So on the English side of things the Ashes haven’t exactly gone as planned, have they? As I write it’s 2-0 to Australia – but only because, as I write, both teams are currently asleep. Now that you’re reading this it’s 3-0, isn’t it? (Urgh, don’t tell me Dave Warner was man-of-the-match… Seriously, don’t.)
This time round, England have had their bottoms well and truly walloped. Trott is sitting on his back in Blighty – hopefully getting better soon – and the team he left behind are increasingly a rabble. (If you really know what to look for, you may just have noticed their toothless bowling, abject batting collapses, and comedy fielding lapses.)
Maybe, many are suggesting, the decline is terminal. What looked for a hot year or three like a pretty great team (one ranked #1 in the world) is no longer any such thing. And its best players – KP, Swann, Anderson, and Prior especially – are all not as good as they used to be, variously worn out, found out, or simply winding down.
Well, fuck that. Another way of saying “maybe” is “maybe not.” Sure the Ashes are gone (they are now, aren’t they?) – but why should that mean we can’t get them back at the first available opportunity?
Aside from the cast-iron facts that
- Chris Rogers opening the batting is no Justin Langer,
- Dave Warner opening the batting is no Matthew Hayden,
- Shane “LBW” Watson at three is no Ricky Ponting,
- Steven Smith at five is no Steve Waugh,
- George Bailey at six is no Damien Martyn,
- Peter Siddle is no Glenn McGrath, and
- Nathan Lyon is no Shane Warne
…here I suggest seven reasons* to be an optimistic pom:
1. Alastair Cook
So far in his test match career, almost 30% (50) of Cook’s 179 innings have lasted at least three hours. Fourteen times he’s batted the equivalent of a full day’s play (six hours) without getting out. He scored six centuries in his first seven tests as England captain. And no one in the entire history of the universe has ever scored more test match runs before their 29th birthday.
Cook is a legend in his own lifetime, and you would have to be quite literally crazy to write him off too soon. (He’s still a year away from turning 30.)
2. Ian Bell
The player of the Series the last time England won the Ashes (you know, about three months ago), Bell has the technique and temperament to battle Cook as England’s future all-time highest run scorer. Did you ever see the episode of Peep Show in which Jeremy can’t help but hug Stu, the nice-guy new lover of the ex-girlfriend he’s desperately trying to win back? Because he just really needed a hug. Well, that’s what Bell’s batting is like these days: irresistibly reassuring.
Also… counting only innings in which more than 20 runs are scored, Bell is statistically better than – among countless others – Len Hutton, Ricky Ponting, Wally Hammond, Sunil Gavaskar, and Geoffrey Boycott. (Caution: Bell does have a career average of 158.25 against Bangladesh.)
3. Root and Bairstow (…And maybe Gary Ballance)
Before the last drop of linseed oil dries on his last ever bat, Joe Root will score great heaping mounds of test match runs. He’s only 22 but already has the unmistakable look of a man with the right stuff. Plus, handily enough, a first class batting average the ‘very good player’ side of 50.
Jonny Bairstow is two years older and currently on drinks-carrying duty. He too, though, will surely do just fine – only two summer’s ago, he smote a wicked 95 against a South African bowling attack featuring Morkel, Philander, and Steyn. Like Root, he plays with a smile: maybe not an essential qualification, but a mighty useful one considering the present state of team England. To a man, they look like the proverbial wet weekend in Bognor.
…As for Ballance, finishing the last English summer with six first-class centuries and a batting average of 64.90 is likewise strongly suggestive of good things to come. (Probably.) He’s 24, as well.
*I’ll see you back here tomorrow for reasons four through seven. (Best to ration optimism out a little, whenever it’s in short supply.)