England need to fix batting flaws or risk getting punished by Pakistan in UAE

England deserve credit for regaining the Ashes in such comprehensive style, but Graham Caygill warns that sterner tests await, starting with Pakistan in the UAE later this year.
Ian Bell is among the England batsmen who have failed to produce their best form in the Ashes. Paul Ellis / AFP
Ian Bell is among the England batsmen who have failed to produce their best form in the Ashes. Paul Ellis / AFP

There is likely to be a party atmosphere in London this week as England celebrate regaining the Ashes with a Test to spare as they take on Australia at the Oval.

The final Test has become a fixture to be fulfilled after England’s bowlers ran through Australia at both Edgbaston and then this month Trent Bridge to go 3-1 up in the best-of-five series.

The problem with success, accentuated in this case by the heightened excitement of having bowled out their arch enemies for only 60 in their first innings in Nottingham, is that the elation of victory can paper over the cracks of reality.

This England side is good and full of promise, but they have won this series despite their batting, not because of it.

England’s pace bowling attack, led by Stuart Broad and James Anderson, have been the key as Australia’s batsmen have not handled the ball moving through the air.

But batting wise, only Joe Root can be really satisfied with his summer’s work in the Ashes.

Two hundreds, made at important times when England were under pressure, and two fifties, have given Root 443 runs at an average of 73.83.

After that Moeen Ali, who has been batting at No 8 in this series as an all-rounder, is the next highest scorer with 228. The fact that no other batsman has passed 250 runs in the series shows the extent of the reliance on Root and the bowlers.

In six completed innings in this series, England only passed three figures with two or less wickets down only once, and their average score for losing their third wicket was only 69.

Harder times are ahead, starting with the trip to the UAE in October for three Tests against Pakistan.

Followed by a winter tour of world No 1 side South Africa, which will see four Tests played in December and January.

England have been in this position before. Last time they headed to the UAE in January 2012 it was after beating India 4-0 at home to go to world No 1 in the rankings.

What followed was pretty ugly as they were whitewashed 3-0, the low points being bowled out for 72 in Abu Dhabi chasing 145 to win, and losing in Dubai by 71 runs after bowling Pakistan out for 99 in their first innings.

England bowled superbly on the dry pitches in the Emirates, the pace of Anderson and Broad supported by the spin of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, but were let down by a batting line-up that passed 200 only twice in six innings.

Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, will be well aware that history could easily be repeated this autumn given how shaky England’s batting has been against the Australians.

Winning the Ashes, coming 18 months after the 5-0 humiliation in Australia, is a great achievement, but the mistake would be to delude themselves that everything in their garden is rosy.

Wholesale changes are unlikely in the batting, with the only movement expected to be at the top with opener Adam Lyth unlikely to make it to the UAE, unless he plays and makes big scores at the Oval, after a poor series in which he has averaged only 12.28 in seven innings.

The inconsistent Ian Bell’s past achievements ensure he will go on tour, while Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance will both be in the tour party, despite neither batsman, the latter of who was dropped after two Tests, looking anywhere near convincing against Australia. Who replaces him is the tricky question, given it is a problem England have had for three years since Andrew Strauss retired.

Speculation in the English media is Ali will move up to open in the UAE, a position he has played before in limited overs cricket for his country.

The purpose of it would be not just for Ali’s batting, but to free up a spot in the line-up for a second spinner, almost certainly Adil Rashid, who will be needed on the wickets in the Emirates.

Ali is certainly worth a look there, even if England are losing him from the middle order.

He surely cannot do any worse than the underwhelming Lyth and his natural aggressive style of play could be a good foil for Alastair Cook.

England will have to bat much better to have any chance of succeeding in the UAE, and then dealing with the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in South Africa. Being a winning side means they will not tear up the team, and neither should they. But they cannot ignore the fact the top order has not fired in this series and, while they have escaped on this situation, they might not be so fortunate either here or in South Africa.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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Published: August 16, 2015 04:00 AM

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