x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Why England will win the Ashes

Touring party has plenty of experience and the class to repeat their series win of 2010/11, writes Paul Radley.

Alastair Cook continues to defy his critics who say the England captain does not have it in him to succeed as batsman or captain. Gareth Copley / Getty Images
Alastair Cook continues to defy his critics who say the England captain does not have it in him to succeed as batsman or captain. Gareth Copley / Getty Images

Cook is a write-off

The last time England went to Australia for the Ashes, a member of the Sky Sports commentary team wrote in his newspaper column that Alastair Cook was not up to it.

Sound familiar?

Forecasts of his imminent demise proved to be somewhat exaggerated, though, as he went on to score 766 runs at 127.66.

Cook’s undemonstrative manner does not immediately suggest the type of person who would rage angrily against naysayers. Yet he does have a fine record of proving people wrong.

Australia have settled in to their default mode of trying to undermine England’s captain already – and not just their team.

From the recesses of retirement, Shane Warne, the former Australia leg-spinner, is proving there is still no sharper sledger in the game.

However, Cook seems unflustered. Boring captaincy was good enough for a 3-0 win over the Australians in the summer. Why not again?

Conservative is good

So, Cook’s captaincy is risk-free and predictable? The same was always said of his predecessor, Andrew Strauss, too.

Successive Ashes series wins were testament to the fact Strauss’s method was plenty good enough when it came to beating Australia.

So he does not set funky fields? So what. Usually the set of players at their disposal make a captain, and Cook has the greater artillery in this series. In the modern game in general, and with ultra-professional England in particular, sparky and whimsical captaincy is less important than it used to be, anyway.

With players such as Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and James Anderson in tow, Cook can get away with having only two slips and a gully if Australia are 18 for three.

Broad loves villainy

Telling Australian crowds to abuse Stuart Broad so much he goes home crying is like telling a navy officer to affix a catflap to their submarine. It is basically pointless.

Few players thrive on playing the villain as much as Broad. England would not have minded a few like him during the barren years of the 1990s, the man himself reasoned in the summer. When he edged behind and refused to walk in the Trent Bridge Test during the summer, he was utterly remorseless.

He was assailed with criticism from various quarters of society, so what did he do?

The next day, as he indulged in the most flagrant time-wasting during Australia’s run-chase, he appeared to be taking the mickey out of everyone.

Shameless.

Maybe Australia’s crowds should shower him with praise instead. That will throw him.

Pietersen eyes history

Talking of pantomime villains, Broad will have to go some to get more boos than Kevin Pietersen this winter. Opposition crowds have never needed a prompt from Darren Lehmann or anyone to have a pop at England’s most explosive batsman.

“I take it as a huge bit of respect when I go out to bat and the whole of the MCG or the whole of the Gabba hammer me,” Pietersen said in Dubai last month.

Oddly, Pietersen might be afforded some credit when the series starts in Brisbane, though. The first Test will be the 100th of a career defined by what he has done in Ashes cricket.

He is unlikely to let the occasion pass without wresting some limelight for himself, nor pass up the chance of winning the urn for a fifth time.

Familiarity is a big help

The fact it is three years, rather than the usual four, since England played an away Ashes works in their favour.

Back in 2010/11 they were bidding to retain the urn with a variety of questions hanging over them.

Could Anderson and England’s pace bowlers control the Kookaburra ball? Could Jonathan Trott play fast-bowling on quick pitches? Was Cook worthy of a place in the squad?

They seem ridiculously far-fetched now, given England’s dominance of Ashes cricket since then.

The same protagonists have been facing different versions of the same questions this time around, too. Going by their success last time around, the doubts seem rather hollow.

pradley@thenational.ae