Ashes 2017: England steady themselves after Alastair Cook and Joe Root go cheaply in tour opener

Alastair Cook went for a duck to the second ball of the two-day Ashes tour opener against a Western Australia XI at the WACA

Chris Stocks
Saturday 04 November 2017 10:57
Dawid Malan helped England bounce back after the early dismissals
Dawid Malan helped England bounce back after the early dismissals

Alastair Cook and Joe Root will hope the first day of this opening tour match is not a sign of things to come in the Ashes after England’s two most senior batsmen failed against an inexperienced Western Australia XI.

Cook was dismissed for a duck to just the second ball of the match, bowled by Nathan Coulter-Nile -one of only two players with first-class experience in the WA team and a bowler with pretensions of making Australia’s Ashes team.

Root, Cook’s successor as Test captain and facing the biggest challenge of his career over the coming weeks, scored nine from 22 deliveries before 18-year-old seam bowler Aaron Hardie had him caught behind.

It was not all bad news for England, with the batsmen who most needed runs getting them; Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Dawid Malan and Gary Ballance all posting half-centuries as England reached the midway point of this two-day match on 349 for six.

This was not a particularly testing opposition, with the average age of what was effectively Western Australia’s second XI just 22.

However, England will be particularly pleased with the contributions of their likely numbers two and three for the Ashes in Stoneman and Vince, who both scored half-centuries to get their tours off to encouraging starts.

Of the pair, Stoneman looked far more assured, the opener scoring 85 from 113 balls before he was eventually caught at second slip off the bowling of young fast bowler Lance Morris in the afternoon session.

Joe Root reacts after being dismissed by Aaron Hardie 

Stoneman, who debuted during the final three Tests of the English summer against West Indies, has vast experience in these conditions having spent nine winters playing Grade cricket in Australia.

He appeared comfortable, too, as he reached his half-century from 64 balls before he received his one and only life when dropped on 54.

Vince got to 50 in exactly the same number of deliveries as Stoneman but was dropped three times - twice in the slips - during his scratchy innings of 82.

The Hampshire batsman was surprisingly recalled for this tour after being discarded following an underwhelming start to his Test career in the summer of 2016, when his tendency to flash outside off-stump saw him repeatedly caught in the slip cordon.

Jonny Bairstow in action for England

He is, in all likelihood, set to play at No 3 when the Ashes series starts in Brisbane on November 23.

But Australia’s slip cordon will not be as charitable as this, Vince spared on 47, 63 and 67 before his luck finally ran out when he flicked Hardie straight to Mark Turner at midwicket.

Vince’s dismissal, which reduced England to 239 for four, brought Ballance to the crease alongside Malan.

Both batsmen are vying for the No 5 position in England’s Ashes team and between the pair it was Malan who offered the marginally more positive impression, the Middlesex batsman playing assuredly off both front and back foot while posting 56 from 94 balls.

Ballance, the outsider for that spare middle-order spot, also looked good as he made 61 from 108 deliveries, but he was dropped on 36 at second slip off the impressive Hardie.

Both retired out before the final drinks break, their 104-run stand taking England to 288 for six with an hour to go.

Gary Ballance plays a shot past Calum How

Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes then shared an unbroken half-century stand before the close as the home attack toiled.

It should be stated that too much cannot be read into what happens in warm-up games. After all, Jonathan Trott scored a century in this corresponding fixture on England’s 2013-14 Ashes tour. He was on his way home after the first Test with a stress-related illness.

Four years earlier, Cook made just five in his first innings of the tour here in Perth. He went on to plunder 766 runs against Australia to help England to their first away Ashes series win for 24 years.

As such, Cook and Root will not be losing too much sleep over their first innings of the tour given the track records they have to fall back on. England will need big contributions from both if they are to repeat their Ashes success of 2010-11.

Aaron Hardie and Nick Hobson celebrate the wicket of Joe Root

However, it is the runs that come from Stoneman and Vince that could prove decisive given England’s top-order vulnerabilities in Test cricket over the past 18 months and more.

There will, of course, be many other factors that determine whether Root’s team will be successful or not over the next two months, with the form of Stuart Broad and James Anderson, the leading two English bowlers in Test history, also key.

We will learn more about the touring attack, and their collective ability to manipulate the Kookaburra ball used in Australia, when England bowl tomorrow.

Until then, those who cashed in with the bat today have every right to feel good about themselves.

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