The words ‘double’ or ‘treble’ have been thrown around a lot in football, very rarely in cricket. However, this could be an opportunity a complete a rare double – something they have not achieved in their history. The Three Lions created history when the lifted the World Cup at Lord’s and now can go one better by regaining The Ashes – again on home soil. They also have history on their side as Australia have never won a Test series in England since 2001.
England looked vulnerable in their one-off Test against Ireland, but had enough in the armoury to walk away with a convincing win. However, the cracks still remain, especially in the top-order, which is something their coach Trevor Bayliss admits to.
“You don’t have to be Einstein to work that out,” Bayliss said. “They have been for the last six or seven years, but it didn’t stop us (winning the Ashes) four years ago,” the Australian added.
Have they done anything to rectify this? The top three comprising of Jason Roy, Rory Burns and Joe Denly have an overall average of 27.27. It is no secret that the team management wants Joe Root to bat at three, but the England captain has been reluctant to do so. While he averages 40.47 at number three, since 2018, he has batted in that position just 11 times and has scored 314 runs at an average of 31.40. In the same period, when you look at his numbers at four – 813 runs at an average of 45.16 – it further makes a case for him not to toggle with his position.
But considering the inexperience of the top three, Root batting at one drop makes sense.
Another cause for concern when it comes to Root is that he fails to convert his fifties to hundreds on a consistent basis. Among the fab four of modern times – Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, and Root – the English Test skipper has the worst fifty to hundred conversion rate.
Regardless, with Root, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali, and Ben Stokes in the middle-order, it is without a doubt a daunting line-up, which Australia cannot afford to take lightly.
Their middle-order will be further boosted by the return of Stokes. Stokes, who won the player of the match in the final of the recently concluded ICC Cricket World Cup for his 84 has also been reinstated as vice-captain. Prior to the last Ashes in Australia in 2017-18, Stokes was stripped of that role and two years later, he is a World Cup winner and also expected to play a key part in the upcoming series.
Despite of the dip in form with the bat, Moeen Ali has done enough to earn a place in the XI with some fine performances with the ball. He has not managed to reach the kind of form he achieved in 2017, but still remains a vital member of the team.
Off-spinners could play a crucial role in England as they have picked up 67 wickets in Tests since 2017, which is the second most after right-arm pacers, who have scalped 385 wickets. Hence, it’s not surprising to see both teams going in with an off-spinner for the Ashes.
Bowling has been England’s strength over the years, and for this edition of The Ashes, the bowling attack looks formidable. The troika of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes will once again be key to their fortunes. Jofra Archer and Olly Stone are more than handy back up options for and will pose a good conundrum for Root.
Anderson, who could be playing his last home summer, loves playing against Australia. Australia is among the two teams against whom he has more than 100 wickets (104) – other one being India (110). He was among England’s best performers in the 2017 Ashes Down Under, finishing as his side’s leading wicket-taker with 17 scalps at a bowling average of 27.82. Injury concerns kept him out of the one-off Test against Ireland, but come the first Test at Edgbaston, the veteran will be raring to go.
Anderson has not played limited-overs fixture since 2015. Focusing on just one format has helped him reap rewards in the longest format. His numbers since then have been much better than when he played all three formats. Broad’s numbers too have slightly better post the 2015 World Cup in Tests. He played just two more ODIs after the mega event, as England, like Anderson, had earmarked him for the five-day game.
The initial parts of Day One of the first Ashes Test has always set the tone for the rest of the series. Be it Steve Harmison’s first ball of the 2006-07 series when the ball pitched and landed into the hands of Andrew Flintoff at second slip or Nasser Hussain opting to bowl first at Brisbane in 2002-03, regretting that even to this day. All these small events had significant impact on the outcome of the series.
Even this time, the first hour or the first session will give us an idea of which way the series is tilting.
With the World Cup already in the bag, England now have a chance to make this the best year in their history. However, the one thing that’s certain is that they will not win The Ashes on boundary count!
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow (wk), Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, Olly Stone, Chris Woakes