Ashes 2019: Fragile batting, but options with the ball - assessing England and Australia after the series

By Sports Desk September 16, 2019

So, what did exactly did the 2019 Ashes series tell us? Steve Smith can definitely bat, Jofra Archer is seriously quick and no cause is ever seemingly lost when Ben Stokes is still at the crease.

Delving a little deeper, the five Tests made clear the obvious flaws in both teams, but also demonstrated their strengths. Now, though, they can draw breath, recharge their batteries and start thinking about the future.

Australia, who retained the Ashes courtesy of a 2-2 series draw, return to the Test arena against Pakistan in late November and with spots up for grabs, all eyes will be on the start of the Sheffield Shield season. England, meanwhile, have tours to New Zealand and South Africa to look forward to before the year is out.

Having examined the state of both squads at different stages during the year, we now offer one final assessment while also looking ahead to the future.

 

BATTING

Not even retaining the urn has been enough to silence the questions that were already there before the Ashes about Australia's batting.

Smith's heroics were enough on this occasion, but coach Justin Langer has work to do going forward.

David Warner, who should be Australia's second-best batsman, became Stuart Broad's bunny, making just 95 runs at an average of 9.50 during the series and falling to the England paceman seven times.

Between Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Marcus Harris, Australia's opening stands during the Ashes were an average of 8.50 runs, immediately putting themselves under early pressure.

Marnus Labuschagne was a revelation after getting his chance, scoring 353 runs at an average of 50.42 to cement his place in Australia's top-order. But, going forward, places are up for grabs.

Matthew Wade combined two centuries with eight scores of 34 or less, while Travis Head (who averaged 27.28) and Usman Khawaja (20.33) were both dropped during the series.

Harris and Wade top-scored in the Shield last season, but the likes of Kurtis Patterson, 26, Will Pucovski, 21, and Jake Lehmann, 27, should all be sensing an opportunity.

Given the others have failed to take their chances, albeit in tough conditions, perhaps the time has come to build around Smith and Labuschagne while preparing for the future.

Like their opponents, England have gaps to fill in the top six.

Rory Burns (390 runs at 39) had success at the top of the order, but the gamble on Jason Roy failed to pay off. Joe Denly may have received a stay of execution with his 94 at The Oval, but it is hard to see how a 33-year-old who has spent recent domestic seasons further down the batting list is the long-term answer.

Joe Root had made clear in the past that three is not his favoured role, so it will be interesting to see if Trevor Bayliss' replacement is happy to drop him one position lower.

The team's success in the longest format has often come courtesy of rearguard actions in difficult situations, but the time has come to start batting big.

Stokes (441 runs at 55.12) showed the way with two second-innings hundreds, but Jonny Bairstow has reached 50 only once in his last 14 Test innings and Jos Buttler is in the strange position of being picked as a frontline batsman that comes in at seven.

A busy winter schedule offers an opportunity to blood some fresh faces. Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley are the two openers regularly talked about as possible candidates to have a go alongside Burns. 

Ollie Pope is waiting for another crack at international cricket, while Ben Foakes could return behind the stumps for the struggling Bairstow, who should perhaps consider giving up the gloves to focus completely on his batting. 


BOWLING

Unlike their batting, Australia's bowling is far more settled and with good reason.

Pat Cummins won the Allan Border Medal in February and the paceman showed he can lead his nation for years to come. The 26-year-old played all five Tests – a fine feat for a player with his injury history – and was comfortably the leading wicket-taker in the Ashes with 29.

Cummins took his 29 wickets at an average of 19.62 and economy rate of 2.69.

Such is the depth and talent in Australia's attack, Mitchell Starc played just one Test, selectors perhaps looking elsewhere to capitalise on the English conditions.

Josh Hazlewood has long been expected to be the man in such situations and he grabbed 20 wickets at 21.85 in four Tests.

Peter Siddle and James Pattinson played three and two Tests respectively and while their spots are far from certain, the ability of the attack to deliver as a unit would have pleased Langer.

They were helped by Nathan Lyon, who bowled more overs than anyone else on his way to 20 wickets at 33.40.

Siddle (34) is the oldest of the group, but Cummins, Hazlewood (28), Starc (29) and Pattinson (29) look to have several years ahead of them in an excellent sign for Australia. Even Mitchell Marsh took his chance with the ball in the fifth Test, grabbing seven wickets, although the all-rounder is often criticised for his performances.

The bowling was expected to be Australia's strength during the series and it proved just that, with few signs of it being an area of concern going forward.

Similarly, for England, there are reasons to be cheerful over the attack. Broad benefited from the chance to hone his skills in county cricket prior to the Ashes - and went on to torture Warner and the rest of the left-handers.

While his regular new-ball partner prospered, James Anderson endured a wretched campaign. Forced off after four overs of the opening Test with a calf injury, the Lancastrian failed to reappear in the rest of the series. He remains committed to playing at the highest level again, but England should not need to rush their leading wicket-taker back.

