It has become very clear during this pandemic-ravaged era that one of the valuable ingredients of a cricket team is depth. Ideally, he should be both batting and bowling.
Even the home squad are now more numerous in case concussion substitutes are needed or when the players are positive. Tours are much more important to accommodate both substitutes and pre-series inter-team matches. This situation favors the richest countries and those with a robust development system.
India showed great depth – especially in fast bowling – by beating Australia on their recent tour. By making six changes from the first to the second Test and always beat England comfortably at Edgbaston, New Zealand also surprised with their talent.
England showed both depth and flexibility in eliminating Pakistan completely in their three-game ODI series. Their prospects for the Ashes in Australia were also bolstered by the skillful performance of the two Saqib Mahmood and Brydon carse, two bowlers whose gait should be an asset on inflatable fields.
History has shown that strength in fast bowling is a prerequisite for success in Australia, and England are building an impressive squad. However, a good bowling rhythm alone is not a guarantee of victory in Australia. Bowlers need good catching support and enough runs to provide a decent margin for error. It is the latter that should concern England the most.
On this point, however, the forced selection of a whole new team for the Pakistan series can prove to be a blessing. I’m not convinced that Rory Burns and Dom Sibley, with their questionable techniques and weird habits, will have much success against a thoroughbred Australian rhythm attack.
Therefore, the reminders served by Dawid malan and Jacques Vince against a quality Pakistani rhythm attack should be enough for them to be included in an extended Ashes squad. On the last tour of Australia, Malan and Vince performed well at Gabba and the WACA, showing they were comfortable with the extra bounce.
Some might dispute this assessment of Vince, but his sublime half-century at WACA ended in an unplayable shooter, and he was on course for a century in Brisbane until he was exhausted by a direct hit. If any of those rounds had turned into something substantial, he might well have been an established member of the Test team by now. There is no doubt that he has the talent to be a very good try hitter. The only question is whether the mental side of his game can match it. Those reservations aside, there should be a place for both players on a long tour of the Covid era.
The other bonus England could gain from having to reveal a second team was the legpinner Matt Parkinson. He’s improving a lot and his bowling style can come in handy in Australia. His ability to fly the ball and his typical “confident northerner” temperament could make him a valuable asset to the Ashes.
Australia are the only great team whose recent performances haven’t involved substantial depth. The hitter is the main concern and hitters haven’t thrived in the Caribbean, with only Mitchell Marsh make its mark. But Marsh is unlikely to replace Cameron Green as a six-year-old test hitter.
Once again, the Australian stick was found to be fragile when David Warner and Steve Smith went missing. A look at Sheffield Shield’s batting performances over the past two seasons doesn’t inspire much confidence that the new wave of stars is on the horizon.
When it comes to batting talent, India is the best placed of all the teams. Their development system, which produces players with “traditional techniques” and offers many opportunities at the first class level, is to be envied.
Note that the extent of the Indian reservations will be fully tested on the England tour as they have already had to react to the isolation requirements and they haven’t even played a warm-up match. Just another example of why modern cricket teams consider the king of depth.