The Ashes 1st Test Preview- Australia

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

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World Cup 2018- Germany

Germany are the current holders of the World Cup having beaten Argentina 1-0 in the final back in 2014. They were a force to be reckoned with then, and are still as dangerous today. Germany have seen some of their ageing players fade out of the international scene in the past few years, and have seen the introduction of many exciting young talents who have been given playing time in the Bundesliga.

Germany have an incredibly well rounded team and it is only really their striking options that lack depth. They have arguably the best goalkeeper in the world in Manuel Neuer and have Barcelona’s number one choice goalkeeper in Marc-Andre Ter Stegen as a back up. Germany’s defence is incredibly solid, and is well renowned for being difficult to penetrate. They have the Bayern Munich centre back pairing of Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, and whilst they perhaps miss the experience and class of Phillip Lahm at right back they have perhaps found his replacement in Joshua Kimmich who is one of the most versatile players going around at the moment. In the midfield Germany have a vast array of options. They have one of the most exciting young midfielders going around at the moment in Schalke player Leon Goretzka who is subject to interest from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Liverpool. Alongside him they of course have the world class Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil, Emre Can, Sami Khedira and Ilkay Gundogan. That is a ridiculous choice of midfielders to use, and will surely benefit Germany going into the World Cup next year. Their wide players are not exactly lacking in quality either- with Leroy Sane one of the most exciting and talented players on the planet, and enjoying great form for Manchester City. They also have a number of options in Julian Brandt, Amin Younes and Andre Schurrle to play on the flanks. It is the striking options which have left Germany short for the past couple of years, with Miroslav Klose retiring, and Thomas Muller not really being an out and out striker meaning they have had to experiment with different formations. However, this looks to have now changed with Leipzig striker Timo Werner looking like the real deal for the Germans. The 21 year old bagged 21 goals in 31 games last year in the Bundesliga and has scored 6 goals in his first 9 international appearances. Werner has qualities which German strikers have not exactly been blessed with in recent times. Instead of a tall, strong target man, he is a rapid forward who likes to get in behind the defences and can bury most chances he is given. With the striking position now looking to be sorted, Germany look as threatening as they have ever been once again.

In terms of the 2018 World Cup, they find themselves up against many other quality opponents whom I will preview also, but I believe the Germans are, and probably always will be one of the main favourites to lift the trophy at the end.

Jacques Kallis- Underrated?

When it comes to discussing the greatest batsmen of generation just gone by, you always hear the same names crop up- Tendulkar, Dravid, Ponting, Lara, Sangakkara, but one name that is not frequently mentioned is Jacques Kallis. For me, Kallis is the greatest cricketer of all time. An incredible performer in every format of the game, playing to the highest level consistently throughout his illustrious career.

When comparing Kallis as a batsman to the other greats of his generation, his numbers are not only on a par with, they actually surpass the others, with only Kumar Sangakkara having a higher overall batting average in Tests. Kallis racked up 13,000 Test runs at an astonishing average of 55.37 with 45 centuries and 58 fifties. These are astonishing numbers as a batsman alone, and would cement him legendary status. But what you also have with Kallis is the fact that he also took 292 Test wickets at a bowling average of 32. It is almost beyond belief that a player can have such an incredible record as a batsman, and also have such impressive bowling statistics as well. The argument always used against Kallis being the greatest all rounder in history, is that Garfield Sobers was a superior player, and while I wasn’t alive to watch Sobers play, I think that it is highely unlikely that any player has ever been at the level that Kallis has as an all round cricketer.

Jacques Kallis was a grinder. He would bat long, long periods of time; wearing down the opposition bowlers, and cashing in when they bowled the bad balls- the traditional way of batting. He would make it look so effortless, and I would rather watch very few batsmen in full flow than Kallis. His straight drive was impeccable, his cover drive imperious, and his ability to flick the ball off of middle stump or leg stump with ease through midwicket ensured that there were very few places you could bowl to Kallis and get away with it. Kallis had a fantastic conversion rate, and once he was in, you were certain that he was going to make a big score. One thing that did haunt him for a long time in his career, was his failure to make a double hundred until he finally broke his streak, and made his maiden Test double hundred against India in 2011. For someone with such an incredible conversion rate, it was very surprising that he had not gotten there sooner, but everyone knew that he was too good of a player to never reach the landmark. Kallis was the rock in South Africa’s batting line up, and I don’t think there are many who valued there wicket as highly as he did.

As a bowler, Kallis was never at the frontline for the Proteas, and that is understandable, as he played in teams that included the likes of Dale Steyn, Shaun Pollock, Allan Donald and Vernon Philander. He was often the first change bowler, and would extract good movement and bounce off pitches that provided assistance. Kallis was very effective in his accuracy, and it must have been a nightmare for batsmen knowing that after they whether the formidable opening bowlers, they get no respite when Kallis comes on to bowl.

