As the first Test of the Ashes 2017-18 gets underway at Gabba on November 23rd, England will go in with a plethora of problems with their squad as well as issues off-field. Here are some of the factors that can potentially crush England in this year’s Ashes Down Under.
Since Andrew Strauss hung his boots in 2012, England have been looking for a batsman to partner Alastair Cook at the top. Mark Stoneman, who made his debut against West Indies this summer, is the 12th man to partner Cook since Strauss retired. A combination of bad performances from the players and inconsistent selection policies has led to the dilemma where England stands today. Although Stoneman only averages 30 in his short Test career that spans only three matches, he has done well in the warm-up matches against Western Australia and Cricket Australia XI. But the coming Thursday will tell whether he is good enough to go a long way in Tests.
England’s current middle-order consists of Joe Root, Dawid Malan, James Vince, Gary Ballance and Jonny Bairstow. While the skipper Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow have become important fixtures in the middle, the inexperienced combo of Malan, Ballance and Vince will definitely threaten to expose middle-order. Malan (5) and Vince (7) have played 12 Tests in total and boast a paltry average of 23 and 19 respectively. On the other hand, although Gary Ballance had a brilliant start to his career and had four centuries to his name, he has only crossed 50 runs twice in the last 25 innings. With two out of these three batsmen expected to slot in at number three and five respectively, Australia will always have an opening in the middle order to aim at.
James Vince, slated to bat at number 3, averages just 19 in seven Tests he has played
The highest wicket-taker for England in Tests, James Anderson, will be in focus right from the start. His figures Down Under give a below-par reading of 43 wickets in 13 games at an average of 38.44. More importantly, his last tour to Australia was perhaps one of the worst performances by his standards as he could only manage 14 wickets in five games at a terrible average of 44.
While he has won a lot of accolades throughout his career, his failure to perform away from home in general and in Australia to be specific are perhaps his only weak points. In the absence of Ben Stokes and other injured bowlers including Mark Wood and Steven Finn, England will need him and Stuart Broad to be up to the mark to have any chance of defending the urn.
The Ben Stokes fiasco will perhaps hurt England the most. Not only had he established himself as the fourth fast bowling choice for England, but he had also become a mainstay in the middle-order. The controversy surrounding his arrest and subsequent expulsion from the squad will have an impact on the morale of the whole squad. The Aussie press, as well as players, have used the point to make verbal attacks while English have appeared baffled – hoping a miracle might send him to Australia on the next flight.
The Ashes build-up has surrounded the Stokes’ controversy
The last time England were in Australia, a few of careers had ended, be it the Kevin Pietersen fiasco or the mid-way retirements of Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann. Moreover, the season was also the highlight of Mitchell Johnson’s career who bagged 37 wickets at a paltry average of 14. While he has retired from international cricket since then, the likes of Mitchell Starc will be raring to replicate the heroics of that year to terrorise the visiting side.