How to accommodate Anderson
England’s greatest bowler of the past decade has just proved his fitness again after pulling up lame on the first morning of the series. Good news, right? Well, yes, but in his absence, England discovered their greatest bowler of the next decade. Jimmy Anderson and Jofra Archer could be the new-ball pair of Ed Smith’s dreams – the best combination of fire and craftsmanship since Hephaestus. But how to fit them into the same team? By resting Chris Woakes. Archer will have to move up to No 8, which should not cost many runs now that the Australians have identified Woakes’s weakness (flapping at bouncers). But it will mean that Archer, when batting in the nets, has to do more than just impersonate Steve Smith’s leave.
What to do about Jason Roy
Every so often in an English summer, there is a Test opener who becomes a walking wicket. It happened to Heino Kuhn of South Africa, Shane Watson of Australia, even Virender Sehwag of India. This year, it is the fate of an Englishman: Jason Roy, the one-day team’s Mr Swagger. Not one of the 48 openers who have played at least two Tests in England over the past decade has a worse record than Roy, who averages 8.85 as an opener (his 72 against Ireland came at No 3) and keeps edging stock deliveries outside off stump. Do England persist with him, as Australia have just done, fruitfully, with David Warner? Or drop him, as Australia did, fruitlessly, with Cameron Bancroft? It is obvious that Joe Denly, who has been getting starts at No 4, would do more to blunt the new ball. But then the question is whether Roy squeezes into a crowded middle order …
Whether to bring back Pope
Ollie Pope of Surrey is England’s brightest batting prospect since Joe Root, with a first-class average of 59 to prove it. He may have struggled in three innings against India’s pacemen last summer, but he was out of position at No 4. For Surrey, he has shown that he can do the thing Brian Lara used to do, and few Englishmen have ever done – make big runs at high speed. Aged 21, he already has a 251 on his CV, plus a 221 from just the other day. At Headingley, he was on standby in case Roy was ruled out with concussion. So he is the next cab on the rank, and he is now used to No 4. At Surrey, in red-ball cricket, they would not dream of preferring Roy to Pope. And they should know.
How to keep Stokes stoked
After the World Cup triumph in July, some of England’s stars struggled to adjust, whether through sheer exhaustion or the bereavement of achievement. Such are the dangers now lying in wait for Ben Stokes after he pulled off one of the greatest heists in Test history. The reassuring thing is that classic Ashes moments tend to go in threes. In 1981, Ian Botham followed the famous 149 not out by taking five wickets for one run in the next Test and stroking 118 in the one after. In 2005, England’s two-run victory at Edgbaston led to a cliffhanging draw at Old Trafford and a three-wicket win at Trent Bridge. The worry is that Stokes has used up his three goes already, after being player of the match in the World Cup final and the Lord’s Test as well as at Headingley. Let’s hope that the Lord’s Test does not count, as the award should have gone to Archer. That Mo Mentum sees off Ann Ticlimax. And that Stokes is still making it up to the lads for missing the whole of the last Ashes.
How to move beyond block-or-blast
Whenever they collapse, ie about once a fortnight, England’s batsmen are berated for bringing their white-ball habits into Test cricket. In fact, the picture is more nuanced. England’s strike rate in this Ashes has been 45 per hundred balls, way down from the last home Ashes in 2015 when it was 58. Then, Australia’s strike rate was also 58; this time it is 52. England’s problem has not been impatience so much as periods of inertia. It has been block-or-blast, which has worked spectacularly well for Stokes, less so for his teammates. Buttler’s strike rate in the series is 29, which is right out of character. Partly this is because Australia’s bowling has been defensive, but it takes two to tango. Jonny Bairstow showed the way with his breezy cameo at Headingley – instantly upstaged but highly influential, as it got Stokes moving. They also serve those who merely hit a quick 30.