The Ashes are coming! The Ashes are coming!
In an effort to help create some minor buzz, brilliant UK cricket blogger Dmitri Old posed 10 Questions to me. My answers are available to read on his site.
In the spirit of reciprocity, I’ve allowed him to answer 12 questions here.
Cricket fans should subscribe to his blog. The comments section is full of passion.
So, here are his thoughts. I’m keen to hear you comments on whether he has nailed it or not.
Australia has the Brutal issue of having to squeeze four world class quicks into three spots. Who are the lucky three and why?
England fans cannot believe you won’t pick Ryan Harris. He appears to have achieved that status reserved for a few Australians, in that I get the sense he’s really liked! I think we all love to see a bowler who suffers for his craft.
That said, England have had enough experience of relying on old crocks with injury issues to know you should always go with the younger fitter model (I recall 2002/3 all too well, waiting on Gough and Flintoff) so unless Hazlewood gets monstered in the early tour matches, you should go with what you had in the West Indies.
So it’s Johnson, Starc and Hazlewood, and Harris and Siddle up your sleeve. Of dear lordy.
Fawad Ahmed and Nathan Lyon lead the Shield wicket taking table last summer. Should the leg spinner be used in tandem with Nathan Lyon at any of the grounds? What about instead of Lyon?
My blog has Nathan Lyon’s number 1 fan (outside Australia) so I’m not ever suggesting he should not play. Nathan Lyon is a bloody good bowler, and the problem is that when you’ve had superstar spinners in your team, you always shoot for the moon (something we should remember now Lovejoy* isn’t in our team).
Fawad Ahmed is an interesting wildcard, but none of the venues we are playing at are going to be raging Bunsens because we don’t have Swann any more. I think our allergy to leg-spin is overplayed a bit, but also the other reason for playing them – that they are great at getting tailenders out – is our problem rather than yours. You seem to take great pleasure in a 90mph left armer coming in to the lower order players and smashing them out.
I don’t think there will be any “two spinners” wickets and I cannot see you dropping the lead singer in the Under the Southern Cross ensemble.
*Swann is called Lovejoy on here because of his remarkable similarity in personality to a much loved, sorry much loathed, football geezer of the 90s, called Tim Lovejoy. It’s a running joke.
How should Australia attempt to reduce the influence of Joe Root?
I put the same question to you! We’re all going a bit mad about Joe Root, and why not? He has this knack of making big hundreds now, so once he’s in, and past the century mark, he’s not satisfied. The drop down to number 5 has been huge, but it also left a major hole we’ve not filled yet at opener.
I’m a little disappointed, to be honest, because I’ve always felt 5 is the armchair position in the batting line-up; you’re not likely to be up against the new ball with fresh bowlers, and you get time before the marshalling of the tail (which Root is good at).
I think Root has the same sort of weaknesses as many other player, i.e. good bowlers, bowling well. Also, Australia will play on the mental side of things. He was dropped in the last series. He also, one innings apart, didn’t cut it as an opener in 2013. He has “mental scars”. We’re comparing him a lot to Steve Smith and I see much the same sort of characteristics in the two players. If they get in, watch out.
What tactics by Australia will cause the biggest headaches for the captaincy of Alastair Cook?
What was it Ricky Ponting said about the 2005 series? “Win the first test and let the British press do the rest”. That worked. 🙂 It needs something more tangible than that. He had a point at the time, though.
The one thing that 2014 and the fall-out from the whitewash proved is that Cook is, at the moment, unsackable. I’m aware not everyone agrees with me on that, but look how long we held on to him as ODI skipper against all the evidence. Now he’s scoring some runs again, he’s the saviour returned. He’s leading from the front. We can forgive his tactical abominations. The world has changed in 10 years – the press were complicit in the retaining of Cook – and now the British press are more likely to rally around a losing captain than bury him.
Cook’s series depends on him scoring runs. You’d think, by the way ECB-TV goes on, he’s only ever played one Ashes series, because every time he needed bolstering, the 2010/11 series is mentioned. If the Aussies pray on that off stump weakness, don’t feed his outlet shots, and bowl him to a standstill, he’s not going to hurt you. Whether the public will turn on him, I don’t know. The one side effect of this New Zealand ODI series is that without our behemoths, the new team looks like it is enjoying itself and playing like it. How much that attitude seeps through if we lose early will be interesting. If Cook is scoring runs and we are losing, the press over here might blow a gasket.