That is mainly because of the emergence of the blistering Archer. He claimed 22 wickets in four Tests, knocked down the seemingly immovable Smith at Lord's and provided an added dimension to an attack otherwise lacking variety.

Sam Curran's patience was finally rewarded with an outing in the fifth Test, where he again demonstrated his knack of making things happen, but Chris Woakes flattered to deceive, both with bat and ball.

Craig Overton's selection at Old Trafford was an unexpected call and maybe brother Jamie, as well as another Somerset bowler in Lewis Gregory, may get a go ahead of him in future.

As for the spin department, Jack Leach became a cult hero among fans and an easy fancy dress costume for a day at the Test.

The captain-coach axis must also work out what they see as the future role for Moeen Ali, a player far too talented to be left languishing outside of the national set-up.


CURRENT OUTLOOK

Smith's form tilted the balance enough in Australia's favour to secure a 2-2 result, but now it will be fascinating to see how both nations develop as they go their separate ways.

For England, the preparations for the tour Down Under in 2021-22 should begin immediately, or else they may be waiting a little longer to get the urn back.

Related items

  • Pep Perfect second goal shows Manchester City back in the groove Pep Perfect second goal shows Manchester City back in the groove

    Bernardo Silva had just set up the opening goal for Manchester City with a sumptuous cross – a suggestion that last season's form might be starting to return.

    But this was no time for the Portugal playmaker to rest on his laurels and he set about harassing Crystal Palace left-winger Jeffrey Schlupp, whose pass towards the danger zone where specialist centre-backs should reside was intercepted.

    Rodri's outing in the heart of the City defence was unexpected and frequently uneasy during the early stages at Selhurst Park. A slip momentarily left Wilfried Zaha unattended before a rushed, hacked clearance went unpunished.

    Pep Guardiola deployed his two defensive midfield commanders. Rodri and Fernandinho, in defence due to Nicolas Otamendi joining Aymeric Laporte in the treatment room and John Stones not yet being match fit following an ailment of his own. City entered the field eight points behind Liverpool in the title race, with the decision not to replace Vincent Kompany starting to look season defining.

    But if being the last line of protection against attacks does not come naturally to Rodri, he specialises in starting them. His interception from Schlupp doubled as an expertly cushioned pass to David Silva and City were away.

    Kompany's successor as club captain deposited the ball at Kevin De Bruyne's feet in unfussy, one-touch fashion. Where the 2-0 loss to Wolves played out under a fug of doubt and laboured decision making, the whirring cogs of Guardiola's machine were clicking into place.

    De Bruyne promptly pushed down the accelerator, powering through midfield. The Belgium star, who did not start either of City's league defeats in the opening eight games, had already proved a menace to Palace. His twinkling triangle on the right flank alongside Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo providing a persistent first half threat.

    A great gift of De Bruyne's, a player on record as saying her prefers assists to goals, is he knows when to slip from leading man to supporting character. He found the opening goalscorer Gabriel Jesus.

    The Brazil striker's scruffy diving header a little over a minute earlier was his fifth in as many starts for City this season. But the presence on the bench of club-record goalscorer Sergio Aguero – a man not so clinical behind the wheel on the road to training going off this week's evidence – means Jesus must always strive, always prove himself and always make the decision to please his manager.

    A pass to the buccaneering Benjamin Mendy was just that. Fit again, for now, the left-back and his ravaged knees provides Guardiola with an extra dimension he will need if a third Premier League title in succession can be achieved despite early arrears.

    Mendy's touch was heavy but he was fortunate to see the ball fall to Raheem Sterling, Manchester City's sure thing.

    Goals 12 and 13 of the season for club and country came as England routed Bulgaria in midweek, Sterling revelling in tormenting those who send vile abuse his way.

    An inspirational figure with improvement still in him – as evidenced by a couple of second-half attempts against Palace – Sterling's chipped pass over the top of the home defence was a string on his bow drawing the sweetest sound.

    It was a pass worthy of David Silva, who on this occasion watched the whole picture unfold and found himself on the end of it. For all their discomfort over the early weeks of this campaign, operating without their long-time creator and magician will really sting City this time next year.

    His clinical over-the-shoulder volley through Wayne Hennessey's legs was equal to many of his finest moments over a wonderful decade in the Premier League and crowned a little masterpiece. 2-0 was enough for the three points.

    Second-half wastefulness and Ederson's athletic stops from Christian Benteke and Wilfried Zaha showed City will have to be sharper in their next Premier League away game. That's at Anfield next month, but after talking about putting his players in the fridge over Christmas, Guardiola will have seen enough in a cool, calculated gem of a goal to suggest there is life in this title race.

  • Alli delivers for Spurs but Watford draw not quite what Pochettino ordered Alli delivers for Spurs but Watford draw not quite what Pochettino ordered

    Prior to the home game against Watford, Mauricio Pochettino had pointed to a dinner invite from his Tottenham players as an indication of their continued support.

