Nine – The countdown begins. That’s the number of days remaining for the biggest Test battle in cricket history. Many have already predicted this Ashes to be a complete whitewash in the favour of Australia. England have been extremely unfortunate to have lost key players due to injury and off-field issues.
At first, Toby-Roland Jones was ruled out after suffering a stress fracture in the back, then England’s star all-rounder Ben Stokes’s brawl outside a nightclub in Bristol has put his participation in the Ashes in jeopardy. The chine of injuries continued as Mark Wood, Steven Finn and the latest, Jake Ball was ruled out due to mistimed injuries. Despite missing a few players, the core of this English side is intact and looks solid.
Australia are yet to announce their 16-man army for the big battle and few loopholes in their batting order are quite clearly visible. The strength of their bowling has camouflaged the chink in their batting armour. The likes of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon render bowling a joy to behold. This attack inspires confidence and has the potential to wreak havoc in Australian conditions.
So far, all the talk surrounding the Ashes has been about Australia’s incredible pace attack and the missing England stars. But one shouldn’t forget, Australia’s batting is as unsettled as England’s. And truth be told, barring Smith and Warner, it’s hard to envisage where Australia’s runs will come from.
The responsibility of scoring big runs is on Smith and Warner. The two are also the most experienced and reliable batsmen in the batting order. But consider this: What if both batsmen have the worst series of their lives (a hypothetical possibility)? Australia certainly needs to add more firepower to their batting. They need not worry about their bowling, but England would be well aware of the instability in their batting order and will formulate plans to exploit it.
Usman Khawaja has been assured a place in the line-up for his prowess and effectiveness at home. Perhaps, he may have lost the rhythm due to lack of form in the sub-continent and might have to restart. They are yet to find a reliable and a long-term solution at No.6, along with a solid wicketkeeper. There is instability in the lower middle-order, which England will try to exploit.
The top five in the Australian batting line-up is pretty much predictable for the series opener in Brisbane. Most probably Australia will bat David Warner, Matt Renshaw, Usman Khawaja, Steve Smith and Peter Handscomb in the top five. But their main concerns are finding a reliable No.6 and solve the wicket-keeper conundrum. The third round of Sheffield Shield is scheduled to commence in a couple of days and the squad is expected to be announced upon its completion. It will be interesting to see who gets a nod, but one thing is for sure, whoever it is will be under tremendous pressure to justify his selection.
Talking about England’s bowling, they have the ingredients to do well in Australia. Their pace battery consists of James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Craig Overton and Tom Curran. The troika of Anderson, Broad and Woakes will undoubtedly feature in the opening Test. Add Stokes to it, and this bowling attack will breathe fire. Not to forget, the specialist spinner in Moeen Ali.
Anderson is well known for his exploits with the new ball and his ability to rip apart batting line-ups in swinging conditions. He was a part of the England side that lost the encounter back in 2013-14 Down Under. Anderson is more experienced now and is undoubtedly a different bowler than what he was back then, and so is Broad. The duo can put the opposition under the pump on their day and have done it on numerous occasions. Anderson had a good outing in the warm-up games, which will indeed boost his confidence. The two also had a fantastic run in the latest Ashes back home in 2015.
To add to their strength, Woakes looked in good rhythm in the practice games and has pulled his game up just when England needed him the most. He picked six wickets in the match against Cricket Australia’s XI and helped his side register a massive and a much-needed win. And Stokes’ return will only add fire to this attack.
Talking about English spinners, Moeen Ali brings stability with his off-spin, while Mason Crane has been the talk of the town for his leg-spin. In short, this bowling attack has the ability to test Australia’s infirmities. Although England have been written off, they are well capable of springing a surprise and turning the tide in their favour.