Kallis also excelled at the shorter form of the game. Yet again, his One Day International statistics match up very well against the other legendary players. 11,000 runs at an average of 44, and 273 wickets at an average of 31 are fantastic numbers, especially in the shorter version of the game. Kallis was often the number 3 bat in ODI’s for South Africa, and this was a perfect position for him. He would come in often when a wicket had been lost early, and would play the anchor role wonderfully- rotating the strike, and ensuring that they would always have one player that got the runs necessary. He was never going to be the supreme One Day player in the sense that he wouldn’t score 20 ball fifties or 40 ball hundreds with sixes galore, but he knew his role, and he executed it. It’s also a testament to Kallis fitness and commitment to the sport that he managed a combined total of over 500 international games for his country, and was able to perform year after year.

It will be a long time before we see another player of the calibre of Jacques Kallis, and when we do, we have to appreciate it, because talent like that is so crucial and essential to the growth and enjoyment of cricket.

India’s Latest Superstar?

India are on top of the cricketing world right now, and they have a team packed full of superstar talent. They have so much ability in their squad that they are continuously having to leave out players who would most likely walk into any other squad in the world. Their main star is of course Virat Kohli, and he will probably remain unsurpassed until his retirement. However, there is a young player from Mumbai who is making a huge name for himself, and has been given likeness to one Sachin Tendulkar.

Prithvi Shaw is an 18 year old opening batsman from Mumbai, and has taken the Indian domestic set up by storm. In his 5 first class matches so far, Shaw has scored 4 centuries and 1 fifty at an average of 70, with a strike rate of 73 as well.  He has excelled in youth cricket as well, dominating the one day and test series earlier on in the year against England under 19’s both home and away. His impressive innings have also not been against sub par bowling attacks, with him taking the game to a certain Ravichandran Ashwin in a recent first class game. He has also notched centuries against bowling line ups that include internationally and domestically experienced players in Ishant Sharma, Pankaj Singh and Jaydev Unadkat. As well as this, he hit 66 in a one day tour game against a full New Zealand team, including bowlers such as Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Mitchell Santner.

I feel especially drawn to following Prithvi Shaw’s career as I had the pleasure of watching him bat 4 years ago at a Lashings All stars game. He was playing for Hartley Wintney CC in a warm up game before the main match, and watching him then, it was clear to see how talented he was. He was by far the smallest player on the pitch, but he hit by far the biggest sixes. The sound off the bat just sounded different to any other player, and no one could dismiss him. It was incredible to see someone so unassuming on a cricket field, be so dominant and imperious against bowlers who were all taller and stronger. His timing is something that has also been noted by his under 19 coach and all time cricketing great Rahul Dravid, who was full of praise for Shaw and his performances for the youth side.

Following on from his stint in England, Shaw went back to India and broke the record for the highest score by an Indian batsman in minor cricket, scoring 546 in a school match in Mumbai. It was at this point that he started receiving a small amount of media attention, but luckily for Shaw, he was not fazed, and went on to make his Mumbai debut a couple of years later.

He might have only just made his debut, but it would not be a bold claim to suggest that Shaw is only a couple years off a full international debut, and could be in for a big fee in the IPL Auction at the start of next year. India do have a huge amount of depth, and it definitely won’t be easy for Shaw to walk into the Indian side, but if he carries on with his incredible start, at his age, then his performances will be very difficult to ignore.

South Africa: A golden generation?

In the past few years, it’s fair to say South Africa have experienced somewhat of a decline in Test Cricket. This is not to say they’ve been absolutely atrocious, just that they definitely have not been as competitive as their team in recent years has been. A lot of this is due to the retirement of players such as Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, and the noticeable absence of Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers in their teams. However, with their current crop of players, and the youngsters they have coming through, it is looking very promising for the Proteas.

Firstly, the main positive for South Africa has been their newfound discovery of a competent opening partnership. While it may be too early to start heaping praise on Aiden Markram, his stats and the way he plays suggest that he will definitely play a part in their team going forward. As well as this, Dean Elgar is the leading run scorer in Tests this year, which will have surprised a lot of people. Elgar’s career so far has been very up and down, and he hasn’t really been able to score runs consistently for South Africa, but seems to have found a perfect formula for his batting at the moment, and is looking very fluent whenever he is at the crease.

Another huge positive for South Africa has been the resurgence of Hashim Amla. Amla struggled massively last year in Tests, with him getting out in the same way each time, and being dominated in Australia by Josh Hazlewood. He has scored 3 centuries this year, including two in the recent series vs Bangladesh, and has also displayed amazing form in the one day arena. After Amla comes the area of the team that is slightly vulnerable. They have trialled a few batsmen at number 4 in recent times, including Faf du Plessis, Temba Bavuma and Quinton de Kock, but the big news for them now is that AB de Villiers has returned to Test cricket, and will most probably slot in at number 4 on his return. This gives them the much needed stability in the middle order, and as de Villiers is naturally a quick scoring batsmen, it will give the players at 5 and 6 a bit of time to build an innings.

