Cricket Comment: My concerns over standard of opposition

Andy Lloyd
AS ENGLAND prepare to dust off their whites for the first practice match of this Ashes tour, it’s worth reiterating what these games are for.

Results and even performances are secondary. In some previous tours England have done terribly but then shone when it matters.

These three games are about getting all players time in the middle and, above all, ensuring they are delivered to Brisbane for the first Test ready and raring to go.

On the way, England must decide who takes their final bowling spot. It looks to me like a straight contest between Chris Tremlett and Steven Finn, though I’ve no doubt Boyd Rankin will be given a chance to impress too. I’ll be interested to see how this sub-plot pans out.

Of concern, however, is the standard of opposition England face in these matches. The second game, against Australia A, may be tricky, but generally the standard of Aussie cricket is not what it was.

The first Test will be vital, so it’s paramount that England arrive wide-eyed. However, by then it will have been three months since their last Test and it can be difficult to switch on for big games if you’ve not played at that intensity for so long. They must be mindful of that.

Hanging over this Ashes, meanwhile, is uncertainty over the future of coach Andy Flower, who has been tipped by some to step down after the series. The late Bob Woolmer once told me his belief that a coach has a maximum of five years with any one group of players. By then they have imparted all the methods and knowledge they can, and a change is best for the good of the team.

If England were to win a fourth Ashes under Flower, who took charge in April 2009, I could see him bowing out. I wouldn’t want him to and I’m sure the players wouldn’t either, but that is not a bad record on which to hang your hat.

Andy Lloyd is a former England Test cricketer who has also been captain and chairman of Warwickshire.