England’s bowlers win key moments

Investec Ashes 2015 review

In a bizarre Ashes series of one sided matches, (not to mention the shortest ever five match Test series in terms of number of day’s play), it was England who won the key important moments – despite only having one player in each of the top four run makers and wicket takers.

Stuart Broad topped the Ashes wickets column with 21 victims at 20.
Stuart Broad celebrates his fifth victim during his 8-15 at Trent Bridge.

However, when you look at the contributions of those two players: Joe Root (460 runs at 57) and Stuart Broad (21 wickets at 20) then it’s easier to put England’s series victory into perspective. Root top scored in the first innings in each of the three Tests that England won, including hundreds at both Cardiff and Nottingham. Broad on the other hand was easily England’s most impressive bowler throughout. His breathtaking 8-15 at Trent Bridge was ample reward for his efforts earlier in the series – where he didn’t necessary get the riches he deserved.

Where England really dominated the Australians was with each of their fast bowler’s abilities to come to the party at critical junctions of the series. During the two week period where the Ashes were won and lost at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, England restricted Australia to totals of just: 136, 265, 60 and 253. Across those four innings, four different bowlers took at least six wicket hauls. At Edgbaston James Anderson took 6-47 and the returning Steven Finn 6-79, while at Trent Bridge, Broad shrugged off the absence of the injured Anderson to blast out the Australians with a career best 8-15. Ben Stokes also claimed his Test finest figures whilst wrapping the Ashes up with a second innings haul of 6-36.

England’s 2015 Ashes campaign very much mirrors that of 2009 – where they prevailed despite being very much behind the Australians on individual honours. But in a series where both sides by and large lacked the hunger and technique to bat long periods when behind the game, England found enough runs in three out of the five matches.

Moeen Ali, who is a regular no.3 for Worcestershire, made a huge difference to the balance of the England side whilst batting at number eight. Batting when his country found themselves under the cosh he snatched the game away from Australia at both Cardiff and Birmingham, where he blazed first innings knocks of 77 and 59. That his batting partnerships with Broad were England’s most fruitful of this freakish series, tells its own story.

How did they win the Ashes?

Despite going into the series as relative underdogs, a disciplined yet courageous England took advantage at Cardiff, where they played the type of aggressive cricket they had promised before the series began. After winning the toss and finding themselves in a spot of bother at 3-43, England breathed a huge sigh of relief when Brad Haddin dropped Root on nought. It would be a turning point in not just the match but also the series as Root went onto make 134 and England 430. Despite five of the Australian top six making at least 30, a procession of starts were not built upon and they could only muster 308 in reply. A pair of 60’s from Ian Bell and Root set the Australians a difficult 412 to win but they collapsed to 6-122 before Mitchell Johnson’s brisk 77 delayed the inevitable for the visitors as they eventually succumbed to a 169-run defeat.

ROOOOOOT. England's Joe showed why he is regarded as one of the world's best.
ROOOOOOT. England’s Joe showed why he is regarded as one of the world’s best.

After a huge 405-run mauling at the hands of a rejuvenated Australia at Lords, both coach Trevor Bayliss and captain Alastair Cook summoned for more “English type” wickets after their fast bowlers struggled on a flat deck at the home of cricket. Their wish was granted at Edgbaston as they were confronted with a heavily green tinged wicket and grey overhead conditions. It was a good toss to lose for Cook as Michael Clarke opted for first use on a rain hit morning in Birmingham. It all started to go wrong for Clarke and his men thereafter as Anderson, along with help from Broad and Finn, made perfect use of the conditions to bundle the tourists out for just 136.

In reply both Bell and Root again made half centuries but the innings was beginning to fizzle out until Moeen and Broad batted the Australians out of the contest with an eight-wicket stand of 87. Finn then took over, reducing Australia to 5-92 before some late order resistance from Peter Nevill and Mitchell Starc eventually set England 121. After both openers fell cheaply it was Bell and Root again doing the damage as they put on an unbroken 73 to seal an eight-wicket victory.

After seeing the Australians struggle to play the moving ball at Edgbaston, Cook had no hesitation in inserting the visitors under grey skies at Trent Bridge. What followed next was one of the most outlandish first sessions in Test history. The ciaos began when Australia were reduced to 2-10 after just one over from Broad and things soon went from bad to worse as Broad and England jumped all over Australia’s feeble middle order to dismiss them for just 60 – their lowest Ashes total since 1936.

England found themselves batting half an hour before lunch and eventually finished the day with a 214-run lead thanks to an unbeaten hundred from Root – who added 173 with Jonny Bairstow for the fourth wicket. Facing a first innings deficit of 331, Australia’s openers Chris Rogers and David Warner put on a solid hundred partnership for the first wicket before Stokes removed them both amidst a superb spell of swing bowling – that eventually reaped him his second six-wicket Ashes haul. The last rites were orchestrated by Mark Wood who bowled both Josh Hazelwood and Nathan Lyon to hand underdogs England redemption.

