(Photo: Action Images via Reuters)
With less than 60 days until England head down under, Joe Root’s men will be starting their final preparations and pouring over tactics and video replays ahead of what is set to be a tough challenge for the tourists. Although the 3-1 series win over South Africa was an improvement on recent performances, there are still some gaping holes that England need to address before going out in the back garden of an in-form Australia team, due to being away and there being a number of concerning areas, England are the outsiders for the series. You can click here for the best odds on the upcoming Ashes series.
Eliminate fielding errors
The summer tests just proved how far off England are off peak performance, with 14 dropped and missed catches plaguing the team across the West Indies series. England really need to work on concentration and placement, rather than arguing about who is in slip and who is covering. Alistair Cook has been unlucky with a few spills over both tests despite perfect positioning, but practising with new and old balls can help to eliminate this problem.
Get a consistent batting partner for Alistair Cook
England have chosen 18 players to bat in the top 5 since summer 2015 when Trevor Bayliss took charge, more than any other test nation on earth. This level of inconsistency in opening batsmen is something that Australian bowlers will be relishing and England need to find a solution fast. The natural choice is Joe Root, but it’s quite astonishing that England can’t seem to find an opener that doesn’t crumble under pressure with so much young talent around.
Figure out who is selecting and coaching the squad
After being handed a dismal 340 run defeat against the South Africans in the second test in the series, Bayliss mentioned to the press that he had little say in both the selection of players and hands on coaching. With such a muddled process for building and managing a competitive cricket side, it’s no wonder that there are some mixed messages coming out of the dressing room. Players like Liam Dawson and Jos Buttler were given call-ups seemingly for their ‘good character’ rather than cricketing prowess. Not picking quality players and maintaining team balance with quieter personalities is a cause for concern, something which seems to have been happening for a long time now.
Figure out how to win when batting second
The conditions in Australia become problematic for batsmen who are up second to begin with and this problem will only be exacerbated by England’s woeful form when they aren’t opening. They are third best in the world at getting runs when they bat first, but drop to seventh on that list when batting second. Catches may win matches, but runs are vitally important the in loud, rowdy, epic tests that England will have to contend with in Oz. Focusing on the top 6 having brilliant games is the key here for England, instead of relying on openers to set the tone when following.
Although they are still a way off the 2010-11 side who made Australian bowlers look silly at times, there are still some silver linings, with players like Mark Wood bound to cause problems for Aussie batsmen if he can stay fit. The pressure is on however, another factor that has been the undoing of England teams on past tours to Australia. Cook’s men certainly have it all to do, with neither batting nor fielding being especially strong at this point.