I personally don’t feel that Bavuma has been good enough to justify a spot in the middle order ahead of some of the players they have on the domestic scene. At times, he has demonstrated his quality- he is a very aesthetic player, with the ability to grind out long innings, but he just hasn’t done it frequently or consistently. He has a test average of 32 which really isn’t good enough for a supposed top class player. I understand that South Africa have a quota system in place, but I struggle to see how Bavuma merits a place ahead of someone like Heinrich Klaasen who has been in incredible form domestically for the Titans, and also in South Africa developmental squads against top opposition. Du Plessis will most likely bat at 5 in the upcoming India series if Bavuma is dropped, and he is a great player for this position. A great captain, and a fine batsman, he has been such a vital player for the Proteas in the past few years. At 6, South Africa have the best wicket keeper and wicket keeper batsman in the world. Quinton de Kock is only 24 years old, but is quite probably the most exciting batsman to watch in full flow, and the way he goes about his game is very reminiscent of Adam Gilchrist. He is fantastic behind the stumps, and has pulled off ridiculous catches in his career so far, and coupled with that, he can destroy bowling attacks with incredible ease, and has a strike rate of 72. In the coming years, I would not be surprised if de Kock reaches a top 5 ranking in the ICC batting rankings in Tests, as he has already achieved it in ODI’s where he also has a phenomenal record. South Africa definitely don’t have wicket keeping issues.

The Proteas bowling attack has been highly regarded for a number of years now. They have had some players come and go, but right now, it looks as dangerous as it has in a long time. Firstly, Dale Steyn has been given the all clear to return for the India series, and according to him, remains as hungry as ever before to make his mark in test cricket. Steyn is only a few wickets away from Shaun Pollock and overtaking him to become South Africa’s highest ever wicket taker, and it will be highly deserved. Steyn is the best fast bowler of his generation, and when he’s been fit, he has been head and shoulders above every other fast bowler. It will be interesting now to see whether he is able to return to the number 1 bowling spot in the rankings with the incredible bowling talent that we have in world cricket right now. He will be accompanied in the upcoming Test series by the best young bowler in the world, and probably the most exciting bowling prospect we have seen in a long, long time. Kagiso Rabada is currently the 3rd best bowler in Test cricket according to rankings, and his statistics are pretty ridiculous for someone his age. At 22 years old, he has already taken 102 wickets at an average of 22 with no injury scares, and no trouble running in and bowling long spells consistently. Rabada bowls with venomous pace and accuracy, with the ability to swing it both ways, and get movement off the seam. His first scalp in Test cricket was Virat Kohli, and this was a sign of things to come for the highly impressive youngster. Both players will face each other once more in this series, and both have improved considerably, so it will be a fascinating contest to watch unfold. South Africa have a number of options to pick from for the other fast bowling spot, with Vernon Philander the main man for them, but Morne Morkel among others waiting in the wings. I feel that despite Philander’s incredible record, he hasn’t been at his usual high standard this year, and continually suffers fitness issues that hinder the team at times. I think that a better pick for them would be Lungi Ngidi, a highly talented 21 year old fast bowler who has been making a huge claim in the domestic scene. He has played 3 international twenty-twenty matches, but aside from that, hasn’t really been considered for other matches. He has only played a handful of first class matches, but so far, he averages 20 with the ball, and in the last game he played a couple of weeks ago, took 9 wickets in the match, including a 6fer in the first innings. If South Africa can get Rabada and Ngidi bowling together, they will terrorise the opposition, and will be a nightmare for top order batsman across the world. Alongside their extensive seam options, they have one of the most impressive spinners in the world in Keshav Maharaj who has been very crucial to South Africa this past year in bowling long economical spells and picking up vital wickets. Maharaj offers that stability with the ball that they have perhaps lacked in recent years, and is also a handy batsman down the order.

Finally, South Africa have a huge crop of young talent coming through that are threatening to take the international stage by storm in the coming years. We have already seen one or two break through into the main team in Aiden Markram and Kagiso Rabada, but there is plenty more waiting. One player who is really making a name for himself is Wiaan Mulder, who has been dubbed the next Jacques Kallis. Whilst I do feel that it is not necessarily helpful to give young players pressure by comparing them to legends, it is hard to ignore Mulder’s wonderful start to his career. He averages 44 with the bat in first class, and 22 with the ball. For a 19 year old, playing at a very good standard in the Sunfoil Series, these are incredible figures. It is hard to tell which is his stronger suit at this stage, which can only be a good thing if you’re an all rounder- unless of course you are Farhaan Behardien who no one can figure out what his stronger suit is, because it is not apparent he has a strong suit to choose from. Mulder has a huge future ahead of him, and I was delighted to see him get called up for the last match of the South Africa vs Bangladesh ODI series where he picked up his first international wicket, and scored his first international runs. Along with Mulder, there is the aforementioned Lungi Ngidi, Dayyaan Galiem, Kyle Verreynne and Tony de Zorzi who all look incredibly promising for South Africa, and I would imagine we would be seeing a few of these playing for the main side in the coming years.