What next for England?

Despite seemingly winning the Ashes at ease with a match to spare, there remain a few questions to be answered over the performances of some players.

There’s no doubting that it was a bowlers series and England will be pleased with the efforts of their fast men in particular. Anderson, Broad, Finn, Stokes and Wood all form a solid pace battery featuring both experience and youth and barring injury they should all go on to play Test cricket for at least another year.

Beneath them in the standings there also remains decent depth: Liam Plunkett, Chris Jordan, Mark Footitt and Chris Woakes have all not being called upon to make an appearance during the Ashes, but England will be confident that each of them wouldn’t let the side down if they were given a chance for future assignments.

But with a Test series against Pakistan in the UAE next up, the fast bowling shouldn’t be so much an issue as that of the spin resources. While Moeen has provided England with valuable depth in the batting order at number eight, his primary role is as front line spinner and his performances in the past six months haven’t quite been up to the standards required to bowl sides out in Test cricket. The problem for England is who else they can turn to when they will need to play two spinners in the UAE?

Ales Hales looks likely to become Alastair Cook's opening Test partner in the not too distant future.
Ales Hales looks likely to become Alastair Cook’s opening Test partner in the not too distant future.

Legspinner Adil Rashid will be in the reckoning to play alongside Moeen in the UAE, but it will be a daunting task for a man who will be expected to bowl out Pakistani batsman despite not being given any previous Test experience this year. In hindsight Rashid should have played in the West Indies on England’s there earlier this year, when he wasn’t given an opportunity then, it looked very unlikely that he would have been given a chance during the Ashes unless it was as a last resort if England were going badly.

Other names that have been doing the rounds as potential touring inclusions in the past week are 18-year-old Hampshire legspinner Mason Crane and Surrey’s Zafar Ansari, 23. Out of the pair Ansari, a Cambridge University graduate who is capable of batting in the middle order and bowling tidy slow left arm, looks the most likely to be selected after earning good reviews from many who have watched him at Surrey this summer. As for Crane, it seems highly unlikely that a usually conservative English selection panel would go with an 18-year-old legspinner who has at the time of writing only played two first-class matches in his short career thus far.

After the recent failings of Adam Lyth, it looks like the England merry-go-round search for a second opener to accompany Cook, will go on. Since Andrew Strauss retired after the summer of 2012, six men have been asked to fill his void and so far none have made a sustainable case for themselves. Nick Compton, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson and Jonathan Trott have all been tried and jettisoned, while Root has quite rightly moved back down the order, and with Lyth seemingly not have taken his chance, the search continues.

One option that remains a real possibility for the Pakistan tour at least is to move Moeen up from eight to open alongside Cook. This would of course be a short term measure to allow England to play either Rashid or Ansari at number eight as a second spinner whilst not weakening the batting. While Moeen might thrive opening the batting on the slow and low pitches of the UAE, England’s next assignment to South Africa at Christmas might not be so forthcoming for the flashy left-hander. That’s where Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales comes into the equation. The tall right-hander has already cemented his place in England’s limited overs sides and another strong showing in the ODI series with Australia, coupled with his fine recent first-class form for his county and he could well be given a Test debut this winter in either the Emirates or South Africa.

England’s slow bowling options in a spin

The Investec Ashes 2015

In a week where there has been plenty of clamoring and debate over the selection or subsequent non-selection of legspinner Adil Rashid in England’s pre-Ashes holiday party to Spain – It’s easy to forget that England selected a legspinner in their previous Ashes encounter – In the form of Scott Borthwick.

Scott Borthwick (centre) was the last legspinner to represent England in an Ashes Test.

On that occasion, a three day hiding in Sydney, Borthwick was almost brought in as a last resort. Graeme Swann decided he had had enough after Perth and Monty Panesar was so bad in Adelaide and Melbourne that he was almost deemed as “un-selectable” as Steven Finn had been on that same tour. Borthwick was seen as a “horses for courses” selection – He was already in the country playing grade cricket and it was hoped his enthusiasm would help boost an English morale that was already a long way past shot.

A similar section was made by the Australians three years previous when they called up a then little known legspinning allrounder going by the name of Steve Smith. “I’ve been told that I’ve got to come into the side to be fun,” said Smith. “For me, it’s about having energy in the field and making sure I’m having fun and making sure everyone else around is having fun, whether it be telling a joke or something like that.” For Smith the rest is history as he enters his fourth Ashes campaign as the world’s number one ranked Test batsman.
Borthwick subsequently took debut match figures of 4-82 but it was his lack of control and high economy rate of 6.30 that has prompted the selectors to turn their attention elsewhere in a time when spin bowlers in England don’t exactly grow on trees.