Should Shane Watson’s position at 6 be in question?
Do you have anyone better? I’m a believer that if you don’t perform, you shouldn’t have a divine right to play – see Alastair Cook, 2014, see Ian Bell 2015 – but also that if he’s the best player and isn’t letting the side down, for his role, you can lose a lot of ground trying to find someone better. His last test here saw him make his career best, he’s used to the role, and although we laugh about his LBW review skills, he still appears a formidable presence even if he probably doesn’t back it up with stats. His bowling is also really useful for the team as he does perform an important role for Clarke.
Put it this way – if he’s one of your best players, you’re in trouble. If he’s one of your worst players, we’re in trouble.
Will this be Clarke’s final Test series? If so, is Smith ready to fill his shoes?
You’ll know that better than I, but the mood music appears to suggest Clarke’s coming to the end of the road, and it’s another couple of years before we go out to Australia to get smashed again. He’s won the World Cup, he’ll have another Ashes win in all probability so why not go out on top? I’m not sure what drives him these days.
I don’t really have a feel for Smith’s captaincy, and part of me thinks it is a little too soon. You have a tendency to not play retired captains, and he is just 26. If Australia will stick with him for 8 years even if the results turn for the worse then fine. I don’t think the captaincy has such a corrosive effect on Australian captains than it seems to on English ones in terms of batting form.
You can’t fail to be impressed by his attitude, his mental strength and his results. Wind back to our commentary teams (and yes, me) in 2010/11 when we laughed at his selection! Eating humble pie now.
The last Ashes series in the UK saw Australia constantly at 5/150 and requiring Haddin to save the day with the bat. Is this likely to happen again?
Our propensity to go spectacularly off the rails when it comes to lower order batsmen is gaining legendary status. I have genuine fear that this will be a major difference in the two teams. We are simply not good at blowing away the tail. We don’t have express pace, not really, and we don’t have a spin bowler on form who can tease them out. If you want Exhibit A of this monumental inability, we refer to Day 4 at Headingley – this year it was at New Zealand tailenders, last year it was Angelo Mathews and Rangana Herath. We were pitiful. Haddin was a key last time, but he also, often got a lower order player to stay with him once the top order man he was with got out. It takes two to make partnerships.
So the ball goes into Brad Haddin’s court. Is he the same player as 18 months ago or are there now too many miles on the clock? Are the manner of his dismissals the sign of the twilight of a career? Was the 2013/14 series just a freak?
Frankly, I don’t think you’ll be 150/5 (this is an England piece, so not putting the numbers the wrong way around) very often. I think we’ll make pitches to make it a batting contest, and not feed your strengths. It’s why I fear what David Warner might do.
Haddin is averaging less with the bat that Nathan Lyon over the last 12 Test matches. Should Australia be worried about this, given his keeping is at the top its game?
As long as he’s not keeping a Gilchrist-like figure out of the team, and he’s not a total liability with the bat, then fine. To turn the debate around, we brought Prior back into the test team last summer (with a tear in his achilles that turned out to be career-ending) and held back Jos Buttler. We all thought it was madness at the time, and were proved right. Prior wasn’t the same batsman, and was as mobile as a wheelie-bin behind the stumps. Who is backing up Haddin these days (hastily checks tour squad)? Peter Nevill, it seems, who is 29 and not exactly a young gun, but appears to have been picked on a good batting season for New South Wales.
If Haddin gets blown away early in the series, I’d be interested to see if any pressure is exerted from your press.
How should Australia play Anderson? Attack or defence?
You seemed to have little trouble with him last time out. In fact there’s a school of thought that his tour de force at Trent Bridge in 2013 marked the high-water point for James, and it’s been a lot, lot tougher since. If Anderson isn’t taking wickets, we’re in trouble. You were pretty positive against him last time out in Australia, and rather more cautious over here. I don’t think Warner or Smith in particular are going to let him tie you down.