For now though, South Africa look a very strong, settled team, and it will be fascinating to see how they get on against India, the number 1 ranked team in the world.

The problem with Manchester United

Manchester City already look odds on for the Premier League title just 11 games into the season. However, I don’t believe that they have the best squad in the Premier League. It’s stating the obvious to say that Man United haven’t been anywhere near the same side since Sir Alex Ferguson left some time ago now. However, it could certainly be argued that their squad now would potentially outclass their squad of the past. This doesn’t though, take into account the way that the manager has them playing. It is infuriating watching Man United play under Mourinho, especially against the big teams. To play so negatively against teams that have demonstrated huge defensive fragilities in Liverpool and Chelsea, not only sends out a message to other teams that they don’t really have anything to fear, but more importantly, it shows the players that their own manager doesn’t have the faith in them to get the job done against the big teams.

Manchester United are very solid defensively without having to park the bus from the first minute. They have arguably the best full back in the league in Antonio Valencia, and have two centre backs in Eric Bailly and Phil Jones that are incredibly secure and reliable at the back. As well as this, they have the best current goalkeeper in the world in David de Gea, who is finding himself the standout performer each week for United, which is worrying for them. It is also infuriating when you take into consideration that United paid £90 million for Romelu Lukaku in the summer. He started the season incredibly well, like the world class striker he is, when the team actually plays with positive intent. However, his recent goal drought is suddenly becoming made apparent, and it all boils down to one person, and that is Mourinho. Whilst it could be argued that United are missing a vital creative talent in Pogba, it is ludicrous to say that they have no other options or replacement for a player like Pogba. Juan Mata did not even make the bench for United against Chelsea this past weekend, and when you are missing a player like Pogba to feed balls into Martial, Rashford and Lukaku, Mata is the ideal player you want to fill that gap. Instead, they go with two defensively minded midfielders in Matic and Herrera who are there to sit just in front of the back four, which wouldn’t be a negative thing, if they had played someone who roams forward and provides the creative spark that Pogba does.

It is completely implausible to suggest that any other manager in the Premier League apart from perhaps Tony Pulis would play this way. The reason why Man City are on top of the Premier League at the moment, and United are 8 points behind can be exemplified by both teams games against the same opposition. Man City took the game to Liverpool when they played them, exposing the weaknesses in their defence, and slaughtered them 5-0. Manchester United went there and shut up shop right from the whistle, not even bothering to have their players chase the ball further than the halfway line. It was Lukaku who received the brunt of the criticism, completely unfairly. How you are supposed to even have a chance to score a goal with the tactics that were employed at Anfield is beyond me. United and City’s squad both have very similar players of the highest calibre. You have the experienced defensive midfielders in Matic for United and Fernandinho for City. You have the class young European wingers in Sane and Martial, and the overrated English wingers in Rashford and Sterling. You have the creative midfielders playing in behind the strikers in Mata, Mkhitaryan, Pogba and De Bruyne and David Silva, and then you have the experienced Premier League goalscorers in Lukaku and Aguero. However, one team will win a game 5-0 or 3-0 taking the game to the opposition, and the other will gladly take a 0-0 draw with the hope of maybe snatching a counter attacking goal. You would expect this mentality with a team that doesn’t perhaps have a huge amount of quality going forward, and didn’t have a huge budget to spend on elite players. However, when you spend upwards of £200 million on players to bolster their attacking options, it is a disgrace that you set up so negatively. It is evident that the players don’t respond well to the tactics. As an example, following their tedious 0-0 draw with Liverpool, United went to Huddersfield, which should be a simple win, and lost 2-0. The players looked devoid of confidence going forward, and showed no desire to even trouble Huddersfield’s defence.

If United are to catch City, Mourinho seriously needs to change the way his team plays in terms of their intent going forwards, which isn’t to say that they completely sacrifice the defensive stability that they have. I want nothing more than to watch this Man United team in full flow, but at the moment, it is impossible to even get excited for their games with the way they are playing.

Ashes Preview

It is merely a couple of weeks away from the biggest showdown in world cricket. Australia and England are set to do battle yet again in what will surely be one of the most intriguing Ashes series in a long time. England come into it unsurprisingly as underdogs, as many fancy Australia’s strong top order, and destructive pace battery. However, with England the current holders of the urn, they will no doubt be more focused than ever on retaining it.

England Preview-

England come into this Ashes series with a major setback. They will be without arguably the best all round cricketer in the world right now in Ben Stokes unless something drastic changes with his police case. Still, without Stokes they remain a definite threat to the Aussies with a strong squad. Alastair Cook and Mark Stoneman seem to complement each other well as opening partners, with Cook grinding his innings out, whereas Stoneman is seen as the dasher, quite similar in a way to Australia’s opening pairing of Warner and Renshaw. Joe Root will be captaining England for the first time in an Ashes series, and he will of course be expected to lead from the front with his batting. If there is one thing that can be criticised about Root’s game, it is that he has a definite problem with converting his 50’s into 100’s. This issue will need to be urgently ironed out for this series if England want to win, as Root is by far and away England’s best batsman, and has the capability to take apart and completely demoralise opposition bowling attacks once he starts finding rhythm as the crease.

