Noted cricket commentator Jim Maxwell has described the England batting line-up, due to play in the first Ashes test in Brisbane in just under 11 hours time, as the “worst ever” to play in an Ashes Down Under series. He has a point: the top of England’s order is fairly atrocious. Root has been the only consistent performer in there for some time, and the narrative of an England test innings has become thus: top order collapses, Root hangs on and gets a century with the middle order batting incredibly well to support him, giving England just enough runs to put themselves in the frame. This has been aided greatly by England having what may well be the best middle order in the history of the game. God knows what they would have done over the last year or so had this not been the case. Oh wait, I know: lose prolifically.
Problem is, that middle order was greatly bolstered by the presence of Ben Stokes. However, due to circumstances you are all aware of and don’t need repeating, Stokes does not look like he’ll be starting in Brisbane. It is kind of hard to replace a guy who gets a century and then take six wickets later that day, particularly when your 2nd, 3rd and 5th batsmen all get 8 runs between them.
However, England are somewhat lucky in that this is the worst Aussie side to come into an Ashes series in decades. David Warner has cheekily claimed that he can’t recognise half the England squad; talk about glasshouses here. Here are some of the names who will probably be starting for Australia in several hours time: Shaun Marsh, at 34 hoping this is eighth time lucky in terms of making an impact at test level; Tim Paine, never before capped even though he’s in his thirties, averaging 19 over the past four seasons at club level; Pat Cummins, having played very few games due to injury and fragile to say the least. This is hardly vintage Australia.
All this means that the series could go any which way. Of course, if you said I had to put money on any one result for the series right this second, I’d say 5-0 Australia, obviously. But I wouldn’t put England pulling off the reverse trick out of the picture, all the same. How things go in Brisbane, as usual, will decide things; in the 2010-11 series, England’s stellar second innings to gain a draw set them up for the 3-1 win they went on to achieve.
It all adds up to a weirdly exciting Ashes, even though in the end, it will probably come down to which of the sides is the least bad.