With 16 days to go for the much-awaited Test series of the year – The Ashes – both the teams are busy building their strategies by experimenting multiple combinations before a final one is chalked down for every department in the side. The first tour match just ended at Perth which was played between Western Australia XI and England. While both the teams have certain issues to attend, England’s most significant one right now is their opening pair. Although they have finalised on Mark Stoneman, the 30-year-old is Cook’s 12th partner since Andrew Strauss’ retirement five years ago. A lot of time has passed but, unfortunately, England have struggled to find an answer to the misfiring No. 2 spot.
Since teenager Hameed failed to convince the selectors with his numbers in the domestic circuit following his return from an injury, Stoneman was the only option for England to partner Cook in the Ashes. Not that, the experienced Cook has been in the best of forms and that makes England’s top-order situation worse from bad. On the other hand, both the Australian openers David Warner and young Matt Renshaw look promising ahead of the Ashes. In any format, getting a stable No. 1 and No. 2 must be utmost priority knowing that when the openers lay the foundation on the top, the following batsmen automatically have the luxury to play their natural game with very less pressure on them.
Stoneman’s familiarity with Australian conditions
If at all this would provide the English camp any comfort, their new opener Stoneman is no stranger to the Australian conditions. Less than 18 months ago, he participated in a first-grade title-winning season for the Bankstown Cricket Club in the NSW Premier Cricket competition. It was his sixth season in Sydney Grade Cricket in a decade and hence ahead of his very first Test in Australia, that experience would surely make life little easy for him.
It is understandable that there is a vast difference between Sydney Grade Cricket and the Ashes, but there is no way Stoneman’s huge experience on the Australian soils can be ignored. Aussie pacer Josh Hazlewood will be the best person to back the opening batsman. Stoneman had played along the fast bowler during his stint with St Georgia Cricket Club. His association with the club lasted for three long years and Hazlewood recently suggested that he has seen Stoneman grow as a batsman. However, there are a few opinions that have gone against Stoneman.
Just before he joined Bankstown Cricket Club, he had played for New South Wales’ Campbelltown-Camden for a brief period of time. Stoneman’s coach there, Neil D’Costa, has his doubts whether Stoneman will be able to survive the opening vicious spells from Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood. “I’ll be certainly siding with the Aussie bowlers against him. If Mitchell Starc and Hazlewood are firing he’s going to find it very hard to get through their first spells. Those first spells are going to be like hell for him,” Neil D’Costa, who also coached Michael Clarke and late Phil Hughes, said.
In the first tour game prior to the fierce series, Stoneman gained the much-needed confidence with his score of 85 off 113 balls. He managed to put up a decent score against a second-tier Australian attack. But, the litmus test awaits him when he will face the likes of Starc, Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon in the first Test in Brisbane. According to the squad announced by England for the Ashes, their XI on November 23 may well include Dawid Malan and James Vince as well as Stoneman, who have between them played only 15 Tests, each one of them at home.
Cook’s nightmare recollection
The Ashes 2013-14 was the last time when Cook toured Australia. Cook and Co. went back with scars that would have stayed with them for a very long time. In the most merciless manner, England were whitewashed 5-0 with Mitchell Johnson being the architect of that catastrophe. When Cook will walk into the Gabba field on the opening day of the first Test, he would have one headache less, that is, they do not have to deal with the monster called Johnson anymore.
The former skipper, who is three Tests away from touching the 150-mark, will have to be at his top-notch form and lead England from front with the bat. Since Cook’s 243 against West Indies, he has played two more matches and both the times, he failed to register a fifty. Even during the four-Test home series against South Africa, Cook’s struggles were exposed; in eight innings, he managed only two half-centuries. Ignoring his recent shaky form, Cook has lots to learn from his previous performances in Australia.
From 15 Tests he has played on the Australian soils, he has scored 1000+ runs with four hundreds and five fifties. Not every player has dominated the Australians this way at their own backyard. However, even Cook was among the non-performers for England in Ashes 2013-14. In five Tests, he had only scored 246 runs at a poor average of 24.60. Cook was dismissed for a duck in the first tour match that ended in a draw on Sunday. This was not the start Cook expected to have before the Ashes 2017-18.
The following number game would only down Cook’s confidence ahead of the Ashes. When Nathan Coulter-Nile removed Cook for a two-ball duck in the tour match, it was Cook’s second dismissal for a duck in the last three balls he faced at the WACA, following his first-ball duck to Ryan Harris in the 2013-14 Ashes.
The 21-year-old Renshaw’s life events are the perfect example of the phrase – someone’s loss is someone’s gain. Renshaw was born in North-East County of England, Yorkshire to English parents. He moved to New Zealand when he was seven before the Renshaws finally settled in Australia when the kid was 10. Australia, who have always criticised the English to pick several South African-born players in the team, contradicted their statements when they picked Renshaw for the South Africa series in 2016.
When Australia will lock horns against the English men, while there will be a war from the 10 Australian men on the field, Renshaw’s felling would be less bitter because of his roots in the country. More importantly, he will go against his childhood friend and now England Captain Joe Root for the very first time. One thing is certain, the nostalgia rush will be likewise from both the players.
Going back to the days when the Renshaws resided in Yorkshire, the duo’s parents used to play together for Sheffield Collegiate, with Root and his brother Billy enjoying their mini-cricket in the outfield with a young Renshaw. When most of the England was cynical on Renshaw’s Australian debut in 2016, the Roots sent Renshaw their love on social media.
Talking about Renshaw’s form, he will not walk into the first Test with great score in his previous domestic match for Queensland. Despite Renshaw’s 1, 16 and 17 in Sheffield Shield, he will face the English men in the opener Test in Brisbane on November 23.
David Warner announces war!
Australian Vice-Captain attracted criticism more when he said the hosts would work up some “hatred” for their opponents to get in the right frame of mind. Warner, these days known as the ‘Reverend’ for keeping himself quiet away from the controversies, once again found himself in the middle of a crooked news. However, he said Ashes comes along sledges like these as they are well within the spirit of the game and he is certain to see more words to be exchanged during the coming series.
England is well aware of the fact that Warner not only fires with his words but also with his bat against them. Knowing how intense Ashes turns out to be every time, Warner in 13 Test against England, averages almost 45. When Australia toured England in 2015, he was the third highest-scorer for Australia after Steven Smith and Chris Rogers with 418 runs at 46.44. And when England had toured Down Under during the Winter Ashes 2013-14, Warner led the score charts with 523 runs at 58.11.
Warner has come off two gruelling Test series in Asia. While he struggled in India, he managed to make a mark in Bangladesh with two centuries. In the last five innings, he has two tons and a fifty. And in his last series in Australia which was against Pakistan, with one of best bowling attacks, Warner was the third highest run-scorer with 356 runs at 71.20.