Finally, the Ashes is upon us. This eagerly-anticipated series has been building up for months now, England are the current holders of the urn while Australia will be hoping to win it back on their home turf emphatically.
If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned battle between two sides who bitterly-despise of each other in test cricket, you’ve come to the right place. This is one of the most historical cricketing events in the world, the amount of history behind these two sides and this little urn is astonishing. Coincidentally, both teams are dead-level on 32 series wins apiece which makes this upcoming Magellan Ashes series a must win for both England and Australia. In the past six series, England have been whitewashed twice in Australia (2006-07 & 2013-14) which gives you a clear indication of the home teams dominance down under. The series will kick off in Brisbane, a traditionally dominant batting surface that has seen it’s fair share of humongous totals over the years as the bowlers are made to suffer in a batting paradise.
The rivalry intensified when Australia’s Mitchell Johnson made the 2013-14 Ashes series his own, intimidating the living daylights out of England as he went on to take an impressive 37 wickets for the series, one of the best bowling performances in an Ashes series of all time. Add Michael Clarke’s heated-discussion with England-quick James Anderson and some other little spot fires from Joe Root and David Warner, you’d just about say 2013-14 was the series to beat in terms of entertainment, you simply couldn’t take your eyes off the television for a split second. Moving on to the present, Australia will come out with fire in their belly after their rivals won back the Ashes in 2015, it was no great surprise given they used the home conditions to the best of their advantage. Having announced their squad for the 2017-18 Ashes series, it’s a strong one with a mix of the unknown which isn’t a bad ploy either. That bracket of players is narrowed down to two particular individuals, Tim Paine and Cameron Bancroft. The general feeling around the country was (despite some hiccups in the Sheffield Shield) that Matt Renshaw was a near-certainty to feature in the side, but a standout performance with the bat from Bancroft in the Sheffield Shield against South Australia was enough for the selectors to give him the nod, his unbeaten 228 was too mouthwatering to resist. Tim Paine was the second surprise selection, it appeared that Peter Nevill and Matthew Wade were the two most likely candidates to take the gloves. With no real performance-based reason, Tim Paine’s name came as a surprise to everyone. What’s even more surprising is that Paine has only scored one first-class ton, making it a bold selection.
Apart from those two selections, the rest of Australia’s squad is fairly justified. Skipper Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner are expected to be Australia’s most dominant with the bat in the series, both elite batsman in their own way and should score big in Brisbane when given the opportunity. Usman Khawaja has been in brilliant form with the willow for the Queensland Bulls in both the JLT one-day cup and Sheffield Shield, making him a solid selection for that No. 3 spot. Once again, Cricket Australia selectors have been heavily-criticized over the selection of Shaun Marsh, although he had put his hand up after an amazing start to the domestic one-day cup and three fifties in the recent Sheffield Shield. If he is named at No. 6 which is highly-likely, he could give England the shock of their life if they rip through Australia’s top order, only to find Shaun Marsh who is a specialist batsman. Known for his sub-continent performances, hopefully Marsh can have an impact on his home turf and shut the critics up. England have reason to be worried, they will be coming up against a bowling attack that features Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood taunting them with decisive seam bowling, accompanied by test regular & off-spinner Nathan Lyon. I get the feeling they might try and target Pat Cummins as the weak link, as quick as he is, he’s nowhere near as damaging as Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood after that long layoff from injury. If you’re an English supporter, you might want to skip to the next paragraph now. Mitchell Starc is in career-best form, he’s coming off 8/73 in a single innings against the Redbacks, not to mention a double-hat-trick against Western Australia in his last match!
The good news is they currently hold the Ashes, the bad news is they have to play Australia at home. It’s crucial that England start the series with a win in Brisbane, it’s a big ask but we’ve seen what Australia can do when they’ve got early momentum. Thankfully for the tourists, most of their squad dished up some decent performances against the CA XI in their two tour matches. Opening batsman Mark Stoneman feasted on runs throughout England’s warm-up stages, scoring 85 against the WA XI, followed by 51, 61 & 111 against the CA XI in Adelaide and Townsville. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said about his opening partner Alastair Cook who make an absolute hash of his Ashes preparation. One of England’s greatest test openers of all time with a healthy average of 46.33 along with 31 centuries, Cook’s last visit to Australia was an absolute shocker which clearly didn’t do his record any justice. Cook played a string of tests earlier in the year against South Africa and the West Indies, he managed to score 243 against the Windies in Birmingham during the first test, a brilliant innings it must be said. The Poms just can’t afford to get the yips like they did in 2013-14, they simply weren’t good enough & gave into peer pressure from the Australians which is a recipe for disaster. England’s best batsman and one of the elite in the modern game around the world, Joe Root needs to knuckle down and fight fire with fire against the hosts. At just 26-years of age, Root finds himself captaining his country which probably gives you an indication of his maturity and willingness as a cricketer. There’s no doubt about it, he’s got an outstanding test record, but it all means nothing if he can’t perform in a series like this.
England will rely on Joe Root for big contributions, that’s just the reality of the situation. What the others need to try and do is find some inspiration from their captain, dig that little deeper for the team when it seems like all the chips are down. Jonny Bairstow is a prime example, he was one of the reasons England won the Ashes in 2015 due to some punching above his own weight and exceeding all expectations with some gritty knocks against a quality outfit. He was selected over Jos Buttler as England’s wicketkeeper for various reasons, the main one being his consistency as a cricketer has been faultless, he’s one his job to perfection. Fast bowling duo James Anderson and Stuart Broad will have a big say in how England’s Ashes fortunes turn out. Both are as damaging as Mitchell Starc on their day, but these dry Australian wickets might significantly-lessen the impact they usually have in places like England, New Zealand and South Africa. In saying that, Anderson looked at his best in Adelaide picking up five wickets and Broad is a workhorse, even when things aren’t going their way. It only takes one of those two to get up and about with the ball in Brisbane, and England might be able to challenge to hosts. Former Australian test opener Matthew Hayden stated the following – “The Poms are a rabble. I look down their list of players and I honestly don’t even know who half of these guys are”. I can see how that could be taken out of context, but in a sense, he’s right. The Australian community would have no idea, England are the underdogs full stop.
Top 5 fantasy picks | Australia | 1st test | Brisbane
- David Warner
- Usman Khawaja
- Steve Smith
- Mitchell Starc
- Nathan Lyon
Wildcard pick – Cameron Bancroft
Top 5 fantasy picks | England | 1st test | Brisbane
- Joe Root
- Jonny Bairstow
- Stuart Broad
- Moeen Ali
- James Anderson
Wildcard pick – Mark Stoneman
Australia (confirmed) – 1. David Warner 2. Cameron Bancroft 3. Usman Khawaja 4. Steve Smith (c) 5. Peter Handscomb 6. Shaun Marsh 7. Tim Paine (wk) 8. Mitchell Starc 9. Pat Cummins 10. Nathan Lyon 11. Josh Hazlewood.
England (confirmed) – 1. Alastair Cook 2. Mark Stoneman 3. James Vince 4. Joe Root (c) 5. Dawid Malan 6. Jonny Bairstow (wk) 7. Moeen Ali 8. Chris Woakes 9. Stuart Broad 10. Jake Ball 11. James Anderson.