As one of sport’s greatest competitions – The Ashes – draws ever nearer, England are a team heading for disaster down under, even a potential whitewash.
The respected Australian broadcaster, Jim Maxwell, recently told the BBC that England were sending one of their “worst batting line-ups” and would lose the series 5-0, which could easily be misinterpreted as media sledging. In reality, England have been batting three men short all year and Australia will be well aware of this shortfall. Unlike playing the West Indies at home, a Test series in Australia will expose every frailty, which two whitewashes in the past three series outlines. You simply cannot carry anyone in the team and, right now, Joe Root must be wondering who is going to score the runs.
The series against the West Indies this summer offered very little and the fact that none of England’s new batsmen at two, three and five were able to assert themselves is all the more worrying. Keaton Jennings, Mark Stoneman, Tom Westley and Dawid Malan (all fine batsmen in county cricket) were given a glorious chance to score big and head to Australia full of confidence but not one took it. Instead, England were yet again lacking a middle order and, astonishingly, managed to lose a Test match at home to a team that quite simply do not win away from the Caribbean. It was an embarrassment that the Australians will have noted with glee.
And if you think a weak batting line up wasn’t enough, England’s squad were thrown into more turbulence last month as Ben Stokes was caught in the fire or, in this instance, an apparent fight outside a Bristol nightclub. It’s not quite the behaviour one should expect of England’s vice captain. With the exact details yet to be confirmed and a police investigation in place, it is hard to throw the book at Stokes, but the CCTV footage doesn’t look good. It must also be incredibly destabilising for the rest of the squad that one of its key components will have his mind elsewhere in the Ashes build-up.
Stokes is a fiery character and a potential game-changer for England, a player that the Aussies genuinely fear, and unless he is fully focused and on top of his game England will be missing a crucial part of the team. In addition, Stokes adds much-needed pace and aggression to a side lacking in that department. With James Anderson regularly struggling in Australian conditions, England will be up against it to pick up quick wickets, showing why there is a genuine need for Stokes to play a pivotal role. If he is absent then a recall for his Durham team-mate Mark Wood would seem sensible.
The signs are not good and the pressure is on, but there is hope. Fast forward to early 2018, and we coud just be celebrating the most unlikely of Ashes triumphs if all of England’s batsman stand with captain Root and bat like Bradman. We can hope…