5 Things England Must Improve
One Ashes series has just concluded, but the next is now a matter of months away, and anticipation is building as England named their touring squad on Monday.
They begin their defence of the famous little urn at Brisbane on November 21 as part of a five-match series against their Australian counterparts.
England announced their 17-man squad on Monday, as attention almost immediately switches to the away series after their 3-0 win at home.
However, despite their third Ashes victory in a row, England have some unresolved issues that they will be hoping to cure in time for what will be a long tour Down Under.
Top Order Batting
The first issue that England need to resolve is the performance of their top order, who with the exception of Ian Bell were very inconsistent in the last Ashes series.
During the last series, Bell was the only England batsman to score more than one century, while only Joe Root and Kevin Pietersen reached three figures from their top six.
The regular collapses left Bell with the task of rebuilding the innings, and while his purple patch with the bat was encouraging, it will surely not be sustained during a gruelling Ashes schedule.
Captain Alastair Cook and No. 3 Jonathan Trott enjoyed incredible success last time they were Down Under on an Ashes tour, and they will want to reproduce that form again.
If they do not, and other batsmen fail around them, Australia’s coach Darren Lehmann will have yet more reasons to question the fragility of England’s batting lineup.
The No. 6 Position
Another problematic area of England’s batting remains their No. 6 position, which has arguably not been filled effectively since the retirement of Paul Collingwood from Test cricket.
Jonny Bairstow was the man in possession of the spot at the start of the last Ashes series, but he was jettisoned after four Tests in favour of Chris Woakes.
The Yorkshireman had produced just one half-century in those four Tests but is regarded as a good prospect for the future, although with the inclusion of Yorkshire teammate Gary Ballance in the touring squad he finds his position under threat once again.
Bairstow likely needs some big scores in the warm-up games to secure his place for the first Test and to then make runs in Brisbane to be guaranteed a spot.
If he does not, the position will still very much be up for grabs, with Ballance and Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes possible replacements.
The Third Seam Bowler
Thankfully, England have two world-class seam bowlers to open with the new ball, as James Anderson and Stuart Broad are one of the most potent partnerships in world cricket.
However, the question of who will be the third seamer is still very much undecided and has remained as such for some time.
England have selected Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett and the uncapped Boyd Rankin as their three reserve seamers, with at least one virtually certain to play the first Test in Brisbane.
The question is: who?
Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett both enjoyed great success Down Under during the last tour, but both have had their problems: Finn with his consistency and Tremlett with injuries.
And while Boyd Rankin was impressive in the recent One Day International series against Australia, he remains untested in Test matches, a very different arena in which to have his skills examined.
If, perish the thought, Anderson were to go down with an injury, England’s pace attack would not have much variety in what will be one of the biggest tests of their careers.
The Second Spinner
Another continual headache in England’s bowling department is who will fill the role of second spinner behind Graeme Swann.
While it may not be so urgent in Australia, where only the pitch in Sydney is likely to offer much for the spinners, it is still an issue that coach Andy Flower will be keen to address.
Monty Panesar has regained his place in the squad for this tour after his recent and well-publicised personal problems, and he now has been challenged to reaffirm his status as an international cricketer.
However, if Swann were to go down with an injury, would the thought of Panesar as England’s primary spinner fill their fans with much confidence?
It could be suggested Panesar has been included because of the poor Test debut of Simon Kerrigan, out of necessity rather than because of his own wicket-taking exploits at Sussex and also on loan at Essex.
The lack of a genuine second spinner, with Swann at the age of 35, will be very troubling for England ahead of this gruelling tour.
Attitude When It Gets Tough
On a tour of Australia, it is inevitable that England will not always have things their own way.
They may spend time chasing leather in searing heat, unable to take wickets and break through the defences of their opponents.
During the last series, Australia won the toss and batted well at both Old Trafford and The Oval to the obvious frustration of the hosts.
They were then content to play attritional cricket and secure the draw, even using some underhand tactics to slow down play that drew criticism from the Australians.
If England are to be victorious in this series, they will need to go out and play for wins while remaining positive if they are struggling.
They cannot use time-wasting tactics to attempt to slow any Australian momentum, even when it is tempting to do so.
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