LONDON (Reuters) - England completed an astonishing 143-run victory over Ireland, bowling them out for 38 on Friday, but the Australian attack will be licking its lips for the start of next week’s Ashes series at Edgbaston.
A magical spell of seam bowling by Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad spared England’s blushes at Lord’s, but that will not disguise the fragility of recently crowned 50-over world champions’ red-ball batting.
Playing only their third test, and first against England, Ireland rolled England for 85 on Wednesday, with 37-year-old Middlesex county stalwart Tim Murtagh taking five for 13.
Then, on Thursday, England lost seven wickets for 77 either side of tea as Ireland put themselves in position to pull off one of the biggest shocks in the history of the game.
Woakes took six wickets and Broad four on Friday, however, to shatter Ireland’s dream, but the events of the past 48 hours will not have gone unnoticed by Australia’s pace attack.
While there were mitigating circumstances, namely England playing their first test of the summer, the inevitable hangover after their incredible World Cup exploits and the absence of key men such as James Anderson and Ben Stokes, the clash with Ireland posed more questions than it answered.
England’s top six batsmen amassed a combined 164 runs in two innings and their top scorer was second-innings nightwatchman Jack Leach. In the side for his left-arm spin bowling, Leach bucked the trend of a manic match with a watchful 92 with the bat.
Jonny Bairstow went for two ducks, Moeen Ali continued to look woefully out of form and opener Rory Burns’ confidence will have been undermined after being dismissed cheaply in both innings to leave him with a test average of 22.
The jury is still out on Joe Denly’s credentials for the number three batting position, while it is to early to tell whether Jason Roy, given his test debut after his stellar form in the World Cup, is the answer to England’s opening woes.
Roy did impress in the second innings with a free-flowing 72, but England’s batting still looks brittle, with even captain Joe Root guilty of a rash shot as he was dismissed on Friday.
England coach Trevor Bayliss said there was still a lack of ruthlessness about the batting.
“I would like to see us approach the first two days, especially with our batting, with the intensity that we went into this morning,” he said “For some reason, over a period of time, we are struggling against teams we should beat.
“Matches like this, we have to take a long, hard look at ourselves. I think we showed this morning we can be ruthless, but we need to get that into our batting, too.”
With such little time, England must now make a decision on whether to stick with the same top order as they prepare to face a strong Australian attack led by world number one test bowler Pat Cummins and including Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Peter Siddle.
Bayliss said that England’s specialist batsmen could learn from Leach, who fell eight runs short of becoming the first England nightwatchman to make a century.
“If some of the batters can learn from that, we’re in a good spot,” he said. “We’ve had concerns about the top order for a little while. We’re looking for someone to take over from (Andrew) Strauss and (Alastair) Cook and we need someone to put their hand up.
“Jason Roy got a decent score of 72 but we need someone to make 170 in those situations.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by David Goodman