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For cricket fans it’s that special time again. A time for English fans to recall Ian Botham’s heroics at Headingley and Australians to remember Shane Warne’s ball of the century, it’s an Ashes summer.
The Ashes date back to 1882 and after 70 series’ the record stands 33 wins for Australia, 32 for England and 5 draws. A draw would of course suit Australia this summer as that would be enough to retain the famous urn. However Australia have now lost four successive series in England, their last away win coming back on 2001. That was back when Steve Waugh was captain and the side still featured Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath and Warne.
England dramatically ended a run of eight straight Ashes losses dating back to 1989 when Michael Vaughan’s side won in 2005. Since then, Australian dominance has been replaced by home side dominance. Since 2001, eight of the nine series played were won by the home side, the solitary away win coming with England’s 3-1 series win Down Under in 2010/11. So what are the prospects for this summer as both teams prepare for the five match test series?
England’s Greatest Summer?
This was always going to be a special summer for English Cricket as hosts of The World Cup and then The Ashes. England achieved their objective in white ball cricket with their dramatic victory over New Zealand in the World Cup final, can they keep up the momentum in the longer form of the game?
Of England’s triumphant ODI team skipper Eoin Morgan, spinner Adil Rashid and paceman Liam Plunkett are unlikely to be involved in the test match side. Joe Root will resume captaincy duties and long standing fast bowlers Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad will come in, as will spinner Moeen Ali.
England’s strength comes with their middle order batting with Root, Ben Stokes, Johnny Bairstow and Jos Butler all looking in good form during the World Cup. All rounder Stokes, who missed the 4-0 defeat in Australia will be pivotal to England, particularly in light of his World Cup heroics and has been named vice-captain.
The problems come with the batting top order and have done since Alaister Cook retired. England have finally tired of Keaton Jennings but Rory Burns is retained despite a relativley poor season with Surrey and two single figure scores in the warm up test against Ireland. Partnering Burns will be Surrey teammate Jason Roy who excelled at the World Cup and scored 72 on his test debut although question marks remain as to his suitably as an opener in test cricket.
Joe Denly meanwhile has been in good touch for Kent but has a test average of just 28. Many have suggested Root should play at three with Ben Foakes possibly added lower down the order as wicket keeper, particuarly after Bairstow getting a pair of ducks against Ireland. However Foakes was excluded from the first test squad.
With the ball it seems Jimmy Anderson will be fit to resume his swing bowling that has proved the scourge of Australia on trips to England. Anderson’s longtime bowling partner Stuart Broad looks set to return with Sam Curran making a strong case to be in as an all rounder. The big question is do England turn to World Cup hero Jofra Archer?
The young bowler bagged 20 wickets at the World Cup with his raw pace providing an X factor to the England attack. But Archer is still uncapped at test level and remains a relative novice in international cricket. Picking Archer could also mean dropping Broad or Chris Woakes who took 6-17 against Ireland and the first test is on his home ground of Edgbaston. Given the tight six week schedule for the series, England may well have to call upon all of their quicks over the five matches.
No excuses for the Tourists
Australia rejoiced a week before Christmas 2017 as The Ashes were regained as they claimed a dominant 4-0 series win over England. However that all seems a long time ago as Australia spent 2018 mired in the ball tampering scandal, results plummeted on the pitch whilst Australia’s reputation suffered off it. Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft are now back from their ball tampering bans and with it the teams fortunes have improved, but as Steve Waugh stated last week, there can be no excuse for another failure in England.
The World Cup started well, including a win over England at Lord’s, but defeat to South Africa set up a semifinal rematch with England. Australia’s batting was demolished by Woakes and Archer as they were skittled for 223, setting up an 8 wicket win for England. Australia now need to bounce back in the red ball format of the game.
Captain Tim Paine didn’t play in The World Cup and takes charge of a well balanced side with Australia’s strength at the top of the batting order. Warner has been in sublime form this summer, notching 647 runs at The World Cup. Who opens with Warner is questionable, with Cameron Bancroft recalled to the squad for the first time since his ban. Steve Smith will likely bat at three with his and Warner’s contributions vital to Australia’s fortunes.
Lower down the order things look a lot less stable with doubts over the fitness of Usman Khawaja whilst Marcus Harris and Travis Head don’t represent a stellar middle order. Australia’s persistent problem in recent Ashes series’ in England has been their inability to deal with lateral movement of the ball in English conditions,
Coach Justin Langer, himself a distinguished Ashes veteran needs to improve on this, particularly with Anderson expected to be fit for England. With the ball things look more stable for Australia with Mitchell Starc coming off an excellent World Cup although his test record in England isn’t brilliant. Paine will hope to call on the reliable Josh Hazelwood after his back injury alongside Pat Cummins and Starc.
Australia have also recalled veteran quick Peter Siddle, who has previously played well in England and the selectors sprung a surprise with seamer Michael Neser. Nathan Lyon will offer spin but surprisingly Australia haven’t picked a second spinner in their squad. Another cause of concern will be the venue for the series opener. Edgbaston has been a graveyard for Australian cricket ever since England dramatically won the 2005 thriller by 2 runs. The World Cup semifinal defeat provided the latest chapter in Australia’s tale of woe at that ground where they haven’t won since 2001.
Keys to Victory
Neither side is entering this Ashes series at their best. England have momentum from The World Cup, but their last test series was a defeat in The West Indies. Australia meanwhile are still regrouping and their poor recent record in England is a far cry from the invisible Aussie sides of the 1990s. Australia warmed up with odd spectacle of their A team playing the B team, with Starc becoming an injury doubt for Edgbaston. Meanwhile England were skittled at Lords for a mere 85 in their first innings by Test Match newcomers Ireland, before Woakes and Broad bailed them out to a 143 run win.
For Australia to win or at least draw their batsmen have to adapt better to English conditions with the onus on Warner and Smith to build big totals. For England Jason Roy was vital at The World Cup and how he adapts to Test Match Cricket is critical given England’s problems at the top of their batting order.
However both these teams need to find a momentum shifting player, the likes of whom have proved pivotal in previous Ashes clashes. For a long time Australia could turn to Warne or Gilchrist, before England found one of their own in Andrew Flintoff. In more recent encounters such impetus was provided by the likes of Broad for England and Mitchell Johnson for Australia. The candidates for England are clear: Stokes, Buttler and Archer, for Australia the likeliest appears to be Smith. Cricket fans are in for a long dramatic summer.
First Test: 1-5 August, Edgbaston
Second Test: 14-18 August, Lord’s
Third Test: 22- 26 August, Headingley
Fourth Test: 4-8 September, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: 12-16 September, The Oval
Featured Image: Cricket Australia