Haseeb Hameed could be key if England face Ashes’ lack of preparation

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Haseeb Hameed could be key if England face Ashes’ lack of preparation


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When I was on the Ashes tour in 1998-99, we had three four-day games against state opposition before the Test Series started, tough games against teams full of big-name players where you had to look absolutely your best. When I returned to Australia as a batting coach four years ago, there were three four-day games, but against weaker opposition and on pitches that tended to be slow.

This time around the England players have only played two full days, against their own second-team team, and it’s not the best preparation for what they are about to face. Loud crowd at Gabba, Pat Cummins playing a little nose and toe, a few flying words is the ultimate test and while it is not easy to recreate that kind of pressure, it does not do hard to try.

I remember chatting with Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace in 2017 about how players should prepare for what was to come, the storm of Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc. And not just the upper order – we found out in the first test in Brisbane what Australia had planned for our lower order and it was very, very nasty: the side of the legs theory, going around the wicket with lots of short balls.

So we programmed the training with a special yellow ball that behaves like a red ball but is not as hard, which allowed me to pick up the pace. The training was deliberately very difficult and sometimes the players were affected.

As a coach, you walk a fine line between trying to improve the skills of the players, but also wanting to build their confidence. It was designed to be a challenge, but by training hard and getting through it – and learning to think clearly and control their emotions – the confidence finally returned.

“Ollie Pope was able to really come out on top during the series. “ Photographie : Patrick Hamilton/AFP/Getty Images

Last week Ollie Pope told me that England have done a lot of work in the inside nets and they’ve used those yellow balls again.

The tricky thing is trying to coax the middle and lower order into making this work, knowing full well that they probably will. The buy-in of the players is important. Four years ago some bowlers seemed to feel like they had to try for five or ten minutes rather than wanting to kiss it, but I remember Craig Overton particularly understood the importance of that and we saw the result with his bravery in his debut in Adelaide, when he scored 41 undefeated.

As a result, I became a huge fan of him and while he may not have started off as I had hoped, that kind of character and heart in the face of great hostility could come in handy again.

I thought we were reasonably well prepared four years ago but after losing the opener to Gabba we struggled to come back and Australia won the series 4-0. When I look at the balance on both sides now, I don’t think much has changed. Australia’s bowling offense is pretty much the same and they showed, and have since, the ability to penetrate hard surfaces, which we found very difficult.

Quick guide

Ashes first Test: probable teams

Spectacle

Australia (confirmed): Marcus Harris, David Warner, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (semaine), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.
England (possible): Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (semaine), Chris Woakes, Ollie Robinson, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad.
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The English bowlers will need to get together quickly and since I don’t see any individual taking 30 wickets they will have to hunt in packs, supporting each other. But if England are to do well, they need a few key players to be successful.

Ben Stokes will of course be one and Mark Wood’s pace could be the X-factor that offense really needs, but I’ll be focusing on two hitters I’ve enjoyed watching this year.

I saw Haseeb Hameed in the net during lunch break when New Zealand was playing at Lord’s and he was extremely impressive. I was a batting coach when he was playing in India in 2016, but he was hitting the ball a lot harder than I remembered and he has a very good Orthodox foundation. He needs to be strong enough to come out and play his game, but if he occupies the crease for long periods of time and forges a good opening partnership with Rory Burns, that will help tremendously.

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Then there is Pope; I saw him beat at the Oval against India, when he scored a great 81, and I can’t say enough about how well he played against an exceptional offense. It was very convincing and I was really disappointed to learn that he was going to be dropped for the next game at Old Trafford if it had taken place. I thought it was a huge mistake. He has a full game against pace and spin and he’s someone England should trust. He has played successfully in Australian club cricket, is comfortable there and if selected he could really come out on top during the series.

Another great memory of 2017 is an interview that Nathan Lyon gave in the preparation where he spoke about the end of his career. You could say it was just part of the hype, something Australia are not afraid to throw into the mix to spice things up, but it certainly angered me and some of the English players. It was pretty crass to say and I hope this England team will remember it, just in case they need a little extra motivation.

Mark Ramprakash played 52 tests and 18 ODIs for England between 1991 and 2002, and was England’s batting coach from 2014 to 2019. He will write for the Guardian through the Ashes.

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