England on the Ropes with WACA Knockout Imminent

If the 2017/2018 Ashes were a boxing match, England would be reeling under the constant barrage of punches thrown by Australia. It is a fight that has been witnessed before and often leads to a knockout blow when the sides arrive in Perth for the third test. Historically, when England get off to a bad start Down Under, the WACA is the venue where the guillotine falls and the Ashes are surrendered.

2 10 Joe Root

The prospect of trying to revive the series at the WACA will be a daunting one for England as their last victory at this ground was back in 1978. Much of the pre-Ashes game plan for England would have been to come out the traps flying so there was an insurance policy in place by the time the Perth test arrived, given their woeful history at the venue. The opposite has happened and Steve Smith’s men will feel they have England well positioned for a checkmate move.

As is so often the case during the playing of the Ashes Down Under, the pace of the Australian quicks proves to be the defining factor. So far, the Australian pace bowlers have accounted for 28 of the 40 English wickets to have fallen. Mitchell Starc leads the Ashes wicket-taking column with 14 and fellow fast bowlers Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins have seven apiece. The surprise package has been Nathan Lyon with his off-spin, which has been highly effective especially against the English left-handers.

The rampant Lyon is only three wickets behind Starc and has 11 to his name. The way in which he has worked in tandem with the quicks has been the underlying key to Australia’s dominant position they find themselves in. If England want to throw a few counterpunches, Lyon will need to be tamed.

They will need to be aggressive towards him and not let him settle when he comes on to bowl at the WACA. This way Smith won’t have the luxury of rotating his fast bowlers at will. The more work the quicks have to do the less effective they will be and this will be highlighted at the WACA given the blistering outfield. The Three Lions will be able to use the threat of the Australian pace attack against if they adopt a positive approach with the willow in hand.

Mitchell Starc won’t be fearing an English onslaught and instead will be hoping for a traditional fast and bouncy wicket when he takes the new ball at the WACA. He has 14 scalps to his name so far this series and that will be a lot closer to 25 come the end of the Perth test. The tall left-armer from Sydney is relishing the responsibility that comes with being the Australian frontline seamer. It is no surprise to see him backed at odds of 4/6 to be the leading wicket-taker at the end of the five-match series and punters who feel Starc will carry on and finish on top of the pile can access up to £50 of free bets from Ladbrokes on Oddschecker. England need to deal with the Starc threat by being bold before he leaves scars that won’t heal with time.

Scoring quickly will transfer the pressure and will act as a minor power shift as England try to get themselves back into a place where they are the ones able to deal out the body blows. It is at times like this, with England under the pump, that one wonders how valuable Ben Stokes contribution would have been in a counter-attacking strategy that seems the Three Lions best chance of survival in the series.

GONE!  Got Him!  Middle stump goes flying

Everyone connected to the England cricket team will be wondering how a left-arm quick is dismantling their team again. When Mitchell Johnson retired, there was a sigh of relief after the demolition job he did in 2013 but now it appears Starc is picking up where his counterpart left off.

England’s record in Australia since 2013 doesn’t make for encouraging reading. They have lost their last seven tests in a row and in 14 innings only managed to pass 300 on three occasions. They will need to apply themselves and fight bravely if their Ashes ambitions aren’t to be lying on the canvas after the Perth test.

Harsh lessons for attack minded England captain Root

When England appointed Joe Root as the new Test captain back in February, there were few pundits and fans who argued with the decision. After all, who else was there? And Root was England’s talisman and best player. Root was the England management’s only real viable choice.

Fast forward a few months, and Root is finding out the hard way that the decisions you take as a captain can have consequences, and as former captains like Nasser Hussain can testify, the decisions you take can be used as a big stick to beat you with when things start going wrong, and the media turns on you.

Root has already – by his own admission – made a huge mistake in the 1st Test of the current Ashes series, when he took Jimmy Anderson off after bowling just 3 Overs with the second new ball in the 1st innings when he had the Aussies 7 wickets down, and still over 80 runs behind England’s 1st innings total.

Fair enough, Root held his hands up to that one and admitted his mistake. Moving onto the 2nd Test, and another dodgy looking decision from Root, who after winning the toss (again), this time rather surprisingly asked the Aussies to bat first – click here for bookmakers offering the latest odds on the Ashes.

I’d not heard one ex player or pundit who said pre match that it would be a good idea to bowl first on the pitch, quite the opposite in fact. The likes of Michael Vaughan were quick to point out that as it was a drop in wicket, it was a trip into the unknown. No one had any real idea of how the wicket would behave, and Vaughan commented that you wouldn’t want to be batting on it 4th – exactly what England will now have to do after deciding to bowl first.

Quite a risky strategy when the series was arguably in the balance. It is obvious if England lose in Adelaide, it will be near on impossible to come back from 2-0 down, especially with Perth to come next. So why take such a risk at such a critical juncture of the series?

Root has previous in his short tenure as captain for being a touch cavalier. The 2nd Test against West Indies at Headingley back in August was one such occasion. Root’s England side were 1-0 up in the best of 3 series, and had just wrestled back control of the Test match (and with it the series) thanks to a swashbuckling 84 from Moeen Ali, ably assisted by Chris Woakes, who ended on 61 not out.

Out of nowhere Root declared the England innings on 490/8 towards the end of Day 4. West Indies seen off the remaining 6 Overs on Day 4, and with a full day’s play on Day 5 still remaining, there was ample time for the Windies to get the runs. Root had underestimated (and arguably disrespected) the Windies batting by setting them a modest target of 322 from 96 Overs.

The Windies duly knocked them off for a comfortable 5 wicket victory, putting a series win in doubt for England, especially given the English weather last summer. Root put himself in the position of been a few days worth or rain away from drawing a home series 1-1 with West Indies. Which wouldn’t have looked too clever on his CV.

Root has shown that he is prepared to improvise as a captain, and not always follow the well trodden conventional methods. I’m sure he will be a successful England captain in the long run, and these experiences will only serve to help him improve in the future.

Is it the right call to bring Alex Hales back for Ashes tour?

The name of Alex Hales has been mentioned and strongly linked to a place in the upcoming Ashes squad announcement, and his innings on Saturday in the T20 against West Indies, was a timely reminder for the selectors of just what he is capable off.

Hales was by far the most impressive of the England batsmen, top scoring with 43 runs in England’s 21 run defeat, and not only was he England’s best batsman, he was the only English batsman who was able to handle the conditions.

Yes, this was only a T20 fixture, not an Ashes Test match, I get that, but the point is just how comfortable Hales now looks at international level, so why can’t he take that into red ball cricket?

When Hales was last in the England Test team, he was still finding his way in international cricket, and he wasn’t too assured in any format.

Now he has the presence of a man who knows he belongs at international level, and his white ball form has shown that over the last 12 to 18 months, where alongside Joe Root, he has been England’s best batsman.

I believe the time is right for a Test recall for Hales, and I hope he is included in the upcoming squad. Lets be honest about things, he can’t really do any worse than a lot of the players who have been playing at 2, 4, and 5, for England recently, so he certainly won’t be weakening the squad, and if he does come off, he can be destructive and a possible match winner.

I would like to see the Nottinghamshire man in the middle order batting at No.5, with one of Root and Malan at numbers 3 and 4 respectively (or the other way round if Joe insists on batting 4 still).

In Ashes Betting Australia are still odds on favourites at 4/7. A drawn series is 6/1, with England at 5/2, all odds with bet365 (Welcome Bonus up to £200 here) and correct at the time of writing.