'New' England face Ashes acid test

2015-07-05 09:19
Alistair Cook (File)

London - England will face the ultimate test of their stated desire to play bold and aggressive cricket as they bid to regain the Ashes from Australia in a five-match series that starts in Cardiff on Wednesday.

With their new Australian coach, Trevor Bayliss, telling them the only way they can defeat the Aussies is to "fight fire with fire", England have certainly talked a good game as they look to turn the tables on an Australia side who beat their arch-rivals 5-0 during the last Ashes series 'Down Under' in 2013/14.

But can England match the aggression of Australia and will they have to if they are to win the series?

On paper, at least, Australia - even after Ryan Harris's injury-induced retirement on Saturday - have quicker bowlers in the likes of left-armers Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc than England's new-ball duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

And with their top order boasting the likes of dynamic opener David Warner, Steven Smith, now the number one ranked batsman in Test cricket, and captain Michael Clarke, Australia also appear to have a faster scoring top order than England's leading quartet of Adam Lyth, skipper Alastair Cook, Gary Ballance and Ian Bell, who have been accused of being 'one-paced' batsmen.

Nevertheless number five Joe Root has often shown he's comfortable upping the tempo - something for which England should be grateful given Kevin Pietersen's ongoing exile.

England were much praised for the attacking manner they displayed during a recent 3-2 one-day series victory over New Zealand, a series Cook missed.

Former Sri Lanka and New South Wales coach Bayliss insisted England had to take their white-ball approach into the Test arena.

"The way the game has been played over the last five or 10 years you could argue that maybe we haven't kept up to date as some of the other teams," he said.

"Whether you like it or not the T20 format and the one-day format do have a bearing on the way the game is played at Test level. It's that philosophy of being positive and aggressive."

Bayliss, however, said this was not the same thing as being reckless, a point echoed by England all-rounder Ben Stokes, who said Thursday: "It's not all about hitting fours and sixes, it's about having intent in everything you do."

During England's 124-run win over New Zealand in the first Test at Lord's in May, contrasting second innings hundreds from Cook and Stokes laid the platform for victory with the captain batting in classic opening fashion to make 162 off 345 balls while Stokes blasted 101 off 92.

Cook is often portrayed as an inherently cautious captain, certainly when compared to Clarke, and even faced flak when England won the 2013 Ashes 3-0.

Australia all-rounder Shane Watson questioned the England skipper's capacity to be proactive in the field, saying: "I'm not sure if that's exactly in Alastair Cook's DNA to be really able to put a game on the line."

But Broad made the valid point that captaincy style was often heavily influenced by the make-up of a side.

"You may see a decent shift," Broad said. "You have to captain the players you have in your side and we have these newer guys who like to play attacking, free-flowing, exciting cricket.

"Cooky can roll with that and is excited about rolling with that."

Australia have not won an Ashes series in Britain since 2001 and much will depend on how their fast bowlers adapt to generally less responsive pitches and their batsmen cope with the swinging ball, if conditions are conducive to aerial movement.

Clarke, one of the outstanding batsmen of his generation, has made three previous tours of England and ended up losing the Ashes on each occasion.

"I've played for long enough and I'm realistic enough to know that playing here is a really tough challenge," said Clarke.

"Look at our record over the last 10-15 years (in England) - it's certainly not what we'd like as an Australian team.

"But there's good reasons for that... England are very tough to beat at home."

Read more on:    ashes  |  cricket

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