    The offer was less about attending his last supper and instead a sign they remained strong as a unit, determined to turn around a campaign that had started unravelling rapidly prior to the international break, according to the defiant Spurs boss.

    Against the Hornets, there was certainly no sign of a lack of effort from the team. The problem was more to do with the lack of a cutting edge, culminating in a 1-1 draw that stops the rot but offers little in the way of long-term optimism.

    The fixture list had seemingly served up an appetising offer for Spurs to move on quickly from back-to-back defeats earlier in the month, too. If the 7-2 result against Bayern Munich in the Champions League was a shock to the system, going down 3-0 at Brighton and Hove Albion was tough to digest. They were better on Saturday, admittedly, but then that was hardly a tough bar to clear.

    Watford arrived bottom of the table and without a win to their name. On six previous Premier League trips to Spurs – albeit at differing venues from their opponents' impressive new home – they had failed to collect a solitary point.

    Yet had it not been for a late mix-up between goalkeeper Ben Foster and substitute Kiko Femenia, the visitors may well have departed Tottenham Hotspur Stadium with all three.

    Dele Alli capitalised on the gift to deliver a much-needed equaliser for Spurs. The goal was subsequently checked for handball, with VAR ruling the contact was high on his chest, rather than left arm. Even then there was further drama, the big screen displaying 'Decision No Goal' while the score read 1-1.

    The confusion over their goal rather summed up Spurs' performance, though. They seemingly have all the required ingredients - remember they sprinkled in some new faces during the transfer window - but cannot quite find the recipe for success, particularly in attack.

    Pochettino made seven changes to the starting XI – the most for the club between two Premier League games in a season – but saw the new-look line-up concede early, as was also the case against Brighton, in a listless first half.

    Son Heung-min's half-time introduction added some much-needed life to proceedings, though they still required a helping hand – albeit not Alli's, according to VAR – for the equaliser.

    Worryingly, Harry Kane had just 28 total touches in a game where his team enjoyed 69.6 per cent of possession. There were no shots on target either, as was also the case on that forgettable trip to the south coast a fortnight ago.

    Goals are missing from the menu for Kane and Spurs in general - they have averaged one a game in their last six outings in all competition, and that includes an EFL Cup tie against League Two Colchester United.

    "We're not panicking. We know the quality that we’ve got in this team, we believe in ourselves and the coaching staff are working hard every day. We’ve just got to make sure we show our character to get out of this patch we're in," Alli said to the club's website.

    Spurs' determination to keep going against Watford suggests Pochettino was right to declare his squad remain firmly behind him.

    Dinner may be a little more appetising for the Tottenham boss on Saturday night having avoided another embarrassing defeat, but a point against the competition's bottom side is still tough to stomach.

  • Hudson-Odoi is already the creative heartbeat of Lampard's Chelsea Hudson-Odoi is already the creative heartbeat of Lampard's Chelsea

    Callum Hudson-Odoi produced something on Saturday not seen at Stamford Bridge in seven years.

    In his 92 minutes on the pitch, shortly before he was substituted to a rapturous reception, the winger created five goalscoring chances for the home side.

    It made him the first teenager to create as many chances in a Premier League match for Chelsea since Romelu Lukaku in May 2012, when the Blues battled to a 2-1 win over Blackburn Rovers.

    Hudson-Odoi was 11 at the time, four years short of his debut for the Under-18s, which highlights the impressive rise to prominence of a young player who is fast becoming the real star of Frank Lampard's Chelsea.

    He missed the first six league games of the season as he worked his way back from a serious Achilles tendon injury. Chelsea won just two of those games, against Norwich City and Wolves.

    In their three matches since, they have taken nine points, and Hudson-Odoi has provided three assists, the most recent a cushioned pass that allowed Marcos Alonso finally to find a way past the excellent Newcastle United goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. That made him the second youngest player in Premier League history – after Michael Owen – to set up goals in three successive games.

    Lampard has won plaudits for a commitment to Chelsea's young English talent - even if his hand has been forced by the club's transfer ban - and Saturday's defeat of Newcastle saw them start five English players in a league game for the first time since February 2013. All of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Ross Barkley and Fikayo Tomori have repaid their boss' faith with performances that have helped Chelsea climb to third in the table since that opening-day 4-0 defeat to Manchester United.

    It was Hudson-Odoi who stood out above the rest, though. Every touch near the packed Newcastle penalty area was assured, every pass intelligent and forward-thinking and, 80 per cent of the time, right on the mark. After they had been thwarted and frustrated for so long by Steve Bruce's men, Hudson-Odoi maintained composure to tee up Alonso for the breakthrough.

    Chelsea are on a five-game winning run in all competitions and Hudson-Odoi has either scored or assisted a goal in each of them. Little wonder Chelsea fans were so relieved to see his proposed switch to Bayern Munich fall through at the beginning of this year. Lampard is cultivating a young, vibrant side and Hudson-Odoi is its undisputed creative heartbeat.

© 2018 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.