England don’t stand a chance of winning the Ashes unless their batsmen rack up first innings scores of at least 450 but the talismanic presence of Ben Stokes offers hope.
That’s the view of past England hero Darren Gough ahead of the opening Test against Australia at The Gabba in Brisbane on Wednesday.
Former fast bowler Gough believes England possess a seam attack to trouble the home side but the efforts of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Co will all be in vain if the batting lets them down.
Joe Root’s side enter the five-match series as underdogs, as is normal Down Under, and as one of the worst-prepared England touring sides ever after most of their two intra-squad warm-up games were washed out.
But Gough, used to conjuring memorable moments in a losing cause against the great Australian teams of the 1990s, is taking the glass-half-full approach.
‘I went through a period of looking at our team going out there and looking at Australia, with their bowling line-up being so strong,’ Gough tells Sportsmail.
‘With the bowling attack we picked, the only worry I had was we didn’t have the firepower to bowl Australia out twice.
‘But then Ben Stokes came into it, a simple thing like Stokes coming back into the squad and I don’t know whether it’s false hope but it’s now ‘hang on a minute, this might just give us a chance.’
All-rounder Stokes, 30, had been taking an ‘indefinite break from all cricket’ to prioritise his mental health and also aid his recovery from a fractured finger that required two operations.
It meant he missed the T20 World Cup, which saw England exit to New Zealand in the semi-finals, but he confirmed his Ashes availability in late October.
Stokes will line up for England in Brisbane with Anderson, Broad, Wood, Chris Woakes, Ollie Robinson and Jack Leach pushing for bowling places.
‘We have good bowlers, they have proven it over many years they are great bowlers,’ said Gough, speaking before his appointment as Yorkshire’s new interim director of cricket.
‘My worry is, going in with a certain plan, we see Wood pick up injury after injury and he’s not going to play five Tests. If he plays two, that’s a massive bonus.
‘We have seen with the bowlers in English conditions, Anderson still performs at the highest level and especially with a new ball.
‘But he has struggled in the second innings and that is a worry, when the pitches get flatter and there’s not as much moisture.
‘Broad has been picking up injuries, he’s getting on a bit but he’s still a good performer. In Australian conditions, when he hits that hard length, he could do well, especially against David Warner.
‘I don’t know about Robinson but in English conditions he puts the ball in the right areas and is very Jimmy Anderson-like. We’ll have to see what he’s like on good pitches in Australia.
‘I’m looking forward to seeing the new Chris Woakes. I worked with him in New Zealand a couple of years ago and we got him hitting the pitch harder and bowling quicker on flatter pitches.
‘From what I’ve seen, there has been a big improvement. If we can get him to have a good Ashes series, it gives me more hope.’
Gough adds: ‘But the bowling plan only works, as it did back in 2010-11, if we get 450 runs in the first innings.
‘I look at our batting. If Joe Root averages 50, we have five batters who average between 26 and 34, so how are we going to get 450?
‘But when Stokes comes into that line-up, I start to believe we have a chance to get 450.’
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