Easier route for England

Updated: 2013-07-09 06:14

By Paul Tomic (China Daily)

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Easier route for England

England's cricketers will be relieved that their route to the first Ashes series of the year has been unspectacular, at least compared with Australia's.

Alastair Cook's team had an up and down winter. The highs came as England won in India for the first time since the mid-1980s, fighting back from defeat in the first Test to clinch the series 2-1. The lows were the product of the trip to New Zealand, when the team could only manage an uninspiring drawn series against a team stranded close to the bottom of the Test rankings.

England's victory in the return leg will have settled a few butterflies and put the team in good heart for the main business of the summer.

A settled team, both in terms of batting and bowling, England will look to capitalize on that stability and play it off against the perceived tensions in the Australian squad.

The batting has a look of solidity about it, despite the recent decision to drop opener Nick Compton and replace him at the top of the order with the current golden boy, Joe Root. If Compton has some justification for feeling hard done by after back-to-back hundreds in New Zealand, his form against the same team at the start of the English season was poor and he appeared weighed down by expectations.

The 30-year-old Somerset batsman may win a recall later in the summer, but Root, 22, is now officially Cook's new opening partner. The move from six, where he has played his international cricket so far, is unlikely to faze the young Yorkshireman, who regularly opens for his county.

Compton's absence also means 23-year-old Jonny Bairstow will resume a Test career that began in fine fashion against South Africa last year. Rightly, England is looking to give younger players a fair crack of the whip.

Cook, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell will continue as England's batting backbone, a spine now reinforced by the return of the team's best batsman, Kevin Pietersen, who appears fully recovered from the injury that kept him out of the early part of the summer.

On the bowling front, pacemen James Anderson and Stuart Broad, along with off-spinner Graeme Swann, are already inked in to start the series along with A.N. Other. If Stephen Finn can assure the selectors that the well-publicized problems with his run up are firmly behind him, he may get the call for Trent Bridge, where the series begins on Wednesday. If not, Tim Bresnan is the likely third seamer. However, another hat has been thrown into the ring; Durham's Graham Onions was named in England's 13-man squad, but although his skiddy wicket-to-wicket style would be useful at Trent Bridge, where the strange microclimate encourages the ball to behave unexpectedly, he's unlikely to be called upon, barring a late injury to one of the other bowlers.

The oldest rivalry in cricket resumes on Wednesday and it looks as though it could be a fascinating summer.

Contact Paul at paultomic@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 07/09/2013 page22)