England's Tour of Australia: 3 Men in Form, 3 Men Struggling

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistNovember 9, 2013

England's Tour of Australia: 3 Men in Form, 3 Men Struggling

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    Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry both made hundreds against Australia A in Hobart.
    Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry both made hundreds against Australia A in Hobart.Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

    With England's tour match against Australia A in Hobart now completed, only one game and 12 days remain until the much-anticipated Ashes series begins.

    Given that at least two positions in England's lineup for the first Test in Brisbane remain undecided, the two warm-up games so far have provided compelling insights into the likely make-up of England's XI for November 21.

    Yet the visitors will be concerned about losing two entire days to rain at Bellerive Oval, which have greatly interrupted the team's preparations ahead of their first encounter with Australia.

    A number of the team's bowlers haven't been able to complete the desired amount of overs to this point, while a couple of batsmen—Kevin Pietersen in particular—are yet to enjoy significant time in the middle, if any at all.

    However, there have been a handful of impressive performances to date, which should provide England with the confidence that more Ashes glory is just around the corner.

    Here's a look at the players in form during the early stages of the tour, as well as those who are struggling somewhat.

Struggling: Gary Ballance

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    Gary Ballance trudges off after another low score during England's tour of Australia.
    Gary Ballance trudges off after another low score during England's tour of Australia.Gareth Copley/Getty Images

    Desperate to prove he belongs in England's team for the first Test in Brisbane, Gary Ballance is enduring a difficult start to his campaign Down Under.

    The chunky left-hander was dismissed from the very first delivery he faced on the tour, when Ryan Duffield found the edge of his bat during England's innings against a Western Australia Chairman's XI in Perth last week.

    Unfortunately for the 23-year-old, he failed to impress again in Hobart against Australia A, lasting just 17 balls before falling lbw to Ben Cutting for just four.

    With both Michael Carberry and Joe Root amongst the runs in Tasmania, it's hard to see Ballance claiming the spot in the England Test side that he craves.

In Form: Michael Carberry

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    Michael Carberry celebrates his century in Hobart.
    Michael Carberry celebrates his century in Hobart.Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

    After consecutive impressive performances in Perth and Hobart, Michael Carberry looks certain to claim the opener's position alongside Alastair Cook for the first Test in Brisbane.

    His 78 against the Western Australia Chairman's XI last week was a glimpse into what could be expected of Carberry, but it's his 153 not out against Australia A in Hobart on Wednesday that looks to have booked his place for the opening Ashes Test.

    At 33 years of age, it is hoped that Carberry will bring experience and calm to the top of England's order, pushing 22-year-old Joe Root down to No. 6.

    Although Root made a sparkling 180 against Australia at Lord's in July, the right-hander struggled for the bulk of the series, consistently being tied down by Australia's bowling attack.

    Given that the No. 6 position is also considered one of England's weaker areas, inserting Carberry at the top of the order and pushing Root down to six looks to be the most likely option for England's selectors.

     

Struggling: Steven Finn

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    Steven Finn struggled during England's tour match in Perth.
    Steven Finn struggled during England's tour match in Perth.Gareth Copley/Getty Images

    For Steven Finn to reclaim his place in England's side to face Australia, the right-arm fast bowler needed to show that he can be not only a consistent threat but also a disciplined performer.

    In Perth last week, Finn was neither.

    During the first innings, the 24-year-old bowled rather wildly, showing the sort of inconsistency that saw him dropped after the first Test at Trent Bridge last summer.

    Certainly, his figures of 1-123 from just 23 overs did little to impress England's selectors as he competed with Chris Tremlett and Boyd Rankin for the third seamer's position.

    Despite taking two wickets in the second innings, Finn again went at more than five runs per over, highlighting why he'd be considered a weakness for England in the upcoming encounter with Australia.

In Form: James Anderson

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    James Anderson has been impressive in the early stages of England's tour of Australia.
    James Anderson has been impressive in the early stages of England's tour of Australia.Paul Kane/Getty Images

    While a number of his counterparts have struggled with the ball during England's warm-up matches, James Anderson has simply picked up where he left off from the summer's Ashes series.

    In Perth, the leader of England's attack was the only bowler to restrict the opposing batsmen, finishing with 1-55 from 23 overs as Chris Tremlett, Boyd Rankin and Steven Finn were regularly dispatched around the WACA ground.

    In Hobart, Anderson again showed why he's one of the world's best bowlers, claiming 2-20 in a severely rain-restricted match.

    Although the Duke ball is clearly his favourite, Anderson is showing that he doesn't mind the Kookaburra either.

Struggling: Matt Prior

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    Matt Prior has a calf concern ahead of the Ashes.
    Matt Prior has a calf concern ahead of the Ashes.Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

    Matt Prior's place on this list is attributed to the news of his injury scare, rather than his form on the tour to this point.

    Prior didn't return to the field after batting against Australia A in Hobart on Saturday, with England team management confirming that the wicketkeeper had picked up a calf problem.

    In his absence, Joe Root was forced to fill Prior's role with the gloves, which he did rather soundly, taking a catch off the bowling of James Anderson.

    However, the news will be of great concern to England, as Prior's keeping and counter-attacking ways with the bat are critical to the balance of the side.

In Form: Alastair Cook

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    Alastair Cook completes a subdued celebration upon reaching his century in Hobart.
    Alastair Cook completes a subdued celebration upon reaching his century in Hobart.Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

    It's only one innings, but the signs are there that Alastair Cook is ready to return to his emphatic best in Australia.

    In putting together a fine 154 not out against Australia A in Hobart, Cook reminded everyone that the pitches found Down Under are very much to his liking.

    The extra pace and bounce helped the captain repeatedly punish Australia A's bowlers off the back foot, his renowned cut shot a glittering feature of his innings.

    Although Australia will feel confident that they can contain England's leader in the upcoming Ashes series, it seems highly unlikely that Cook will endure a second consecutive sub-standard series with the bat.

    His 766 runs were the catalyst in England's triumph in Australia in 2010-11, and the early signs are that Cook is capable of doing the same again.