England’s leading run-scorer in Test cricket – Alastair Cook has been a force to be reckoned at the top. Cook’s determination and ability to resist the best of bowling attacks stands him apart. However, Cook has not been able to weave magic on a consistent basis in the recent times. He did get a magnificent double ton at Birmingham, but a string of low scores in the next two games has hampered his run.
The English Test summer has come to an end with England registering two back-to-back series win against South Africa and then West Indies. England are now preparing for one of the most intense Test battles known to mankind – The Ashes. England does have a lot of issues to be addressed in their batting and fielding. Australia, on the other hand, will be keen to retain the urn in their backyard.
It’s not a hidden fact that England’s batting is heavily reliant on Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes. Cook and Root will have a huge role to play in the lineup, especially the southpaw, as his success at the top will influence the batting line-up. And with England still having three unsettled spots in the top six, Cook’s success becomes more crucial.
Australia have a dominant bowling attack. Their pace battery hails of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Josh Hazlewood. Nathan Lyon, on the other hand, has been roaring to newer heights with his wily off-spin. This attack has the ability to dominate the best of the batting line-ups, especially at home.
England’s predicament before the start of the home Test season was to find a co-star for Cook, but his lack of form has only added to their trouble. He scored ample of runs for Essex before the start of the season, but in seven Tests at home, he has only two fifties apart from that gigantic double ton against West Indies.
England experimented with Keaton Jennings against South Africa after which, Mark Stoneman was given a go against West Indies alongside Cook. Stoneman started finding his groove and is most likely to be a part of the Ashes squad.
Cook scored 572 runs in the home Test season ( in 13 innings) at a healthy average of 44. But, if his 243 is taken out of context, Cook only has 329 runs under his belt from 12 innings, which further reduces his average to 27.41. In 12 innings, he breached the 50-run mark on just a couple of occasions. Against South Africa, Cook averaged 33.50 in four games.
Traditionally, ageing batsmen have struggled Down Under due to slow reflexes on quicker Australian pitches. Great players like Virender Sehwag, Ricky Ponting, Inzamam-ul-Haq, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid have struggled in their last series in Australia.
Virender Sehwag scored 198 runs in 8 innings at 24.75 in his last assignment in Australia in Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2011-2012. Inzamam-ul-Haq, on the other hand, had just four runs to his name in four innings in December 2004. Ricky Ponting struggled at home, scoring 32 runs in five innings at 6.40 in what happens to be his farewell series in Australia in November 2012.
VVS Laxman had a knack of scoring runs Down Under, but failed to replicate similar magic in his final tour to Australia. Laxman garnered 155 runs in 8 innings at 19.37 in Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2011-2012. Rahul Dravid also didn’t enjoy a lot of success in his ultimate series Down Under having scored 194 runs at 24.25.
Cook is just 32, there is no doubt about his abilities and definitely has a lot of cricket left in him, but Australia will be a tough nut to crack. His reflexes will have a key role to play in these conditions.
Against West Indies, Cook got out behind the wicket more often; edging the ball to the wicket-keeper or towards the slip cordon. To be precise, three of his five dismissals were caught behind while the rest two were LBW’s. While in the Test series against South Africa, the red leather edged Cook’s willow on five occasions out of eight. The other three included a catch at cover, a leg before and a bowled.
In Australia, someone like Josh Hazlewood could well exploit his weakness with the new ball. Also, on quicker pitches, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins will certainly test his reflexes with menacing pace and bounce.
England were obliterated the last time they toured Australia back in 2013, where Mitchell Johnson wreaked havoc. Cook had a modest run in that series averaging 24.60. And for this tour too, Australia does have a balanced bowling attack. If Cook fails to get runs at the top, England will find themselves in hot water. It’s a big test for Cook, he is a fighter and one can expect him to come out hard, but the way is difficult, extremely difficult. Cook needs to review his recipe in order to find success against the red cherry.