England’s middle order is going to be very hard to predict for the first game at the Gabba. Without Stokes, who has cemented his place at number 6 in recent years, they find themselves in need of a player who can come in and perform as well as he has. They have many options in their squad, with the likes of Gary Ballance, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan and possibly even Craig Overton being possibilities for that role. The scrutiny will definitely however be on James Vince. He is almost certain to bat at 3 in the first test, and in all honestly, won’t even have to perform that well if he is to better his first part of his England test career. He failed to pass 50 in every one of the 7 tests that he played back in the summer of 2016, and was subsequently dropped for the subcontinent tours. Despite a very mediocre county season, averaging in the mid 30’s for Hampshire, Vince was called up as a replacement for the dropped Tom Westley for the Ashes. Many ex professionals including Shane Warne had called for his inclusion, based on the fact that he appears to have a technique that is a lot more suited for Australian conditions than English ones, which in other words means, he prefers to bat on flat tracks as opposed to ones that do a bit.

England’s bowlers have notoriously struggled in Australia, with the same style bowler going out there and getting the same results- right arm medium fast bowlers who can’t move the Kookaburra ball getting hammered by the Aussie batsmen. They perhaps have a better chance this year, with maiden away Ashes series for Chris Woakes, Craig Overton and Jake Ball. I personally think that Craig Overton should be given a go. He has the ability to bowl for long sessions and bowl fast and accurately. Overton would be a difficult customer for the Aussies to deal with, and couple that with his ability to come in and score quick runs with the bat, he is a definite contender for a debut in Brisbane. Should Moeen Ali not pass his fitness test and be ruled out for the first test, then England will be forced to choose whether to go with an all out pace attack, or to include the spin of Mason Crane. Crane has impressed in his short international career so far, albeit in the shortest format, but the potential is definitely there for everyone to see. He has experience bowling in Australia as he made his Shield debut for New South Wales last year, and picked up a 5-fer at the SCG.

Overall, England’s team has the potential to be a very strong outfit, but there are a few players who need to solidify their positions and make them their own. The players inexperience in Australian conditions and an Ashes series might play a factor, with only Cook, Root, Anderson, Finn and Broad a part of the England squad that got mauled by the Aussies in 2013.

Predicted Line up for the first Test at the Gabba:

Cook, Stoneman, Vince, Root (c), Ballance, Bairstow (wk), Moeen, Woakes, Overton, Broad, Anderson

 

Australia Preview-

Australia come into the series lacking test match practise you could say. Since the India tour in February, they have only had one test series against Bangladesh which finished 1-1. They look to have a more settled team than England do, with question marks only really raised over the number 6 role and the wicket keeping position. At the top of the order, Warner will be relied on heavily to score big as he always does at home, and will look to get on top of the England bowlers right from the off. Matt Renshaw is a stark contrast to Warner as a batsman and the partnership is reminiscent of the Warner-Rogers partnership which dominated world cricket for a few years. Steve Smith will be the man to watch as always, with his test average reaching 60 this year, something that the great Ricky Ponting once achieved in his career at one stage as well.

Australia’s middle order has the potential to be very dangerous. Peter Handscomb comes in at 4 with a test average of over 50, and a lot of cricket played for him in more challenging conditions than what he is likely to face at home. The Aussies have the ability to play both Glenn Maxwell and Hilton Cartwright in that middle order to follow Handscomb- something which England might find to difficult to manage. Maxwell is destructive, a brutal yet innovative player who refuses to die wandering even in the longest form of the game. Hilton Cartwright is more of a reliable batsman, if not a bit less entertaining than Maxi. Cartwright averages 50 in first class and has only really just begun his international career. He is also a more than handy bowler, as Steve Smith can surely attest to, as Cartwright dismissed his skipper in the New South Wales vs Western Australia shield game a few days ago. They do have other options as well as these two, with Shaun Marsh always a reliable batsman wherever he plays in the order, and with his brother Mitchell looking in supreme form domestically, we could potentially see the Marsh brothers at 5 and 6 for Australia. The main issue for the Aussies however, is the wicket keeping position. It has been an issue that has plagued them ever since the retirement of Adam Gilchrist, and is currently at it’s worst point. Matthew Wade has demonstrated time and again in his turbulent international career that he is not reliable with the gloves, and doesn’t score the amount of runs to potentially ignore his wicket keeping flaws. There is no real challenge from anyone else on the domestic scene though, with there being no full time keepers who boast good enough batting stats. It will come down to Wade vs Peter Nevill for the role, and all signs point to Wade at the moment, but this is a area in which Australia will be concerned.

