England should fancy chances in 2019 series
The tourists’ encouraging finish in a losing series leaves them well placed for a more positive Ashes showing in 18 months’ time
Chris Stocks is a freelance cricket writer based in London. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent and London Evening Standard.
The fight shown by England over the course of the final two Magellan Ashes Tests suggests Australia will have a far tougher time trying to repeat the feat when these teams meet again next year.
Shane Warne this week suggested Steve Smith’s men were well positioned to win in the UK for the first time since 2001 when Ashes hostilities resume in 18 months’ time.
However, the battling draw in Melbourne and a spirited tail-end effort led by Stuart Broad on the second day of this final Test at the SCG has shown that this England team led by Joe Root is made of far sterner stuff than the rabble who surrendered 5-0 in Australia four years ago.
Back then England lasted just three-and-a-half days in Sydney, a squad who were already itching for the departure gate at Kingsford Smith airport blown away for 155 and 166 as they slumped to a humiliating 281-run defeat in the final Test.
This time some fine lower-order batting from Tom Curran and Stuart Broad, who just as in Melbourne again overcame a bouncer barrage to post a significant score, meant England scored more runs in one innings at the SCG than they did in two back in 2013-14.
They also batted for more overs in one innings (112.3) than that corresponding Test four years ago (90.3).
Now measuring yourself against one of the worst touring English Ashes teams of all-time is not the standard you really want to set yourself against. But this current group, led by Root, have proven throughout this series that although they may have been outplayed by Australia, they certainly don’t lack fight.
That means there will be little fear against coming up against Smith’s team on home soil next year, especially as the moving ball might actually offer England a viable way of getting the Australian captain out.
However, it’s worth looking at what Warne said this week before totally writing off Australia’s chances in 2019.
“If a plane was flying to England tomorrow with the current Test squads on board for an Ashes series in the UK, I’d back Australia to win,” the leg-spin great wrote in a column for News Corp.
“That’s a big statement to make, given Australia hasn’t won in England since 2001, and not one I would have made with any great confidence at the start of this series.
“The next Ashes is 18 months away, and a lot can happen between now and then. We also don’t want to get carried away with one good series in Australia.
“But these Tests have shown that right now the Australian squad is in better shape than England’s and there are a lot less question marks and gaps to fill in their team.
“Australia has X-factor players too, who can change a game; think David Warner with the bat or Mitchell Starc with the ball. England don’t have one apart from (the unavailable) Ben Stokes. Would he have made a difference? Absolutely, but I still think the way both teams match up now that Australia would have won this series.
“I think Australia would still win in England. The Aussie attack has pace, variety, spin and those bowlers can bowl in any conditions, on any surfaces. It’s an attack that can certainly take 20 wickets in England.”
The problem with Warne’s assessment is that England definitely know they have an attack to take 20 wickets on home soil – and quickly, as we saw in the Tests at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge in the 2015 series.
James Anderson may have admitted this week he rarely bowls pain free these days – indeed his chronic shoulder complaint means he can be in agony simply brushing his teeth.
But the 35-year-old has just had the best year of his career – taking 55 wickets at an average of 17.58 in 2017.
Anderson may be getting on but he is in the form of his life and after previously stating he wants to play in the 2019 Ashes, England will ensure their all-time leading wicket-taker is managed properly to give him the best chance possible of helping them regain the urn.
Stuart Broad’s future looked questionable after he returned his worst Test figures – 0-142 – in Perth last month.
But he has been energised by the criticism and after posting 56 with the bat and taking five wickets on a dog of an MCG pitch last week, he got stuck into Australia’s bowlers again at the SCG, scoring 31 off 32 balls, before rendering Cameron Bancroft impotent with a beautiful inswinger that sent the Australia opener packing for a duck.
Broad will almost certainly be around in 2019 and hoping to add one more magic Ashes spell to his collection after the series-clinching efforts at The Oval in 2009, Durham in 2013 and Trent Bridge two years ago.
Alastair Cook, too, this week suggested this current match in Sydney is unlikely to be his final Ashes Test. Still only 33, the opener has been revitalised by his monster unbeaten 244 at the MCG.
The hunger to carry on is there right now for Cook and the prospect of seizing back the urn on home soil may prove irresistible.
Root, too, may be a different proposition in 18 months’ time. He is currently averaging 52.73 despite the fact he has only converted 13 of his 49 Test half-centuries.
If he can overcome that mental blockage, he will, in the words of Dawid Malan, be a “scary” prospect.
So while Australia should rightfully bask in the glory of this Ashes win, England’s top two all-time leading bowlers, record run-scorer and a captain on the brink of cracking the key to greatness could prove a significant barrier to their hopes of ending their 18-year wait for an away series win in the UK.
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test Match drawn. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Scorecard
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21