That Borthwick is now a number three batsman who only very occasionally rolls his arm over for his County side Durham is indicative of where the slow bowling stocks now lie in English cricket.

Borthwick, who took 4-46 in Durham’s victory at Arundel on Thursday – to more than double his tally of three championship wickets for the season, is now a long way down the pecking order in the English spin cupboard with his only realist chance of selection now being as a middle order batsman – But where are the English spinners to take this new looking aggressive England side forward?

After Panesar and Borthwick were tried and quickly disregarded as viable options, England has since stumbled across Moeen Ali as their chief spin hope. Despite his success against India last summer he remains more middle order batsman and less front line spinner.

Much criticism was directed towards Moeen after his inability to bowl out the West Indies on a spinning deck in Bridgetown and if England were ever going to select Rashid then that Barbados Test was the perfect opportunity.

Despite the fact that Rashid bowled poorly in the two Test warm up matches in St. Kitts he should have also been given an opportunity ahead of the reliable but steady James Tredwell in the series opener in Antigua.

Instead a half fit and undercooked Moeen returned to the side in Grenada where the exceptional James Anderson masked over any dramas with the Worcestershire spinner by leading England to victory. The same can’t be said of Barbados where Moeen underwhelmed in the fourth innings on a pitch inductive to spin, claiming just 1-54 while going at over four an over.

He went only marginally better in the recent home series against New Zealand where he picked up just five wickets at 50 apiece. Despite having his solid batting to fall back on, the successful promotion of Ben Stokes to number six in the line up means that Moeen now bats as low as eight in the order.

His recent form or lack of will not have gone unnoticed by the Australians and they will look to target the offspinner in the way that they targeted Swann during his Ashes swansong eighteen months ago – leaving Alastair Cook to over bowl his front line seamers.

A big concern surrounding Moeen is his lack of variation on the international stage. Although Swann was an out and out

Moeen Ali's form remains a huge concern ahead of the Ashes.
Moeen Ali’s bowling form remains a huge concern ahead of the Ashes.

orthodox off spin bowler he used his subtle changes in flight and pace to gain many wickets – while Moeen doesn’t have the same skill set as Swann he does possess a doosra. He learnt this off his great friend Saeed Ajmal whilst they were teammates at Worcestershire, but while he has the doosra in his repertoire, his reluctance to use it in Test matches could prove a huge downfall.

Rashid on the otherhand has impressed with his all round game in the recent New Zealand ODI series. Mixing sharp turning legbreaks with the odd googly and slider he claimed 4-55 as England ran out huge victors in the series opener at Edgbaston.

Having been a player and coach in Australia during Shane Warne’s dominance in the nineties, new coach Trevor Bayliss should know more than most the importance of an attacking legspinner, especially in a side lacking as much variation in its attack.

Another positive reason for having a legspinner in the side is the recent struggles the Australians have faced against such bowling on their two latest away tours. First Pakistan’s Yasir Shah claimed 12 series wickets at just 17 last October before Devendra Bishoo picked up 6-80 in the West Indians 9-wicket defeat in Dominica earlier this month.

During the dominance of Warne and to a lesser extent India’s Anil Kumble, having an aggressive legspin bowler in your attack was seen as a necessity. These days the infatuation has moved on to left arm pace bowlers – which are seen as cricket’s latest fashion accessory in the wake of the recent successes of the two Mitchell’s, Johnson and Starc along with Trent Boult. To counter this recent trend England have called up Derbyshire’s Mark Footitt.

Along with the introduction of Footitt now was surely the right time to include Rashid in the side as a make way for Moeen. Despite his exclusion from the 14-man party which leaves for Spain next Saturday, Rashid will return to county action for Yorkshire with one eye still on the Ashes.

Look beyond Moeen and Rashid and the spin bowling stocks in England remain extremely thin.

Offspinner Adam Riley, 23, of Kent showed promise last summer whilst keeping Tredwell out of the Canterbury-based side but his 2015 returns of four wickets at 86 don’t make for pretty reading. While Simon Kerrigan, 26, has a respectable mid-season return of 20 wickets at 31, it is still unknown how much a disastrous Ashes debut two years ago affected his confidence as Shane Watson and co. pummeled his slow left arm bowling to all parts of the Oval.

It also looks like Panesar’s international days are a thing of the past after the slow left-armer recently took an enforced break from all cricket – At 33 it remains to be seen if he will ever return to the game.

England will hope it doesn’t take them as long to find a permanent replacement for Swann as it did for Australia when Warne, the greatest legspinner of them all, retired in 2007.

From Beau Casson to Steve O’Keefe, thirteen men were tried before the Australians decided to put all their trust in Nathan Lyon – who recently became their most successful offspinner of all time. Their current legspinner Fawad Ahmed, like Rashid, looks set to watch the Ashes from the outside looking in.