The Aussie bowling unit is probably the best bowling attack going around at the moment. They have a ridiculous amount of world class fast bowlers, so much so that not all of them can get a game, and have to be satisfied with carrying drinks, or not even selected at all! Their main threats are of course Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins. Starc is looking absolutely lethal with the ball right now, and will definitely fancy himself against the technically flawed Gary Ballance if he plays. Starc has just taken a career best 8 wicket innings haul for New South Wales, and then followed it up next game with a hat trick against Western Australia. Hazlewood is a top 5 bowler right now, with his outstanding ability to hit the perfect line and length every ball with great pace earning him rightful comparisons with Glenn McGrath. Cummins is the quickest of the lot, and whilst his international debut against South Africa feels so long ago, he is still very young, and has plenty of time to improve. If Cummins can consistently hit 150kph plus, then England’s batsmen might start to panic, and have flashbacks to Mitchell Johnson’s pace barrage 4 years back. This is all without mentioning their leading wicket taker in Tests this year Nathan Lyon, who is probably right now the best spinner in the world across all conditions. Lyon has spun Australia to numerous victories this year, and will enjoy bowling to an England line up that has shown an inability to cope with the turning ball at times recently.

Overall, it really is hard to look past Australia at the moment with the way their squad lines up. Their batsmen have such incredible records, and ability to score the big hundreds, and once that is coupled with the fact that their bowling attack can take out any top team in the world, it makes them perhaps too hot to handle.

Predicted line up for the First Test at the Gabba:

Warner, Renshaw, Smith (c), Handscomb, Cartwright/Khawaja, Maxwell, Wade (wk), Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood, Lyon

Top 5 Batsmen in the world right now

International cricket currently has a plethora of incredibly talented batsmen at the helm right now, and these are the 5 batsman that as of September 2017, I believe to be the best across all formats.

 

5: Joe Root   Test Runs: 5323   Test Batting Average: 53.76     ICC Test Ranking: 2nd                                      ODI Runs: 3954    ODI Batting Average: 49.42    ICC ODI Ranking: 4th                                        T20I Runs: 743     T20I Batting Average: 39.10    ICC T20I Ranking: 8th

 

If Joe Root could convert his starts into bigger scores, he would probably be top of this list. He is a batsman that has the capability to bat in all conditions, demonstrating his ability in South Africa, India, Bangladesh, New Zealand and of course England. He is an incredibly fluent batsman, not only in limited overs, but also in Tests as well. Criticism has- and rightfully so, been directed at Root for batting himself at number 4 instead of at 3. Number 3 is a position where most of the best players have batted for their teams before- IVA Richards, Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, and most notably in today’s game with Steve Smith and Kane Williamson. If Root batted at 3 and was able to convert his 50’s into 100’s, he would be pretty damn unstoppable.

 

4: David Warner   Test Runs: 5705   Test Batting Average: 47.94    ICC Test Ranking: 5th

ODI Runs: 4217   ODI Batting Average: 44.86     ICC ODI Ranking: 2nd

T20I Runs: 1686   T20I Batting Average: 28.10    ICC T20I Ranking: 17th

 

One of the most destructive batsmen on the planet, Warner’s career really has been somewhat of a sensation. He was initially dismissed as a T20 specialist, and a slogger, but since then, has amassed 34 international hundreds-none of which were t20 hundreds, and has become the most feared opening batsman around. Warner played with another legendary opening batsman for the Delhi Daredevils franchise in the IPL in Virender Sehwag, and I believe the coaching and guidance he received from Viru has made him the player he is today in Tests. Last month, Warner silenced his critics about his away form, and smashed twin hundreds in Bangladesh in incredibly difficult conditions, and no doubt will be licking his lips about the prospect of facing England’s relatively medium paced trundlers when compared to the Aussie bowling line up in the Ashes.

 

3: Kane Williamson  Test Runs: 5116   Test Batting Average: 51.16   ICC Test Ranking: 3rd

ODI Runs: 4605    ODI Batting Average: 46.98   ICC ODI Ranking: 6th

T20I Runs: 1125   T20I Batting Average: 36.29  ICC T20I Ranking: 4th

 

In my opinion, the most aesthetically pleasing batsman to watch out there, and one of the most prolific currently going around. The only problem with being a huge Kane Williamson fan is the fact that New Zealand play so little cricket, that it is difficult for Williamson to keep up with the other big names alongside him in international cricket. However, such is the batsman and character that he is, that he does that, and many people still value him above everyone else, particularly in the longer form of the game. Williamson appears to be the best of the current “Big 4” in terms of captaincy, as he shows true knowledge and leadership on the field, and an understanding of the ins and outs of the game that not many others have. If New Zealand had a few more players to back him up, I think Williamson would have considerably more runs, and a higher average, but as it stands, he might have to retire early with an injured back from carrying the team for so long now.

