The greatest series in cricket is almost upon us yet again. No other series holds as much meaning historically, or comes close contest wise as the Ashes. This series is one of the more fascinating as it really is quite difficult to predict which way the series will go. The safe money will be on Australia as they are the home team, and it is true to say that they have a formidable team. However, they are not without their weaknesses, and England are one of the worlds best teams when they play to their full potential. We have seen the usual pre series trash talking from both sides, with Aussie off spinner Nathan Lyon coming out earlier this week saying that the Australians are looking to end careers and he even went as far to say that they are looking to get Joe Root dropped from the England side- good luck with that! Lyon can say these things with confidence however as only Rangana Herath (51) and Kagiso Rabada (54) have taken more Test wickets than Lyon (46) this year. Many including myself see the pre match verbals as only adding to the intensity of the series as a whole.
Australia go into the first test off the back of a very confusing squad selection. They have given an astonishing recall to Tim Paine, who hasn’t scored a first class century since 2007 and is far from being the best gloveman in Australia. They have also decided to recall Shaun Marsh for what feels like the 100th time. Marsh is a quality player, and I have always loved watching him bat, his cover drives are up there with Kumar Sangakkara as the most aesthetically pleasing in the game. Despite this, he simply hasn’t shown the consistency required at the international level to prove to anyone that he belongs in the team. It is also quite a U-turn on their supposed switch to focus on bringing in more youth players which started after their battering by South Africa at home last year. They have dropped Matthew Renshaw, and perhaps this was warranted due to his poor domestic form, however it does send a very confusing message to the players trying to make their way in to the team when they go back to 34 year old Shaun Marsh. One player that will feel aggrieved is Glenn Maxwell. The Victorian star decided to take it upon himself to bat at 3 for his domestic side in a bid to prove to selectors that he is capable of playing in the Ashes as a batsman for Australia. He has backed up his decision with runs aplenty and at a very impressive and unsurprising strike rate. Despite the surprise inclusions and omissions, Australia are still a very good team. They of course have the explosive David Warner opening the batting in very good form, and he will be accompanied by Cameron Bancroft who will be making his Test debut at the biggest stage. Bancroft has been knocking quietly yet constantly on the selectors door for a number of years, but he has been positively banging it down in the past few weeks, scoring 228 not out for Western Australia in the most recent game, whilst Renshaw couldn’t buy a run for Queensland. Warner and Bancroft will complement each other well, as Warner’s fast scoring should make it easier for Bancroft to settle in. The current number 1 batsman in the world also lines up for Australia, as Steve Smith looks set to continue breaking records as his phenomenal career reaches new heights every time he comes out to bat. He was the leading run scorer in the 2015 Ashes in England, and is the definite favourite to be just that come the end of this series also. They have the class of Usman Khawaja and Peter Handscomb who have both established themselves as solid middle order players who can score big runs when the situation presents itself.
The bowling attack is what is being talked about the least after the recent squad announcement. This is simply because their is no real fault with their bowling as it stands. Whilst they struggle with their wicket keeping selections and their number 6, their 8,9,10 and 11 are all becoming key players in building a world beating side. Mitchell Starc is the spearhead, and is the most feared. A left arm very, very fast with unmatched aggression, Starc is deadly accurate with his yorkers, and has been terrorising domestic players in the Sheffield Shield, taking two hat-tricks in one game against Queensland, most of the dismissals seeing the middle stump ripped out of the ground with the batsman shrugging and understanding that he’d been done by a top class bowler. However, Starc is probably not the best bowler in the team. One of the other comments that Nathan Lyon came out with earlier this week was to call Josh Hazlewood the best bowler in the world, and his record is certainly doing him no harm in justifying that statement. Hazlewood has 118 Test wickets at an average of 25, and has the ability to hit the same perfect line and length almost every ball, earning him comparisons to Glenn McGrath. With Hazlewood’s control from one end, and Starc’s aggression from the other, England will undoubtedly have to be on top form to keep them at bay. They have the quickest bowler in the world currently at their disposal as well. Pat Cummins burst onto the scene at 18 years old, ripping through South Africa’s legendary batting line up, then consisting of Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers. He had raw pace and accuracy, and was being talked up as the next big thing. However, injuries have kept him out of the game and out of the Test team for far too long. But, he made his comeback earlier this year against India, impressing with his ability to bowl long spells at a great pace. At 24 years old now, he has been injury free for a while, and is back up to bowling 90+ mph which is bad news for England’s batsmen. Their other bowler is of course Nathan Lyon, but he has done so much talking in the last few days, that maybe he can talk about how great of a player he is himself.
As we await the first ball to be bowled, Australia certainly look strong. Their engimatic squad selection relating to their wicket keeper and batsman have caught a few people off guard, but their top players might be too strong on their own for England to handle.
Predicted Line Up:
Warner, Bancroft, Smith(c), Khawaja, Handscomb, Marsh, Paine(wk), Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, Lyon