Reports England will select seam-bowling all-rounder Sam Curran over specialist batsman Joe Denly at Lord’s have left former captain Nasser Hussain seriously concerned over the state of the Test team.
Denly failed to reach 20 in either innings at Edgbaston and has only passed 50 once in his four Tests to date, but Hussain fears England’s over reliance on all-rounders is indicative of its current batting stocks.
“If England pick Sam Curran ahead of Joe Denly, the selectors are basically saying that they trust one of their all-rounders to score runs over one of their frontline batsmen,” Hussain penned for the Daily Mail UK. “Maybe, in this instance, they are right. But it’s an indictment of our Test team.”
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Curran’s selection would leave England with just four specialist batsmen in its line-up, including Jos Buttler who wears the gloves in white ball cricket and made his Test debut as a keeper.
Hussain is unconvinced the approach he believes all-rounders and wicketkeepers typically take to batting is suitable to providing the bedrock of a successful Test team.
“The problem with asking all-rounders — and I include wicketkeepers in that category — to do the job of specialist batsmen is that they haven’t trained their brains in the same way. They’re used to coming in at No 6 or 7, batting with the tail and counter-attacking for 30 or 40.
“What they’re not programmed to do, in the same way as a specialist, is to bat all day, which is what this England side needs right now…
“Their mindset differs in another way, too. If you have another string to your bow, it removes some of the onus on you to score runs…if you’re Curran, you’ve always got your bowling to fall back on.”
ARCHER BACKED TO MAKE A SPLASH
Part of the reason Curran is being considered over Denly is to help England get the best out of the debuting Jofra Archer.
While Archer is in no doubt his body can handle lengthy spells with the ball, England plan to use him as an impact bowler in short bursts. Curran’s left-arm seam would allow Root to rotate another frontline bowler in and out of the attack, keeping Archer fresh.
It has been 11 months since Archer last played a first-class match but the 24-year-old is still being backed to turn England’s Ashes hopes around. Archer was comfortably among the three fastest bowlers at the World Cup — alongside Mitchell Starc and Mark Wood — and took 20 wickets in the campaign.
“The World Cup, and especially the closing stages of it, put to rest any questions about Archer’s temperament. From first ball to last, he looked made of, what the American writer Tom Wolfe called in respect of fighter pilots, ‘the right stuff’”, former England captain Mike Atherton wrote of the fast bowler in the Times.
Atherton is hopeful Archer’s extra pace will prove Steve Smith’s kryptonite. Smith’s twin tons were the difference between the two teams at Edgbaston and he has averaged 139 against England since the start of the 2017-18 Ashes. Root has not been able to call on an express bowler against him in that time.
“These bowlers (145kmh bowlers), the genuinely quick bowlers, are few and far between and precious. Archer is in that bracket and will ask questions of Steve Smith, for example, that England have not been able to in the past seven Tests,” Atherton wrote.
“The effect of having a genuinely fast bowler is psychological — as England found when Mitchell Johnson blew them away in a whitewash five years ago. There is nothing worse for a captain than feeling outgunned, as Joe Root was throughout the 2017-18 Ashes tour when Australia’s bowlers were significantly quicker.”
The Daily Mail’s Paul Newman went as far as deeming him a potentially transformative force.
“It is no exaggeration to say Jofra Archer could transform not only this Ashes series but an England Test side still struggling to locate its true identity,” Newman wrote.
“It would take an awful lot to take the gloss off the World Cup win but virtually squandering the Ashes in two Tests would go close,” he continued. “It is up to England and their new spearhead Archer to avoid that miserable scenario.”
PRESSURE ON ROOT
The pressure is mounting on Root after England’s first Test loss. On Tuesday, former Australia captain Ian Chappell tore into the England skipper’s tactical acumen, questioning his suitability for the job. It’s unsurprising criticism given Root’s Ashes record as captain. — he is yet to lead England to a win over Australia after six Tests.
“England have Test matches to win, an urn to regain and a captain’s reputation to enhance,” the Sun’s John Etheridge wrote.
“England Test skippers are judged mainly by their Ashes performances and Root’s record so far reads: played six, lost five, drawn one.”