I know Anderson is a source for much of your “bantz” Dennis, but he’s quite a divisive character on the blog. I believe he’s one the diehard, love England regardless section adore, while some of the more cynical, jaded among us believe he got the record because he stayed upright longer than any of our other decent bowlers in the past 20 years.
I think my attitude to him could best be described as “tepid”. I find him remarkably dour and uninteresting, although I can’t ignore 400 test wickets -it’s a fact and he did it. My belief is that if he were around in 2005 bowling like this, I wouldn’t have picked him in our team. There’s a debate over whether he would have replaced Matthew Hoggard, but not for me (as he’d won us the South Africa series with his spell in Jo’burg). The first test will be key in setting the tone. Let Anderson get on top of you, and your batting might struggle to free the shackles. See him off, weather him at Lord’s where he usually performs, and I think you’ll have got the better of him.
Is Stokes capable of stealing a game or two off his own bat?
No. And I like Ben Stokes. We see Stokes as a KP figure. He doesn’t appear to march to the disciplinary drum. We had someone like that recently.
The rub on KP, and you knew I’d get him in somewhere, is that individual performances are all well and good, but you need to be a team player, a team man, as if individuality doesn’t count as much in jolly old England. Stokes is almost the ultimate individual. He will play the most idiotic shots to get out, or bowl a load of old nonsense. That is the way he plays. He will get drunk on tour, or he’ll punch a locker, and the old heads and the stuffed shirts will sniff and snort, and want to teach him a lesson. I fear for him. He’s not nice amiable Jos, who won’t say a controversial word. He’s brash. He’ll give it a go.
Stokes had a brilliant Lord’s test against New Zealand, and immediately it’s “Flintoff this” or “Botham that” from our hyperbolic press or ECB-TV. There was great focus on his record paced 100, but it wasn’t even his best innings of the match. It was the 90-odd he made in the first innings, pulling us out of the 30/4 mire we were in. He got the two big beasts of New Zealand batting in the second innings, but his bowling is erratic, and while there is a lot of promise there, he’s still not a key cog in the bowling wheel as the other two mentioned above were. He’s the fourth one used, and there is no doubt that is his place.
That said, he’s exciting, he’s got talent, he has an attitude, he plays with passion and his heart on his sleeve. We’re a nation that loves that, when we’re winning, or when that individual is successful. But once that individual has a dip in form, watch out. As we saw last year when the media piled into him over his locker-punching incident and his inability to provide anything last summer. They’ll take the good times and be over him in the bad. That’s us. I think you call it “tall poppy syndrome”.
Which Englishmen are likely to quit mid series this time?
Ah. Damien Martyn syndrome, you mean? Well, if we’re 3-0 down I would imagine Alastair Cook might have to quit as captain, but then again, I thought he’d have gone ages ago. Anderson would be the likeliest, or maybe Broad, but they would be extreme long shots. I think Bell is more likely to be dropped than quit.
That previous Ashes tour was such a disaster it makes you wonder what was really going on. We are still wondering!!!!
Swann was the difference last time in the UK. Is Moeen any chance of getting close to having Swann’s impact? Why no Rashid?
Ian Bell was the difference in the last series, and Stuart Broad too (as well as a one man show with the ball by Anderson at Trent Bridge) so I don’t agree with the immediate contention. Moeen Ali is, by most people’s definition, a decent county bat and a decent spin bowler, but he’s nowhere near Swann’s level. We did what we usually do as a media in this country – blow too much smoke up his arse when he has a couple of decent performances, and then say we told you so when he struggles. He now bats at 8, which is scandalous for a man with his ability if not results, and his bowling has been disappointing if you compare it to his early days.
Rashid is an unknown quantity to me in the long form of the game. I’m not a Yorkie, my county plays second division cricket, and I don’t like judging spin bowlers on one day form. Why no Rashid? Well, ask the brains trust out in the Caribbean that. He wasn’t played in the first Test, supposedly, because he bowled badly in the nets. And boy, were we told he bowled badly in the nets. Again and again and again. That’s the way we roll. After that, Moeen came straight back into the team, and not pulled up any trees. It doesn’t look promising.