Opening batting against the moving red cherry is indubitably one of the toughest jobs in cricket. And conditions in England, South Africa and New Zealand are known to assist seam bowlers, which makes the job back breaking in these bowling friendly conditions.
England are all set to lock horns with arch-rivals Australia in what happens to be the most intense and looked for Test battles – The Ashes. The visiting side England have locked horns with Western Australia in the first Tour match Down Under, which ended in a draw. Alastair Cook bagged a duck while Root also failed with the bat.
England quite clearly have a lot of issues to be addressed in their batting line-up. With Ben Stokes’ participation in the big battle still hanging by a thin thread, the pressure is only on the rise in the English dugout. With a few inexperienced faces in the line-up, the onus of scoring big runs will be on the likes of Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes. The top-order, especially Cook and Root’s willow need to yield massive runs to bolster the rest.
Over the years, Cook has been a thorn in the throat for so many teams; England’s leading Test run-scorer has been inspiring at the top. He has scored runs across the globe, however, the same magic has been sporadic or inconsistent in the recent times, which has been a matter of concern for the English side.
For a while now, England’s primary concern was to find an effective opener, who could accompany Cook. But, the southpaw’s recent ordinary form is only adding to England’s worries. England already have quite a number of inexperienced Test campaigners in the line-up, which will give the dominant Australian pace attack an edge.
Numbers do suggest that ageing batsmen have struggled to make a mark in Australia. Although Cook boasts of a fantastic record Down Under, averaging almost 50, but the last time when England toured Australia, his average read 24.60. This was also the time when Mitchell Johnson hogged all the headlines with his mind-boggling pace and bounce.
One of the key reasons behind batsmen struggling Down Under could be slow reflexes. Conditions in Australia favour the seam bowlers and give them that extra zip and bounce, which demands quick reflexes to succeed. Let’s take a look at how some cricketing greats fared in their last series Down Under.
VVS Laxman averaged 19.37 in eight innings while Rahul Dravid’s figured read 24.25 in their final tour to Australia, which was also during the twilight of their career. Inzamam-ul-Haq had a terrible outing, mere four runs in as many innings whereas Virender Sehwag averaged 24.75. Even Ricky Ponting struggled in his ultimate series at home.These numbers suggest that Australia have been a tough place to bat for ageing batsmen. England need Cook to fire and get daddy hundreds at the top. As of now, Australia go into the series as clear favourites and England will have to pull up on every front and bring their A game out to create an upset.
Let’s take a look at Cook’s run in the recently concluded home Test season. In seven Tests against West Indies and South Africa, Cook only scored two fifties and a double ton. Although he did get a match-winning double century against South Africa at Birmingham but produced nothing of substance in the next two games. He rediscovered his mojo, but didn’t manage to continue that inspiring form and momentum in the next two games. Cook sets high standards and these performances were certainly not up to the mark.
In 13 innings, Cook garnered 572 runs at 44. An average of 44 looks good, but if his double ton is taken out of the equation, then Cook’s average takes a severe beating and drops down to mere 27.41 in 12 innings. To add to his woes, he even failed to do anything with the bat in the ongoing Tour game. England will play two more practice games and will be hoping their leading run-scorer to rediscover his mojo just at the right time.
Someone like Mitchell Starc or Pat Cummins would test Cook’s Achilles heels with some sheer pace and bounce. Former Australian legend Steve Waugh predicts Cook to have a difficult series Down Under. Waugh told cricket.com.au, “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, Hazlewood and Cummins, they’ll really test him out.”
“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 quick wickets. 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,” Waugh added.
Cook is a master, he can resist best of the bowling attacks with his precision, monk-like temperament and elegance. But Australia will certainly be a tough nut to crack, in fact, toughest for Cook at this stage. Australia have a well-balanced side and one can expect them to come out all guns blazing to regain the Urn.
This is a big test for England and for Cook. One thing is for sure, England will gain solid momentum and find themselves in command if Cook gets going, he has a knack of playing marathon innings but the path is tough.
Also, England’s batting is quite one-dimensional; they have accumulators in the top while attacking batsmen in the middle and lower-middle order. This will help Australian bowlers formulate a plan and execute it well, which will only create problems for England. It will be interesting to see how Cook fares, will be stand out? Well, that is for the time to tell. As of now, all eyes are set on Brisbane as both the teams are eyeing to set the tone of the series with a victory.