 

2: Steve Smith   Test Runs: 5370   Test Batting Average: 59.66   ICC Test Ranking: 1st

ODI Runs: 3213   ODI Batting Average: 43.59   ICC ODI Ranking: 13th

T20I Runs: 431    T20I Batting Average: 21.55   ICC T20I Ranking: Unranked

 

It is often said too much, but it cannot be overlooked how incredible Steve Smith has become. He started off with the tag as the next Shane Warne, and as Australia’s next big spin hope. 7 years on, and he is well on his way to becoming one of the greatest Test batsmen of all time, and is scoring centuries and runs at an incredible rate. Smith’s One day stats can be taken with a pinch of salt, because of the fact that the majority of his innings in both formats came from the number 8 position. In fact, since 2014, Steve Smith has averaged 54 in ODI’s and continues to be prolific in that form of the game also. Smith has a great ability of turning his 50’s into 100’s and this will be a crucial factor when Australia meet England for the next Ashes series. If Smith continues at this pace, he is sure to break many batting records, and write himself as possibly Australia’s greatest since Sir Don himself.

 

1: Virat Kohli   Test Runs: 4658   Test Batting Average: 49.55    ICC Test Ranking: 6th

ODI Runs: 8728   ODI Batting Average: 55.24     ICC ODI Ranking: 1st

T20I Runs: 1830   T20I Batting Average: 53.82   ICC T20I Ranking: 1st

 

 

Unquestionably the best batsman in the world right now, Virat Kohli is dominating cricket in all forms. He boasts a very impressive Test record with a remarkable conversion rate of 17 hundreds and 14 fifties, and which included 3 double hundreds in Tests last year. In One Day Internationals, Kohli is making a serious case to be considered as the greatest of all time. For me, he is only rivalled by Viv Richards, and by AB de Villiers. Kohli is a freak of nature with the bat, like those two were-(AB still is!), and has done things for his nation that has seen him held in a god like status with the Indians, reminiscent of Sachin Tendulkar. Over the last couple of years, Kohli has really perfected his game, combining incredible batting skill with incredible fitness levels, that see him break records seemingly every time he walks out to bat.

The Best Young Players XI

The amount of young talent in Europe’s top leagues is incredibly exciting, so I thought to create my own personal XI of the best of them in a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Goalkeeper- Gianluigi Donnarumma  Age-18   Club- A.C Milan

Watching Donnarumma, you would have thought that he had been playing for years, but it is amazing to think that at such a young age, he has become one of the best goalkeepers in Serie A, and is one of the most sought after talents in the world. Reportedly on the radar of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona, Donnarumma was tempted by a move to a bigger club in the summer, but after consideration, he decided to stay at Milan. I believe this is the best move for him, as he is still so young, and has time to develop into one of the best goalkeepers in the world with enough gametime. I highly expect Donnarumma to be at a bigger club in the coming years, but he has to be consistent for A.C Milan, and for the Italian youth side.

Right Back- Benjamin Henrichs  Age-20   Club- Bayer Leverkusen

Leverkusen have a wealth of talent on their hands, that if managed correctly could potentially turn them into a Bundesliga winning side. Their full back Benjamin Henrichs has been capturing all the headlines, with his impressive performances that have even earned him 3 caps for the German national team. A quick full back, who likes to get forward and take people on, Henrichs is expected to be a regular fixture in the German side soon enough, and has already established himself within the Leverkusen team. With full backs in higher demand these days due to the increase in formations that include attacking full backs, Henrichs is sure to be on the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs.

Centre Back- Jonathan Tah  Age- 21   Club- Bayer Leverkusen

Another Leverkusen talent that has become a full German international, Tah is a highly sought after centre back who is commanding and strong in defence. A ball playing defender that will surely catch the eye of Pep Guardiola at Man City, Tah is the sort of centre back that every manager would love, one that is composed on the ball, and can safely play out from the back without leaving the team in any trouble.

Centre Back- Davinson Sanchez  Age-21   Club- Tottenham Hotspur

Davinson Sanchez was part of the Ajax side that reached the Europa League final last season, and was a pivotal figure in that team. Standing over 6 foot, he is an imposing centre half, whilst also being composed on the ball, and being able to find the right pass. Tottenham have made a brilliant signing in Sanchez, and I’m sure he will become one of the best centre backs in the Premier League.

Left Back- Alex Grimaldo  Age- 21   Club- SL Benfica

A Spain under 21 international who came through the ranks at Barcelona, Alejandro Grimaldo has now been making his name playing for Benfica in the Portugese League. If Jordi Alba had not been at Barcelona, it would be almost certain that Grimaldo would have broken into their first team by now. But he showed ambition by leaving the Spanish giants, and joining Benfica for first team football in Portugal and the Champions League. Grimaldo is another full back that is of the attacking mould, and likes to bomb forward, and rack up the assists. In the coming years, I believe that Grimaldo will be at one of Europe’s top clubs once again, and could even challenge Jordi Alba for the left back spot in the Spanish side.

