the ashes

The Ashes! The greatest sporting rivalry in the world resumes. Two key events have taken place before the series has even started and it looks like they’ll cancel each other out. Joffra Archer (England) is out with an elbow injury for the entire series, while Tim Paine (Australia) has withdrawn from the team. He’s has been replaced by Alex Carey.

Pat Cummins will captain Australia and Steve Smith is back in a leadership role as vice-captain. The last series, in England in 2019, finished 2-2 with Australia retaining the Ashes. This summer promises to be very competitive as well. Test cricket produces a lot more results in the modern era and I think this will be the case in all five tests.

The Ashes: Australia

Just as Australia was riding high off their victory in the T20 World Cup, a severe disruption came in the form of Tim Paine’s resignation. Coach Justin Langer now has the task of focusing the squad on what needs to be done, and I’m confident that the Australians will put that episode in the ‘Stuff Happens’ file and move on.

These players have the mental strength to cope with a five Test series, but what will be challenging is that they haven’t played a Test since India were in Australia last summer. Even the practice game that was marked down for December 3rd had to be cancelled. It’s not an ideal start but all the players have either played Sheffield Shield or T20 World Cup cricket, which must count as a confidence booster.

Batting

David Warner can transfer his form from one format to another and he is still a dangerous batter who loves to dominate. England will need to stay calm and not get rattled once he starts hitting boundaries, because Warner loves to see signs of mental weakness in his opponent – it only encourages him to be even more aggressive. This might be his last Ashes series.so enjoy him while you can.

Marnus Labuschagne is running red hot and he should be the top run scorer for the series. Not many average sixty so obviously he poses a problem for England, but by now they would have gone through the videos and assessed his strengths and weaknesses. I can’t detect any, but maybe he doesn’t like to be pinned down by tight bowling and negative fields.

This might be the summer of Travis Head. He has been promising for a few years and his average of 39 doesn’t really do justice to his enormous talent. The selectors have shown a lot of faith in him and he has scored two centuries in 19 Tests. Some players need a few years in the team in order to blossom and Bob Simpson and Steve Waugh come to mind. He just needs to believe that he can perform at this level and then he’ll be a top batter.

Bowling

Mitchell Starc will go down as one of the better fast bowlers in Australia’s history and a return to his favourite format will see his form with the swinging ball will be a big factor this summer. Expect to see him pick up loads of wickets in Adelaide which will use the pink ball under lights. His legendary bounce is another factor that has to be dealt with and even though he is now 31 his experience and intelligence makes up for any decline in pace.

Jhye Richardson has only played two Test matches but he has been dominant in BBL cricket for a long time now and the fact that England haven’t faced him could well be in his favour. Weighing in at only 70 kilograms with a 5 ft 10 in frame could be an advantage because the hard Australian pitches are known for being brutal on fast bowler’s feet and knees. If he shows the necessary discipline to keep the ball up to the bat then he should do very well.

Mitchell Swepson was a surprise pick for me at first, but the more I thought about it the more sense.. His action is modeled on Shane Warne but he bowls a little flatter and with a line directed at the off stump with plenty of bounce. Obviously the bright lights and big noise doesn’t destroy his focus but Ashes cricket is about consistent non-stop pressure that results in decisive moments. A backward gully and a field at long off might help contain England’s batters but it will be the silly swipe across the line shot that will add to his wicket tally. A good complement for Nathan Lyon.

Australia: Players to watch

Pat Cummins will be the first Australian fast bowler to captain Australia since Ray Lindwall and he has the maturity and experience to deal with what is regarded as the most important job in Australian sport. He has been in the team for ten years and has been excellent throughout his career with an average of 22 with the ball which will ensure his place in the history books. A traditional player in an era full of change, he is widely respected by everyone and he’ll lead by example and a calm attitude.

Josh Hazlewood will once again use his pace and bounce to trouble England’s batters and no amount of planning or looking at videos can counter him. The only way to beat him is to take him on and perhaps Ben Stokes and Jonathan Bairstow will oblige. If the England batters let him settle in then they’ll be in trouble. Loves playing at home and he should do well at Perth which aids the tall fast bowler.

