England still have a lot to look forward to as their resurrection process starts with the Boxing Day Test. Abhijit Banare looks at a few things to watch out for in the remaining two matches.
The urn is already gone, an experienced batsman left early after the first Test, the strike bowler retired mid-way through the series and the cracks are evident within the team with sparks flying over unnamed players and their attitude. England’s fortunes have turned for worse within a span of weeks and they are no more the same side, oozing with confidence, boasting of world-class bowlers. With two Tests remaining, ideally the skipper Alastair Cook would be just hoping for the series to end. As the team passes through a crisis, these two matches could well be an opportunity to test the mettle of the players. Below are a few reasons why the remaining two matches are still critical for England (more than just saving a possible whitewash.)
1) Michael Carberry and Ben Stokes
Stokes has already made his intent clear that he wants to be more than just a one-test wonder, whereas Carberry has been the underdog on this tour all along. Stokes grabbed the limelight with a century under pressure, whereas Carberry has been among the consistent ones around. Both these batsmen can be a part of England’s recovery in the batting. Though it’s too early to predict, but one can’t ignore Stokes being the ideal all-rounder for England since Andrew Flintoff. England’s batting has been fragile this year and a good show by Carberry and Stokes will be a starting step to re-inserting the confidence needed in the England batting line-up.
2) Can Monty Panesar become England’s No 1?
Before the start of the Ashes 2013-14, Panesar sunk deep into controversies, yet included as the second spinner along with Graeme Swann because England hardly had any good spinners who could make an impact. With Swann hanging his boots, this is an ideal opportunity for Panesar to regain the same position of England’s main spinner which he did before the Swann-song started in 2008. Australian wickets aren’t the best place to make a mark as a spinner, but a gap of few months followed by two home series might give Panesar a better edge to seal his spot. His new journey starts in the fourth Test.
3) Who gets the third seamer spot?
James Anderson and Stuart Broad have remained a constant in the playing XI but England have struggled to keep their third seamer intact, shuffling around with Tim Bresnan, Steve Finn and Chris Tremlett. Before the start of the series there was much talk about the tall bowlers having a scope of extracting bounce in Australia, yet neither Tremlett nor Boyd Rankin was used. With Stuart Broad injured, England will be forced to bring in a change. At the same time, a lot depends on Bresnan’s presence. Since the batting has taken a hit, Bresnan might retain his place unless there is some surprise of including another tall seamer.
4) A big innings due from Kevin Pietersen
Pietersen has the habit of scoring one big innings in a series. The crucial 113 in the earlier Ashes, 186 at Mumbai, 151 in Sri Lanka, both in 2012, are just a few. In this Ashes, Pietersen has not just been silent with the bat, but the pressure is mounting with his main critic Geoffrey Boycott already starting a series of criticisms. The interesting aspect of Pietersen’s failures in this series is not poor form but reckless shots that have led to his downfall. In fact, in the previous Test at Perth, Pietersen played brilliantly in the second innings toning down his aggressive instinct for a while but eventually went after Peter Siddle to throw his wicket away.
5) Will Matt Prior lose the race against Jonny Bairstow?
It’s not about Jonny Bairstow being in form, but more of Matt Prior being in poor form. Prior has been an assuring presence lower down the order and equally good behind the stumps; both of which seem to have vanished. To give Prior a much-needed break, Bairstow can still make the playing XI and yet again, an opportunity for a new player to prove his worth.
Much of England’s performance will depend on whether they are playing with the fear of a whitewash or play like they have nothing to lose. With the present mindset, it’s easy to flow in the former category; playing to salvage some pride and avoid a whitewash. But the presence of new players might just insert a sense of fearlessness to grab the opportunity and make it count.
(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)
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