Since the turn of the century, the Australian cricket team has seen phases of global dominance to witnessing a slide from its pole position and being construed a conquerable side. England too has enjoyed its moments in the sun in red-ball cricket endorsed by a change in approach and a pool of match winning cricketers during this period.
On the surface, the Ashes rivalry appears to have ebbed and flowed in the past two decades. Donning the lens of convention that is the team’s FTP, the recent Ashes contests have mirrored the larger international landscape of teams dominating at home and capitulating in away conditions.
England were the last team to win an away Ashes, in the Australian summer of 2010-11. A series that saw Alastair Cook pile up runs from one end but ably supported by the other batsmen. A lone battle from Michael Vaughan in the 2002-03 summer when he piled on 633 runs - 137 more than any other batsman only to witness his team outclassed - is a testament that unlike other formats, Test cricket cannot be won by individual brilliance. In the summer of 2010-11, the English dominated the Aussies with the bat comprehensively. Nine English centuries versus three from the Australia willow justify it statistically. No Test match is won without the bowlers, let alone a series. The English bowlers, young and fit were let loose upon the ageing Australians. They dismissed the Australian team in all but one innings of the series and did not let them score 350 in any of the last four matches.
A nerd for cricket stats might argue that the Australians dominated the 2009 Ashes in the UK on individual numbers but ended up on the losing side. A diagnosis into match events will reveal that the last wicket stand that lasted for 11.3 overs between Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar in the first Test and the implosion of Australia to 160 all out in the last Test refrained Australia in a series that was eventually decided on two victories to one.
Taking a leaf out of the series in 2010-11, Australia will have to dominate the English as a team to garner any hopes of retaining the Ashes. A team with a core of modern day greats in David Warner and Steve Smith will need a couple more batsmen to carry their burden repeatedly. While, Usman Khawaja seems a likely candidate to weather a storm, his fitness might con him even before the storm arrives. Among the bowlers, Josh Hazelwood, hurt from the World Cup axe will have a point or two to prove. While he looked well on his way to glory in 2015, he did not really set the stage on fire. In 2019, he will have to bear the burden of the World Cup workhorses- Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins in the company of James Pattinson, who begins the second innings of his international career. For Australia, the difference between winning and losing this series can be three-fold – the inexperienced middle order, lack of a quality all-rounder and fitness of their fast bowlers.
For the home side, numerous personnel from the XI that start on Thursday at Edgbaston will be basking in the World Cup glory. However, for the two of their red-ball giants, it will be a final opportunity to regain the urn. Similar to the script that one saw Down Under in 2006-07 for Aussie legends in Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, the Ashes of 2019 can be a perfect swansong for the English fast bowling duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Given a batting line-up perfectly capable of winning or losing the game for their side in a session, the form of the fast bowling duo will ultimately decide the fate of the series.
To reclaim the Ashes, the motif of these two will be to hammer through the impregnable defence of Steve Smith and counter the uninhibited strokeplay of David Warner, both of whom will be hungry after a 12-month layover and will be eager to show everyone what Test cricket has missed all this while.
After attaining the immediate and much awaited goal in white-ball cricket, one wonders the desire in the English cricket team to get off from the bed for a contest. Times like these ask for inspiration for which they have to look no further than their Ashes opponents who have provided a practical masterclass on how to remain hungry on the path to global dominance. Australians have dominated cricket globally and across formats, more than any other team ever did. England are a team filled with players fit for every role and confident under pressure unlike the traditional English batsmen of the past. The chunks in the Australian armoury and hunger in the English underbelly will define whether we will see the rise of a super power or a contest between two conquerable sides.