Alex Carey is the replacement wicketkeeper for Tim Paine and his performance might very well determine the fate of the Ashes. Noted as a white ball keeper, he has built a solid reputation and he has the ability to score with the bat on a regular basis. The first few overs at the Gabba will be crucial and a couple of catches early on should set him up nicely. Conversely, if he doesn’t perform then Australia will have a big question to answer.

The Ashes: England

With a very experienced bowling pair consisting of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, you’d think the England selectors have gone for the safe and proven option yet again. However, there are plenty of new names that might surprise this summer such as Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence and Ollie Pope. Ben Stokes played the greatest innings I have ever seen in the last Ashes series. He is a genuine superstar of the game and he is now recovered from a finger injury. England teams that win in Australia need great team spirit and enormous belief in their own individual talents. This team has shown that it has that, but Joffra Archer’s absence is huge and it could turn out to be the difference.

Batting

Joe Root has been quoted as saying that this series will define his captaincy which is something he didn’t need to say because it’s an obvious truth. Thinly built but with a career full of high scores, he has been able to average fifty with the bat while playing over a hundred Test matches, which puts in the elite category. He has scored three centuries against Australia so he isn’t afraid of the baggy green cap. Needs to score two centuries at least if he wants England to be competitive in this series.

Ben Stokes will probably collect a knighthood after he retires if he can stay out of trouble. He is the best player in the world and I became a fan of him after his 2019 Ashes and World Cup performances. A deceptively slow run up belies the pace at which he delivers the ball and his control of the game with the bat in hand is as good as it gets. There must be a few Australian players who are privately worried about what he can do to them and the Australian coach Justin Langer must find a way to negate him.

Jonathan Bairstow is another highly experienced player who can be relied upon to score quick runs. With ten years in the national team but still keen and healthy he has learnt to deal with the red ball by showing patience and getting on the back foot and learning to squeeze and nudge singles off his hips and with an open bat face. He’s hard to intimidate because he has faced so much hostile fast bowling in the past and he loves to club the ball when the bowlers become tired and the ball becomes old.

Bowling

Jack Leach might not have the same reputation as Anderson and Stokes but his orthodox slow left-arm bowling has proven consistent in his short career so far. Australia proved during the last Ashes series in Australia that if you break England’s spinners then you break their hearts at the same time. If he can hold steady and move the ball away towards first slip using variations in bounce and pace then England could be onto something.

Stuart Broad loves nothing more than to play the bad guy and the raucous Australian crowds will serve him well. He always seems to have one great Test every series and it’ll be difficult to keep him out of the game all the time. Can produce good bounce which catches the top half of the bat which then flies to slip or gully. He has been playing Test cricket for 14 years so his knowledge and experience will help out Joe Root enormously.

Ollie Robinson has had a brilliant start to his career and the tall seamer seems suited to Australian conditions. He should do well at the Gabba and the MCG which favours these sort of bowlers but the high temperatures will test his fitness and willpower. If he can avoid the temptation pitching it short on the hard Australian wickets then the results will come. Joe Root seems to have a lot of faith in him which is crucial if you want to get the best out of your bowlers in Ashes cricket.

The Ashes: Betting market

With so many emotional punters the Ashes presents many opportunities to those who can keep a level head. Australia are firm favourites at $1.33 with TopSport and that’s plainly too short. You need $1.80 at least in my opinion. England is very good value at $5.

Best Bet

Pat Cummins to take the most wickets. He’s $4.20 with TopSport which is about right for him.

Best Multi

Pat Cummins to collect the most wickets x Steve Smith to score the most runs x Ben Stokes to be player of the series. Proven performers who have done it before.

The Ashes: Venues and dates

1st Test Dec 6th – 12th (Gabba, Brisbane)
2nd Test Dec 16th – 20th (Adelaide Oval, Adelaide)
3rd Test Dec 26th – 30th (MCG, Melbourne)
4th Test Jan 5th – 9th (SCG, Sydney)
5th Test Jan 14th-18th (TBC)

The Ashes: Squads

Australia

Pat Cummins (c), Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner.

England

Joe Root (c), James Anderson, Jonathan Bairstow, Dom Bess, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ollie Pope, Ben Stokes, Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.

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