New Delhi: Former England batsman Mark Butcher has backed the hosts to come good against Australia in the upcoming Ashes series but said that Michael Clarke is ahead of Alastair Cook in terms of “forward thinking” as a leader. Notwithstanding England’s recent success against New Zealand, Cook’s captaincy has continuously come under the scanner with Australian all-rounder Shane Watson also taking a dig at the leader’s lack of pro-activeness. Even Butcher believes that Cook lacks on the initiative front.
“That’s not an accusation that only Watson will be throwing at. That has been one of Cook’s perceived weaknesses as a leader. For sure Cook is not as forward thinking as perhaps Michael Clarke would be as a captain. Having said that, you are quite beholden to how your bowlers fare,” Butcher, who is a guest analyst on ESPNcricinfo for the Ashes, told PTI in an exclusive interview.
“But at the end of the day England have won the Ashes series under Andrew Strauss, who was pretty conservative. So hope it doesn’t come down to the setting of the field to win the series,” he added.
England not only drew level the two-match Test series against New Zealand but also won the ODIs 3-2. Butcher is hoping the home team will take this confidence into the Ashes as well. “The last month or so this limited-over cricket has certainly given more reason for optimism. Young players, Ben Stokes in particular, Joe Root have really impressed and there is renewed optimism around what they can achieve this summer,” Butcher, who represented England in 71 Tests during his seven-year international career between 1997-2004, said.
Butcher also opined that Ashes is still the biggest draw in England despite the rise of various T20 leagues and many more sporting rivalries. “Ashes is certainly the oldest rivalry on the cricket field. Traditionally it stands apart. It’s played more often than any other series between two countries. But particularly in England it’s difficult to compare anything with how the Indian public will see any series because cricket is the no. 1 sport in India, where cricket is played and written all the year round. But Ashes is the only time when cricket gets into the front pages of the English newspaper,” he said.
“There is an argument that T20 league are poking some of the focus away from some Test series, yes. That’s a problem some of the individual boards will have to decide what they are going to do about. Again in England we have been very fortunate that Test, ODI or T20 cricket tends to sell out. There has been no drop off here,” he added.
With a lot of talk circling around on-field aggression and attitude problems with modern-day player, Butcher believed that it’s the officials rather than the cricketers who should manage the situation.
“I don’t have an enormous problem with it (attitude). What I would like in all cases is that umpires on the field and perhaps to a lesser extent match referees being able to take action. If the umpires on the field believe that a player has overstepped a line then he should be given power to take the player off the field for certain minutes, allow him to cool down and then bring him back,” he said.
“Players are passionate and sometimes their behaviour can get out of line, but that’s part of sport. These things should be dealt at that time and forgotten after that,” he added. England are also banking on Australian Trevor Bayliss, who joined the ‘Three Lions’ as coach, to douse the opposition fire. Butcher was praise for Bayliss’s coaching techniques.
“Tervor knows the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals mindsets of the Australian players. So yes it might give the home team an extra edge. But I also very much expect that Trevor will be very much in the background, allowing the captain and the players to go out and there and perform and, make game-changing decisions,” said the former left-handed batsman.
On the match-up between the teams’ new ball bowlers, Butcher said that James Anderson and Stuart Broad can be as effective as Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc. “In English conditions they have been, yes. There is quite a big difference in term of pace but in terms of being able to extract movement and get large bags of wicket, they are potentially as potent. The one thing that goes against them is that the conditions here in England over the month and a half have been dry. Pitches are not going to be green by any means,” he said.
On the batting front, Butcher felt that England would be looking to counter Australia’s fast scoring with their lower-order reply. “I suppose England will be looking to create a platform for their lower order to get quick runs. Joe Root will probably bat at number five in the series, Ben Stokes at six, Jos Butler at seven and potentially Moeen Ali at eight. That will be an area where England will be looking to try and wear down Australia with the new ball and try and cash in the second half of the innings,” he said.
Butcher also replied to Glenn McGrath’s 5-0 prediction of the Ashes. “McGrath said 5-0, I will go with 3-1, but I will not tell with whom. Though remember I am an Englishman,” said Butcher in a lighter vein.