Joe Root just needs to spend a few cents on a call to Jason Behrendorff, David Moody and Simon Mackin to gauge the rising temperature in Australia if the weather channel and the video clip of two sets of shattered stumps and one white pad with a permanent red imprint that is being played over and over on the mobile phones of his batsmen today, were not proof enough.
Mitchell Starc is in town. Ben Stokes is not. Gabba 23rd November is less than 3 weeks away. There is no place to hide.
A bit more than a week ago, Starc picked up a career-best 8 for 73 for New South Wales against South Australia, today he had 4 for 56 after the hat trick against Western Australia. Josh Hazelwood chipped in with 3 for 24.
Together Starc and Hazelwood are the world’s best opening pair today. Pat Cummins as first change probably gives Australia a better pace attack than England faced in 2013/14, notwithstanding Mitchell Johnson’s career-defining series. Nathan Coulter-Nile after a tremendous performance against India recently is making a strong case for himself. Nathan Lyon is bowling better than he ever has, and will benefit from an unlikely respite that the quicks provide to the English batsmen.
The comment that James Vince made about the Australian fast bowlers says a lot about the mental state of the English batsmen. “I think the key is getting those guys into their third and fourth spells. Trying to get through the tough periods. And when we can, put pressure on the bowlers and try to put them on the back foot.”
Seriously mate? That is weak, weak and weak. If that’s the best strategy you can come up with against Starc, Hazelwood and Cummins, you are toast.
About a month ago, the Yorkshire Post ran a piece headlined ‘Mitchell Starc ready to bring a terminal end to England’s Ashes hopes’.
Starc is nicknamed ‘Terminal’ up in the Dales because he had to take 14 flights in 12 days when he signed up for Yorkshire in 2012 due to visa problems. Starc got deported over paperwork irregularities and had to go back to Canberra to sort out the visa issues before returning. As the article pointed out, “Since then, Starc has gone from ‘Terminal’ to ‘Terminator’, becoming a fulcrum of Australia’s fast bowling attack……The ‘Terminal’ heads into the series with 148 wickets from 36 Tests at 28.35 – perhaps only one great Ashes campaign away from joining the likes of Johnson in the pace bowling pantheon.”
Speaking to Wisden on the other side of the world, Steve Waugh had this to say recently about the man who England continues to look up to when they talk about saviours, Alastair Cook.
“Cook will have a tough series, particularly against Mitchell Starc. He’s still a very good player but I don’t think he’s the player he was a couple of years ago. Having said that, he knows how to make runs and he’s got an amazing record. But against Starc and (Josh) Hazelwood and (Pat) Cummins, they’ll really test him out. He’ll have to be on his best game and for England to do well in this series, he needs to score a lot of runs and occupy the crease. That will be a challenge for him out here. The last 12 months, he’s faced some attacks that are nowhere near the potency of this Australian attack, particularly on quicker wickets. He has the know-how and he’s got the muscle memory and he knows he can score runs against anyone. But the big question is the swinging ball, if he gets knocked out a couple of times in the first Test match he’ll have some doubts in his mind.”
This is not just the typical mind games that preceded the Ashes. This English team have a world class batting that begins with Cook and Root and ends right there. Moeen Ali has come up with some astounding knocks in the recent past, but they have been on wickets that are as different from what he will face in Australia as he could ever imagine. To make things worse, he is missing the first two tour matches with a side injury. Johnny Bairstow is a good bat and is particularly effective in batting with the tail, which is not a given for a batsman. The fact that Ben Stokes is not in the team, means that Bairstow may well be called upon to do what he does best (bat with the tail) more often than England would really like.
As Vic Marks remarked in the Guardian a few days ago: “The Australians can argue that their second tier of Test cricketers, namely all the batsmen after Steve Smith and Warner‚ are superior to England’s supporting cast – all the batsmen after Root and Alastair Cook. The only area in which the tourists seem to be manifestly superior is behind the stumps. Australia are mulling over whether to persist with Matthew Wade; England have Jonny Bairstow.”
But the real story of the Ashes will not be about who has the better middle order, or whether England’s ageing warhorse Jimmy Anderson can live up to the hype and deliver his swing on Aussie wickets or even about who lurks behind the stumps. It will be about how the English face up to Australia’s formidable pace attack and how far into the tour will it be before the writing is on the wall.
Face the Starc reality England, the end is nigh.