England’s top order make hay amid fears over quality of opposition

England opener Mark Stoneman celebrates his century against a Cricket Australia XI in Townsville. Picture: AFP/Getty.
England opener Mark Stoneman celebrates his century against a Cricket Australia XI in Townsville. Picture: AFP/Getty.
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Mark Stoneman admits his first hundred in England colours has come against opponents who can provide only limited preparation for the imminent Ashes series ahead.

Stoneman posted England’s first century on tour, in their third and final warm-up match, on day two against an inexperienced Cricket Australia XI at the Tony Ireland Stadium.

The opener’s 111, and half-centuries too for back-in-form Alastair Cook (70), captain Joe Root (62no) and Dawid Malan (57no) eased England to 337 for three in reply to 250 all out.

Facing the same hosts they beat in Adelaide last week, there was an element of men against boys here thanks to a lack of first-class pedigree as yet in an opposition line-up made up of promising youngsters who are not required by their Sheffield Shield teams in the ongoing round of matches.

After Stoneman had followed three successive 50s at the start of his maiden Ashes tour with a 140-ball century, he said: “Obviously, it’s been well-documented and everyone is critical of the opposition we’ve faced. It feels like my game is in good order. [But] it’s going to be tested a hell of a lot more come next week, that’s for sure.

“There’s no doubts about that, and everyone is aware of it. Obviously, there’s going to be more pace and bounce in the attack and the pitch at Brisbane.”

England will fly south on Sunday for next week’s first Test, and Stoneman indicated he and his fellow batsmen are having to ready themselves as much if not more in net practice as the middle for the examination ahead at the hands of Mitchell Starc et al.

“It’s up to the individual to take that practice a bit further, knowing that what we face in these games isn’t going to be the level we get next week,” 
he added.

“It’s going to have to be [enough]. We can’t change it.

“We’ve got what we’ve been given, and that’s where self-awareness and where you are within your own game is key.

“We’re being tested as much as we can with Ramps [batting coach Mark Ramprakash] and his yellow balls – so from the opportunities we’ve had, we’re happy with where we are.”

England’s warm-up schedule has been short on intensity.

“I’m not sure what can be done,” said Stoneman. “Australia has [its] domestic schedule – a full round of Shield cricket – and it’s above my pay grade to sort those things.

“We’ve put in the work we can against the opposition, and worked hard in the nets.

“It’s all we can do. We’ll be ready for the Gabba.”

After Cook’s contribution to their opening stand of 172, Stoneman is confident England’s all-time record runscorer will soon be ready to peak again after his lean time since his double-hundred at Edgbaston in August.

He said: “In terms of where he’s at... once his adrenaline is pumping and he’s got Starc and [Josh] Hazlewood staring down at him that will get him really up for it.

“That’s when we’ll see the best of him on this tour.”