Qantas Ashes Tour England

Burns sees red on path to Ashes

Incumbent Test opener hoping long stint against red ball will enhance his Ashes prospects

Louis Cameron

13 February 2019, 04:44 PM AEST

Playing 14 straight first-class games batting in the same position against the same type of ball is a luxury the modern cricketer is seldom afforded, and Joe Burns hopes it will provide the perfect platform for his Ashes assault.

With the men's home summer over and no Test cricket for Australia until August, Burns is set for an extended stint against the Dukes ball, firstly for Queensland in the back-end of the JLT Sheffield Shield season and then for Lancashire in the opening half of the UK county season.

Given his deal with Lancashire is for first-class cricket only, it means Burns is scheduled to play at least 14 consecutive matches against the Dukes ball; four for Queensland and 10 for Lancashire.

That number could even stretch further if the Bulls make a second straight Shield final this summer and Burns is picked for the first-class Australia A matches that precede the Ashes.

With the pending returns of David Warner and Steve Smith, the 29-year-old is unsure if he's cemented his Test spot despite posting a superb 180 against Sri Lanka earlier this month to fire Australia to just their second Test victory of the summer.

Full highlights of Burns' majestic 180

But Burns could hardly be doing any more to ready himself for arguably an Australian Test opener's greatest challenge.

"Obviously there's one eye on that Ashes series and trying to be the best prepared as I can," Burns told cricket.com.au.

"You can't control selection, but I can control my preparation for England and trying to make as many runs as I can in those conditions.

"We're really fortunate that we use the Dukes ball (in the Sheffield Shield) and then county cricket – it allows me to be really consistent with my preparation now.

"It's one of the luxuries that you don't often get as a player where you can invest six months of basically the same training every day. There's no chopping and changing formats, it's the same role I'm going to execute as an opening batter against the Dukes ball.

"I feel like it's the best possible preparation I can have if I'm called upon for the Ashes."

It's the kind of consistent streak Burns could previously have only dreamt of.

His last four games have come against three different coloured balls, while his previous two recalls to Test level lasted just one match each before he was axed.

The right-hander was dropped two games after his third Test ton, a score of 170 against New Zealand in Christchurch in 2016 that remains the proudest knock of his career given it sealed Australia's brief rise to the top of the ICC Test team rankings.

One-off Tests against South Africa – in Hobart later that year and then in Cape Town in 2018 – both followed crises of varying proportions in Australian cricket.

Burns admitted he hadn't fully appreciated how long had elapsed - nearly three years - between his third and fourth Test centuries.

"The way I finished up playing Test cricket - my last few Test matches (before his recall this summer), it didn't really feel like a true account of me as a player," he said.

"To go away and work as hard as I've worked and every day have that dream to get back there and be successful, on a personal level it was really satisfying just to know you can fight your way back.

"I always deep down thought I could perform really well at Test match level. I knew if I got the opportunity I would have the desire to grasp it with two hands."

Burns' stint with Lancashire will not only give him an in-depth familiarity of their home ground Old Trafford – the Manchester venue that will host the fourth Ashes Test – but it will also give him a glimpse of the methods employed by swing king Jimmy Anderson.

England's most prolific Test bowler will likely play several four-day games for Lancashire in the lead-in to the Ashes and Burns hopes facing him in the nets and watching him up-close will help him counter Anderson in the Test series.

"As a batter you certainly get more from facing the bowler in the nets than they get from bowling at you," said Burns.

"We'll have to wait and see if I get the opportunity to face up to him (in the Ashes).

"I've actually never played against Jimmy, hopefully that exposure leaves me in good stead. He's obviously going to play a huge role in the Ashes series."

With a host of batsmen jostling for spots in Australia's Ashes squad, Burns' versatility could well come into selectors' reckoning.

Burns made his entrance to Test cricket at number six, while he's filled various middle-order roles for Queensland over the years.

He's relished opening the batting and is adamant that's where he's best suited. But if he was to be shunted down the order, Burns believes his skills against the new ball will be valuable regardless of where he bats.

Burns during his career-best score in Canberra // Getty
Burns during his career-best score in Canberra // Getty

"I consider the Gabba a pretty tough place to open the batting in Shield cricket," he said.

"My performances show that's a role I've been able to do well in in domestic cricket. I'd like to think that on the back of those performances, that's where they consider you for Australia.

"Having said that in England, conditions don't really change too much between No.1 and No.6 … from one to six, you've got to almost be able to play like an opener."