Centre Midfield- Adrien Rabiot  Age-22   Club- Paris Saint-Germain  

During the PSG thrashing of Celtic the other week, there was one player that stood out as being truly head and shoulders ahead of anyone on the Celtic team, and-although they are, it wasn’t Cavani, Mbappe or Neymar. Rabiot controlled the game so perfectly that he looked like the finished article already. A commanding figure in the centre of the park, Rabiot is incredible at winning the ball back from the opposition, and then always picking the right pass. When watching him, I felt that he played so similarly to Luka Modric of Real Madrid. It is amazing that Rabiot was virtually unheard of not so long ago, and how quickly he has slotted into this world class Paris Saint-Germain team and made the central midfield position his own.

Centre Midfield- Youri Tielemans   Age 21   Club- A.S Monaco

Whilst the word was ranting and raving about Renato Sanches and his apparent ability, I have been keeping a close eye on Youri Tielemans who made the switch in the summer from Anderlecht to Monaco. 13 goals in 37 appearances last year for Anderlecht from central midfield shows his ability, and he possesses the talent to strike them from long range, as demonstrated by some of his goals last year being 30 yard screamers. In the side I have picked, with Rabiot as a more deep lying midfielder, it will complement him to have a more advanced midfielder in Tielemans playing alongside him. Monaco have acquired a real gem in Tielemans, and I can’t wait to see how he performs for them this year in Ligue 1 and in the Champions League.

Left Wing- Marco Asensio  Age-21   Club- Real Madrid

In my opinion, Asensio is the best young talent in football right now, and the most likely of anyone on this list to win the Ballon d’or in the future. Asensio is performing so well right now for Madrid, that fans are forgetting that Ronaldo is not playing. Asensio struck two sumptuous strikes against Barcelona earlier this year to bring real light to how big of a star he will surely become. In the Under 21 Euro Championships, Asensio looked miles ahead of any other player there, as he scored goals and racked up assists in the Spain team that reached the final. Asensio possesses an incredible left foot that has seen him score from range and also from inside the box as well to exemplify his finishing ability. There was talk of Arsenal wanting Asensio in the summer, but I can’t see how he would take a step down to there as he is already lighting up the Bernabeu, and La Liga.

Central Attacking Midfield- Thomas Lemar  Age 21   Club- A.S Monaco

France really do have a wealth of talent on their hands, and Lemar is right at the top of the pile of that talent. One of the only remaining players from Monaco’s exceptional 2016/17 campaign, Lemar has started this season in fine form, bagging his first two international goals against the Netherlands. Another player that has a wand of a left foot, Lemar is a set piece specialist, and has a penchant for scoring from long range also. Lemar is equally adept at playing out on either wing, but I believe that he is most effective playing through the middle just behind the striker, where he can score and create goals at will.

Right Wing- Kylian Mbappe  Age-18   Club- Paris Saint-Germain

Mbappe burst onto the scene last year for Monaco, and since then, is set to become the second most expensive footballer of all time, behind his teammate Neymar. When watching Mbappe, you notice that he definitely has the footballing intelligence that so many other wingers lack. He has great close control dribbling, and good composure in the box, but most importantly, he is aware of when to pick a pass or not, as opposed to many other young wingers, who simply have an eye for goal. Mbappe boasts a great scoring record, and that will surely be set to improve as he has joined a free scoring PSG team, with the likes of Neymar, Cavani and Di Maria to accompany him up front.

Striker- Gabriel Jesus  Age-20   Club- Manchester City

4 years ago, Gabriel Jesus was painting the streets of Brazil, and now he finds himself at the centre of attention in European football. He has begun to form a lethal striking partnership at Manchester City with fellow South American Sergio Aguero, and opposition are already starting to fear the Mancunian side because of it. 4 goals to start his first 5 games this season, as well as the 7 in 10 that he bagged at the end of last season after moving to England from Brazil. Jesus is a striker that has sublime dribbling, and fancy footwork, and is a nightmare for defenders in the area. He is also very dangerous in the air, and is a threat from crosses, which he will have an endless supply of at City with the likes of Mendy, Silva and de Bruyne alongside him. Jesus is sure to become one of the leading strikers in the Premier League if not the world, and City will do well to keep him from the clutches of a team like Real Madrid who will no doubt come searching.

England squad for the Ashes

My XI for the First Test of the Ashes:

Cook, Duckett, Root, Clarke, Bairstow, Stokes, Moeen, Woakes, Broad, Crane, Anderson.

Other players in squad:

Hameed, Ballance, Foakes, Roland-Jones, T Curran

 

It is evident that England are riddled with issues following their unconvincing series win against West Indies. Despite it not being his strength, I believe that Joe Root needs to bat at 3, as there are no other viable candidates currently to fill that spot. Ben Duckett was treated incredibly unfairly by the ECB after being thrown in at the deep end against Bangladesh and India, and as such, deserves his spot as opening batsman for this series, after a solid year of county cricket. Mason Crane has shown that he has the capability to perform against top level international opposition, albeit in a different format, however, I see Crane as someone that can utilise his one day skills, and be able to apply them successfully to the longer form.