‘In order to rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix first must burn’.
After 15 months of being down in the dumps while suffering morale shattering Test series defeats to South Africa, India and Pakistan, nothing short of an Ashes victory can revive the Phoenix that is Australia.
Plenty of plots and sub-plots will form the narrative ahead of the first Test at Edgbaston but none will be more blatant than the much-awaited return of David Warner and Steve Smith.
As always the tone for the rest of the series will be set on the morning of the first battle and for England, their confidence will be soaring as they still recover from the World Cup triumph hangover.
Joe Root and co will also be quietly confident considering Australia haven’t beaten the Three Lions in a Test series at home since 2001. In addition, England have been invincible in Test series’ at home in the last five years.
It is no mystery that Smith and Warner will undoubtedly be the vital cogs in Australia’s wheel, out to prove a point after serving bans for the Sandpaper gate.
But there will be one man out to deny the Aussie duo from doing so, one man on a mission in what could effectively be his ultimate Ashes performance – James Anderson.
Since making his Ashes debut in 2006, Anderson has been prolific for England registering 104 scalps, 47 coming in English victories.
Anderson has an able ally in Stuart Broad culminating in twin trouble for opponents aplenty. It also helps that the duo have restrained themselves from playing limited-overs cricket, going full tilt in the longest format.
It is slightly topsy turvy when it comes to how successful Smith and Warner have been against England’s premier pacers.
While Warner has Broad’s number, be it playing at home or away, Smith has found the going tough against Broad especially on English soil. Anderson, on the other hand, has dismissed Warner on nine occasions in 16 Ashes Tests but has struggled against Smith with the latter averaging 54 against the right-arm pacer.
Warner has become Anderson’s bunny with the English veteran getting his number on nine occasions.
Smith has been relatively comfortable against the experienced duo but struggles a tad when facing Broad in English conditions, averaging just over 24 (24.40).
While the English top order is relatively inexperienced, they will pinning their hopes on skipper Root to come good in crunch moments.
Since 2014, the right-hander, who is part of the famous quartet of Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Steve Smith, has struggled to convert his starts and will be hoping for a turnaround in fortunes. In the 45 times that he has gone on to cross the 50-run mark, he has been able to get to three figures in just 11 of those innings.
Post the conclusion of the last edition of The Ashes, the English middle order primarily featuring Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Joe Root have scored 3569 runs in 16 Tests averaging 31.30. On the other hand, Australia have the worst average (29.52) among teams that have played at least 10 Tests.
This will be crucial a phase of batting for the English considering their recent penchant for top-order collapses.
With Australian coach Justin Langer confirming that Pat Cummins and James Pattinson will spearhead the pace bowling line-up come Thursday, it is expected to be a toss-up between Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and workhorse-like Peter Siddle for the slot of the third seamer.
Siddle makes a great case for himself considering his invaluable experience playing for Essex in the County Championship where he has recorded 71 wickets across two seasons.
The aforementioned could imply the inclusion of either Mitchell Marsh or Marnus Labuschagne with Marsh the more likely to get a look in owing to his medium pace.
On the eve of the big challenge, England once again look more solid in that department with many of their batsmen getting a substantial hit at the recently concluded World Cup.
Australia will still be licking their wounds after the World Cup semifinal loss to their arch-rivals but a chance to retain The Ashes, the 71st edition of the marquee event, will in no small measure have them pumped and raring to go.