With the England squad having landed in Australia and preparations underway, the build-up to this winter’s Ashes series can well and truly begin. With the warm-up games already underway, some random 14-year-old Australian will rip through England’s batting order to destroy any optimism before the series has even begun.
In fact, if any optimism did exist, much has already diminished with the absence of Ben Stokes from the touring party. England’s all-rounder, capable of changing the game with bat, ball or in the field, will almost certainly miss the entire tour as he faces the repercussions of the incident outside a Bristol nightclub in September.
RECENT HEAD-TO-HEAD IN AUSTRALIA:
Recent history does not provide much encouragement for England. When it comes to Ashes series’ in Australia, their triumph in the 2010/11 series was the only time they’d returned from Down Under with the coveted urn since 1987.
Last time they ventured to Australia, England arrived in high spirits having comfortably won the Ashes 3-0 just a few months earlier at home. However, the tour would be nothing short of a disaster, as the visitors fell to a pitiful 5-0 defeat, with Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann leaving the tour midway through.
Joe Root’s tenure as captain got off to an impressive start with series wins over South Africa and West Indies this summer. There were auditions for several English batsmen, as Keaton Jennings and Mark Stoneman battled it out to partner Alastair Cook at the top of the order, while Tom Westley and Dawid Malan also staked their claim for a place on the plane.
“In terms of certainties, Cook, Stoneman, Root, Bairstow, Ali, Woakes, Anderson and Broad all look to have their names in permanent marker on the team-sheet for now.”
Malan and Stoneman are in the squad, while England’s Ashes announcement also revealed the return of two men who perhaps thought their Test careers over – the inclusion of James Vince and Gary Ballance perhaps saying more about a lack of options rather than the ability of the pair.
So, which eleven men will face off against Australia in Brisbane starting on November 23rd? In terms of certainties, Cook, Stoneman, Root, Bairstow, Ali, Woakes, Anderson and Broad all look to have their names in permanent marker on the team-sheet for now.
That leaves three spots in the starting line-up still needing to be filled, with England’s middle order looking particularly weak. James Vince is the more appealing option to bat at 3, as even though he’ll inevitably be caught at second slip for a decent thirty after a poor drive, it will be far more enjoyable to watch than Ballance grinding away haplessly.
It seems unlikely that young leg-spinner Mason Crane will find himself starting the First Test, leaving a straight battle between Jake Ball, Tom Curran and Craig Overton. Jake Ball looks to be the most likely of the trio to start, with Curran only called up after Steven Finn’s injury cut his tour short, and Overton yet to appear on the international stage.
However, whatever combination of seamers English decide to put out in the First Test, it won’t make much difference. All of the options are very similar, bowling at 80-85mph with no standout candidate offering the express pace to trouble the Australian batsmen. If Jimmy Anderson, who recently got appointed vice-captain in Stokes’ absence, is unable to get the new ball to swing, England could have many long days in the field ahead of them.
It is hard to read too much into Australia’s recent Test match form, with a drawn series in Bangladesh and a 2-1 series defeat in India of little significance considering how different the conditions will be in Australia this winter.
As ever, the aggressive David Warner will set the tone at the top of the order, and he finished as the top run scorer in the last Ashes series in Australia with 523 runs across the five matches. Steve Smith continues to be his side’s talisman in the middle order, and in the home conditions that he usually thrives in, the Australian captain could have another big series in store.
In the 2013/14 series, England’s main problem was their batting, and a complete inability to deal with Mitchell Johnson and his unnerving moustache! Luckily for them, Johnson has since retired and will not longer be steaming in, but his apprentice Mitchell Starc is more than capable of replicating his namesake’s exploits.
Both sides have weaknesses in their batting, and it looks like Alastair Cook and Joe Root for England and David Warner and Steve Smith for Australia may well decide which way the series goes. Nathan Lyon gives the hosts a strong spin option, certainly stronger than that of Moeen Ali, while the pace attack of the Australians is quicker and naturally more suited to the conditions than Anderson, Woakes and Broad.
“Australia have won six of their last seven Test series’ at home, with England neatly mirroring that having produced just one series win away from home in their last seven.”
Quite simply, Australia are very good in Tests at home, while England have struggled for any inconsistency when leaving behind home comforts. Australia have won six of their last seven Test series’ at home, with England neatly mirroring that having produced just one series win away from home in their last seven.
Australia should produce another home Ashes win this winter, with many predicting another 5-0 whitewash in their favour. England may well be good enough to compete if their star players shine, but it seems unlikely that come the Fifth Test in Sydney, the visitors will still be in the series.