Sunday, 12 July 2015

One up and four to go

In a week of white-clad sportsmen vying for the attention of the British public, it was to Wales that our eyes turned as Scottish hope was eliminated from dreams of glory. A combination of Murray falling at the penultimate hurdle and England's relentlessly strong performance meant that success was to be found in the Welsh rather than English capital. It's hard to imagine how things could have gone much better for Alastair Cook and his team kicking the Ashes off, especially given the low expectations prior to the series. Those few glimmers of hope and encouraging signs against New Zealand came to fruition in four surprising and immensely enjoyable days.

With universal agreement that England as a team outplayed their Australian counterparts, how did the individuals on each side perform, and what does that mean for the rest of the series?

Adam Lyth - 6 & 37: Relatively mediocre performance and a significant part of England's top order issues. Took a couple of catches as the Aussies fell apart at the end but needs a big knock to put questions over his place in the team to bed. Performing when the chips are down, that will be the real challenge. 4/10

England's main area of vulnerability
Alastair Cook - 20 & 12: Actually seemed reasonably comfortable in both innings but evidently still not recaptured his best form or indeed confidence. A brilliant and critic-defying display of captaincy played a big part in the match win but to secure the series it's hard to imagine England not needing some runs from their senior opener. 4/10 batting 9/10 captain

Gary Ballance - 61 & 0: Like Cook, is still lacking the form which has seen him such a relentless run accumulator in the past. An impressive and gritty 61 in the first innings was exactly what England needed, especially as a foil to the more aggressive Root. A big innings may not be far off. 6/10

Ian Bell - 1 & 60: England's 2013 hero has been on such a dismal run of form that even a pressure-off 60 will be seen as a significant positive step. Hopefully more to come from the classy number 4. 6/10

Joe Root - 134 & 60, 28-2: The new 4th ranked test batsman is by far and away England's best, and most inspirational player. Digging England out of a hole in the first innings then piling on the pressure in the second, as well as chipping in with two wickets to finish it all off. Now has the 11th highest batting average in history (min 50 wickets) and will surely be an England great for years to come. 9/10

Ben Stokes - 52 & 42, 51-1 & 23-0: Went somewhat under the radar but played two very important innings without which England's totals would have been much less dominant. Is a solid rather than inspired bowler still at this stage but has such potential and I would expect there'll be at least one point in the series where he has a Flintoff-esque impact on a match. 7/10

Jos Buttler - 27 & 7, 3 catches: Bit of a nothing performance from Buttler really, decent enough with the gloves, never got going with the bat. England's need will be greater another day so it remains to be seen how he produces when that day comes. 5/10

Moeen Ali - 77 & 15, 71-2 & 59-3: A great all-round performance from Moeen who continues to improve in both aspects of his game. Australia had obviously decided to go after him so he'll need to tighten up when his role is just to contain but for now he functions well when Cook basically needs to buy wickets. Classy, occasionally explosive and brimming with potential batting-wise, this could be a defining series for the bearded spinner. 8/10

Stuart Broad - 18 & 4, 60-2 & 39-3: Broad appears to be back to his best with the ball, having great control and discipline, as well as intelligence and threat. Having plans for batsmen and then executing well, particularly with fuller-than-natural lengths. Still underperforming with the bat which could yet prove significant given how much of a contribution tailenders often make these days. 8/10

Mark Wood - 7* & 32*, 66-2 & 53-2: What a brilliant addition to the squad he's been. A genuine character and another who seems to genuinely enjoy his cricket and bring a bit of life to the team. A good back-up to Broad & Anderson, as well as apparently some skill with the willow as well. I hope Steven Finn enjoys county cricket because he won't be playing test matches any time soon. 7/10

James Anderson - 1 & 1, 43-3 & 33-0: Much like Broad, Jimmy appears to be right at the top of his game. The second best test bowler in the world has such control over the ball it's amazing he didn't take more wickets. On what was supposed to be a doddle to bat on, Anderson still had the Aussies guessing. 7/10

With England naming an unchanged squad and surely an unchanged starting 11, the signs are positive but the question will be how strongly Australia bounce back at Lords.

PS Australian team ratings to follow

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