Will the fit fast bowlers please stand up? Before the first Kookaburra is bowled, much of the Ashes firepower will either be hobbling, hobbled or hoping their health holds through six gruelling weeks.
Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson were all absent for at least some portion of Australia’s recent tour of Bangladesh and it is just as well that spin is king on the sub-continent, with Nathan Lyon covering – or exploiting – the cracks.
Ironically Pat Cummins, who returned to Test cricket this year for the first time in nearly 2,000 injury-ridden days, was the only pacemen left standing able to hold down an end for the spinners. England’s camp is not faring much better.
Jimmy Anderson may be as fit as a fiddle, but even fiddles break over constant use. The usually robust Stuart Broad, meanwhile, is sitting out until the Ashes due to a long-term heel problem.
Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes are habitual injury concerns – such are the perils of being all-rounders – and Mark Wood quite literally put his foot in it after claiming his shoes led to the bruised heel that ruled him out for much of the summer.
Even if he sorts out his kicks in time for the winter, we’ve been here before with the super-fast, super-fragile Wood.
If there was one steady eddy seamer of either side that could be relied upon, logic would point to one man – Toby Roland-Jones. Roland-Jones (below) had barely missed a game for Middlesex since 2012 and still three games shy of his ton in first-class cricket does not have the type of miles on the clock that should unduly worry a 29-year-old.
He has a clean, effortless action to match his clean and tidy figures, a bowler who can not only churn out many an economical over, but produce key wickets while the big dogs take a rest. Or so it seemed.
Nearly a year on from the County Championship winning hat-trick that helped propel him towards an England call-up, Roland-Jones sunk to his lowest ebb with Middlesex.
A stress fracture, sustained during a crucial relegation clash with Lancashire, means his Ashes involvement is highly unlikely. How’s that for give and take? England are now in a quandary.
The bowler they spent the entire summer blooding is out of the picture – the only time they jettisoned him was for a half-fit Woakes at Edgbaston against the West Indies, which proved to be a losing call.
Who now do they turn to? Jake Ball, just three Tests into his England career so far, has done well for Nottinghamshire in Division Two this season. No one needs to stress how less hostile a world that is than the Gabba.
The half-baked Wood aside, Steven Finn has ended the season well by taking eight for 79 with Middlesex, but has been in and out of the team for good reason.
Playing an uncapped Craig Overton is hardly a recipe for success. So the steady seam triumvirate, what could have been seen as England’s key strength over Australia heading into the Ashes, has suddenly broken apart – and it’s the hosts who should approach the winter the happiest.
At least Australia’s own fast bowling trio has spent much of the last few months recuperating and healing any other complaints ahead of such an arduous slate, while Anderson and Broad have been toiling away.
As Starc recently put it, the time off should be seen as ‘a silver lining’. “I think the last few times I’ve been injured I’ve been rushed back too early,” said Starc, who has been dealing with a foot injury.
“To have a nice, even lead-in to the summer has been good and makes sure I haven’t got any niggles.” What’s more is that Starc, Hazlewood and Pattinson will all be eased back into the fray during the Sheffield Shield – at least that’s the plan.
A two month-gap for England besides a few warm-ups is in danger of leaving the seam department undercooked. It’s a big problem for England because this series is likely to boil down to the success of the quicks.
Both nations have some incredible batsmen but a few uncomfortable holes in the order. Australia have home advantage, England have three wonderful all-rounders in Woakes, Stokes and Moeen Ali.
But in Australia’s it’s all about who can utilise the bounce best, and for all their recent injury gripes the Baggy Green are the ones who are trending in the right direction.
Chris Gayle ended his two-and-a-half-year ODI exile last week and he did not disappoint.
But there is something depressing about a generational star milling between the wickets as if he simply did not care whether he was run out or not.
Yes, he usually pays for the entrance fee 10 times over, but with West Indian cricket needing all the enthusiasm it can muster at the moment, Gayle could at least do his speedier bit for the cause.
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