Mark Stoneman looks like he absolutely belongs at the Test level. He’s tough, nuggety and can play shots. The left-handed opener appears most likely out of England’s Ashes newbies to enjoy a breakout series. Stoneman has been unmovable on tour, piling the runs during the practice matches to come into the Ashes in-form.
In Brisbane, Stoneman thwarted Australia’s star-studded attack in both innings to showcase his ability to fight through the toughest of Ashes initiations. The 30-year-old looms as a find for England in this series and has arguably vaulted past struggling star opener Alastair Cook as the team’s most stout bat after captain Joe Root.
After notching a half-century in England’s first innings on a tricky pitch, Stoneman impressed further when he repelled Australia’s fire and brimstone during a brutal late onslaught before stumps on day three.
As conditions eased on day four, the scene was set for Stoneman to produce a breakthrough innings alongside Root and, accordingly, he blunted Australia’s pacemen early on. After seeing off a subdued Starc, Stoneman frustratingly fell in offspinner Nathan Lyon’s second over with a meek nick to slip.
Right now, Stoneman looks more comfortable against the quicks than Lyon’s venom. Against Lyon, who is expertly befuddling the left-handers, Stoneman was glued to the crease and unable to score – allowing the wily spinner to probe away at him. With Lyon looming ominously throughout the series, Stoneman will have to find a way to not get bogged down.
Even though he generally looks good, Stoneman needs to start converting his starts into formidable totals – a common bane for much of the maligned batting order – if England are to thwart Australia’s menacing attack.
Australia has struggled to find a stable opening partner for David Warner in recent years. After a frustrating search, debutant Cameron Bancroft might just be the answer. The composed Western Australian impressed with his compact technique and willingness to play straight. Very much like his mentor and state coach Justin Langer, Bancroft has a penchant for defence but doesn’t get bogged down at the crease. He looks to rotate the strike with sharp singles and also possesses a gorgeous cover drive in his arsenal.
It all means Bancroft has the requisite characteristics to be a genuine long-term opener, although he does have the flexibility to bat throughout the order. Bancroft, raised on the bouncy pitches in Perth, is hardened. His braveness notably came to the fore when he was struck by a full-blooded blow to the helmet while fielding at short-leg earlier in the Test.