THE Ashes were in danger of not going ahead when Australian cricket's pay war threatened to derail this summer's series, but now the only thing in danger is England's credibility.
England will look to retain the urn it won on home soil in 2015 but it's going to have a hard time doing so with its top order, according to former Australian fast bowler Damien Fleming.
Fleming says England's three newest additions to its batting line-up are "some of the worst" he's ever seen represent their country at Test level.
Despite defeating South Africa 3-1 in their recently completed Test series, Keaton Jennings, David Malan and Tom Westley produced some woeful returns with the willow.
Jennings started his career with a debut century against India in Mumbai and followed that up with a half century in the next Test in Chennai, but in the four Tests he's played against the Proteas since then he's failed to make it to 50.
He finished the South Africa series with 127 runs at an average of less than 16.
"England needs three decent batsman in their top six," Fleming said on RSN radio.
"Watching the South African series, they're some of the worst batsmen I've ever seen play Test cricket.
"Young Jennings and the debate is, 'Does he get another opportunity?' He scored 127 runs at an average of 15.
"I used to bat nine in Test matches and I would just be happy with that, averaging 15. Just be happy. He's opening the batting.
"I don't like his technique, closed grip, he's going to nick people that can angle the ball across him and for bowlers that can actually get the ball to shape back in, that gap between bat and front pad (is a target). This is an opening batsman."
Tom Westley and David Malan both made their debuts at the Oval and played the final two Tests of the series.
Westley didn't do too badly, scoring 59 in his second Test innings and finishing with 122 runs at 30.5, but Malan had a much tougher time. He registered just 35 runs in four digs at 8.75 with a top score of 18.
"Westley has a similar technique (to Jennings)," Fleming said.
"He is squared up, he has hands that are a long way in front of his body with a closed grip. How does he hit the ball through the off side? He's going to nick off or get in trouble with the ball that comes in.
"Where are 80% of the deliveries going to be to Jennings and Westley? Outside off stump, maybe shaping away. They don't have a technique to cope with that.
"Young Malan, 35 runs at an average of eight - there's real opportunities for Australia to run through the top order."
Gary Ballance was dropped after two Tests in the 2015 Ashes series but found himself back in the side to face South Africa after making sporadic appearances in the international arena since then.
The left-hander scored 85 runs in four innings before a fractured finger forced him out of the final two Tests, and Fleming says the Aussies will be licking their licks if he's taking guard at the Gabba in November.
"How did Gary Ballance play Test cricket again after that last series two years ago there?" Fleming said.
"He goes back in the crease, he blocks half-volleys so he doesn't hurt you.
"If you're getting your half-volleys blocked you know it's only a matter of time before he nicks one or gets caught on the crease and (is trapped) LBW."
But it's not all bad news for England. Alastair Cook is still a quality player, new captain Joe Root scored a ton and three half centuries against South Africa and all-rounders Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali have been on fire, as has wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.
Stokes plundered a blistering century at The Oval, Bairstow reached 50 three times in the series and Ali became the first player in history to score 250 runs and take 25 wickets in a four-Test series.
"Where I will give England a tick, their middle order all-rounders and their wicketkeeper Bairstow, they're stars. They're fantastic players," Fleming said.
"Stokes is a matchwinner with bat and ball and he's a very good fieldsman as well. Bairstow's probably the best wicketkeeper batsman at the moment."
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