaide – grown out for an International Rules football match at the ground on Sunday (Australia beat Ireland) – did not help, Bayliss believes: “Seeing the ball racing away on a shorter outfield gives you confidence, and we weren’t afforded that.” He hopes that a flat pitch in Townsville, which is said to ape that of the Gabba, will help his batsmen break their century duck. They know not what lies in store in Townsville – England have not been here for 55 years. Then, the tour manager, Bernard, the Duke of Norfolk, had to fly home to prepare Winston Churchill’s funeral, although the former prime minister did not die until January 1965.
Stoneman and Malan have looked accomplished, but the number of ways Australia can prey on Vince is a worry. Rogers, who coached England’s opposition’s batsmen last week, believes that how such players fare compared to their Australian counterparts, like Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb, will decide the series, as the likes of Steve Smith and Joe Root might cancel each other out. The three Englishmen “have definitely got weaknesses in their games,” said Rogers, adding: “If you asked all the England players how the Australians will bowl at them, they know. It’s not going to be a surprise out there. It’s just how they deal with those tactics.”
Of Vince, Rogers said: “He’s exceptionally talented, but can be frustrating with his modes of dismissal. Watching this game, he’s one of the better players of pace England have. Is he going to get that big hundred or those 30s or 40s? Only he can answer that. No doubt he has the skill, but does he have the mental ability to be a big player in this series? No3 is a big position, because it allows Root to come in later. That’s key for both sides. How late can Smith and Root come in? Because if they are facing the new ball that could be a big difference.”
Further down, with Jake Ball out of action for a week or so, Craig Overton – who is bowling very nicely – looks likely to make his debut at Brisbane and, although he got a pair in Adelaide, Rogers believes his batting (he has a first-class century and a 99, although his top score this summer was 44 not out) should be taken into account, because with Starc circling, England cannot afford a diplodocus’s tail.
“He can hold a bat,” said Rogers of a player he has captained and coached at Somerset. “That might be a worry for England if Ball is fit and they do pick him, it would be Ball, Broad and Anderson and you’d worry it would be seven out, all out. They might think about that. He [Overton] can hold a bat, but whether he can hold a bat against Mitchell Starc reverse-swinging yorkers, I don’t know.”
All of which paints the picture of an order that, as Rogers says, “is hardly blazing”. The collapses are perhaps most grating of all for Bayliss, because they are a zit England just cannot pop. “It’s been a concern for a little while,” he says. “We have games where we lose wickets like that, and it is a concern. We have a reasonably inexperienced lineup when it comes to international cricket but they are learning all the time. It’s not for want of trying. They realise they have got to do better and they are working hard to do that.”
Time, they all know, is very much of the essence.
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