England kids need working over to prepare for the Ashes
Bouncer barrage from West Indies is perfect test for young players ahead of tour Down Under next year
For England, the biggest factor this summer will be the development of their new young batsmen, Zak Crawley, Dom Sibley and Ollie Pope.
I hope West Indies give them some short stuff and a working over, because that is going to be so important in Australia on the next Ashes tour. Can they withstand the onslaught of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc, especially against the new ball?
Batting well at the top of the order is the key to winning in Australia and that is why I would advocate England picking three openers. If you cannot play the pace of Starc and Cummins, then do not bother catching the plane to Australia next year, because that will be paramount.
Of these three young players, Crawley is the most interesting. I do not recall any tall right-handed batsmen being successful at Test level for any country, with the exception of Tony Greig. Crawley is only 22 and does not have a great first-class record, averaging just over 30, and unusual at 6ft 5in.
On hard pitches, with good bounce, it is an advantage to stand tall and be on top of the ball. When Crawley gets on slower, lower pitches I would advise him to bend his front knee a bit more to get down to the ball and let it come to him. If he can keep progressing it will be marvellous for England and those who were brave enough to select him on potential.
Sibley has had a tougher start and is not as fluent as Crawley, tending to rely on defence while scoring mainly through the on side.
He has a good first-class record, where his concentration and patience wear bowlers down in an old-fashioned way, which you do not see in the modern game. Kids grow up on “crash-bang-wallop” white-ball cricket, so playing shots and scoring quickly becomes second nature to them.
With others likely to be scoring faster, it will put a bit more pressure on Sibley to stick to his own way of batting and not get sucked in trying to emulate them.
He should stick with his own method and not try to catch the others up. It does not matter if his runs take longer to make.
The only thing that matters is how many runs he scores, and whether he gives the team a good start.
Be disciplined and mentally strong; runs keep you in the team and help your team win.
Pope gives me the impression that nothing fazes him and he is confident and positive in his strokeplay. He is at ease with his ability and looks like a young man in a hurry to get to the top. I like him in the late middle order, and he should not change or be moved from that position.
Watching these youngsters, the important thing to remember is that nobody should expect them to succeed in every innings. That is just not possible. It will be a learning process of two steps forward, one step back.
Adapt, play well, make mistakes – because we want to see how they learn from them, pick themselves up and go again. Setbacks will happen. But it is how you deal with them that counts.
If the selectors feel these kids have got something then they need to play all summer. The Ashes seems a long way away, but there are only 16 Tests until the start of the next series and there is nothing you can do to develop them quicker than playing competitive Test matches. Talking to them, practice matches, nets… all that is periphery. Young guys have to play.
Rory Burns was doing fine before his stupid footballing accident. He made a mistake that set back his progress and wasted six months of his career. At 29, you can never get that back, so every series is huge for him.
Before his injury I got the impression he was beginning to feel very comfortable and was sensibly sticking to his game plan of leaving outside off stump and trying to score inside his safe areas. To me, that was good development. I know he has a loopy, idiosyncratic backswing, but I am never concerned about where the bat goes on the backswing. It is where a batsman puts his feet and where the bat comes down to make contact with the ball that are the crucial factors.
I feel it is harder for batsmen without competitive match practice than it is for bowlers. If a batsman’s feet are a bit sluggish, or the bat is a touch late, or you are just a bit offline, then you are out. Your day is ruined.
Bowlers need some competitive cricket to get their run-ups in sync and to deliver in rhythm, but they know they can get away with a bad ball or two because it only takes one good one to redeem themselves with a wicket.
I have no concerns over James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who are old hands.
It is like riding a bike for them. Once you have done it well, you never lose it. The only question mark with our bowling is whether Jimmy will break down. He is 38 this month.
Chris Woakes, in this cool weather, is a good swing and seam bowler. If I could give Woakes one piece of advice as a former opening batsman, it would be to just pitch it up half a yard more. To give him confidence to do that the captain should give him a straightish mid-off and a straightish cover to give him some protection, so if he is driven it does not always go for four.
As an opener, he should want to get me driving early on the front foot. Once I am committed I cannot change.
I would like to see Ben Stokes use Jofra Archer in short, sharp, fast spells. He cannot be a donkey There is nothing you can do to develop youngsters quicker than playing in competitive Tests bowler doing long spells and then be your express shock bowler. Short and sharp works best because all you want from him is wickets. If one spell does not work, then take him off. Do not burn him out because his next spell might be a success.
Fast bowling is very taxing on the body, so I hope Stokes desists from asking him to bowl a lot of successive short balls because that will knacker him up. It takes a lot more out of a bowler to bowl a bouncer. It should be a welldirected surprise aimed at the batsman’s ribs, heart and neck. That is where it is the most difficult to play and does the most damage.
A bouncer over the head looks good, but it does not get anyone out and it takes a lot of energy out of the bowler.
Batsmen who play as captains do not always realise this because they have never had to do it. Joe Root had him doing that in New Zealand; it was a waste. Bowling 20 overs a day with lots of bouncers… no wonder he was exhausted. Finally, I always thought Stokes might be a very good captainin-waiting. Nobody can tell for sure what makes a fine captain. Tactical awareness is crucial, but leadership is indefinable. Different people have different ways of getting players to follow them.
When you are captain, some decisions are so straightforward but the rest is instinct, feel and experience. Good luck Ben.