Gabbatoir awaits in bittersweet start to another Ashes chapter

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07 Dec 2021 | 05:50 AM
authorShubh Aggarwal

Gabbatoir awaits in bittersweet start to another Ashes chapter

The Ashes 2021/22 gets underway on December 8 with a strange build-up but with a similar air of excitement around it

It is a rather strange build-up for an Ashes series. You can blame the uncontrollables for it - the pandemic and the weather. The pandemic, leading to a number of factors, kept Australia away from Test cricket for 11 months. Meanwhile, the incessant Queensland rain has allowed England very little game time in preparation. “I wish I was a part of the series, no cricket, just straight into it,” said Alastair Cook in the preview show with the BT Sport. 

There have not been any verbal attempts at mental disintegration either. Glenn McGrath hasn’t predicted a 5-0 win for the Aussies. This is the most un-Ashes like start to an Ashes. And we haven’t mentioned the Tim Paine situation yet since too much has been said about it already.

Yet, all of us will be hooked when Pat Cummins and Joe Root walk out for the toss at Brisbane's Gabba on December 8. Firstly, it will be a unique instance when the number one ranked Test bowler and the number one ranked Test batter will be leading their team against each other. We don’t have the exact statistics but it might be rarer than Ajaz Patel’s 10-for. There is Steve Smith’s return to Test cricket. There is James Anderson continuing like a workhorse like he is on a mission to send down 50,000 deliveries. There is the refreshed Ben Stokes ready to fight fire with fire Down Under. All that with plenty of unknowns between two half cooked sides. 

The Disbalance 

Sometimes, the beauty lies in the imperfections. It is the disbalance in the two teams that make this series a feisty prospect, despite Australia being the favorites. 

The home side have a clear advantage in the bowling department, be it pace or spin. However, the same cannot be said for their batting, even though it has more pillars than that of England’s. Between four of their top seven - Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Cameron Green and Alex Carey - there lies an experience of only 33 Tests, and only Head has scored Test hundreds. Head and Harris will be making a comeback and Carey will be on debut. In addition, David Warner’s graph has seen both illustrious highs and ignominious lows since his comeback in 2019.

Which version of Warner appears will decide if Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith will have a reliable helping hand or not in this Ashes. The duo has scored close to 40 percent of Australia’s runs since the 2019 Ashes. 

On the other hand, England rest their batting hopes completely on the shoulders of their skipper, Root. He has scored 27 percent of their Test runs this year. 

You see the beauty here? Test cricket is better with two brittle batting line-ups rather than two toothless bowling units. 

England's Selection Dilemma

While Australia have announced their XI, England had to entertain many headaches. It began right from their top three where only Rory Burns was the only certainty. Jos Buttler secured the glovesman duties which meant England had to decide between Jonny Bairstow and Ollie Pope. Bowling line-up brought its own set of questions. The first was if Jack Leach offers them something in Gabba.

The announcement of a 12-man squad has cleared the clouds, albeit without any conviction. Haseeb Hameed and Ollie Pope have won their spots but none of them have played a Test in Australia as yet. And, neither has Buttler. Anderson has been rested but England still need to decide between playing four seamers or three seamers alongside Leach. Since 2010, spinners have averaged 48 at the venue. Every candidate of the pace attack offers their own merits and demerits. No matter what combination England pick, it will only be judged in the hindsight. 

The Contest

Pat Cummins versus Joe Root

The rivalry between the number one ranked bowler and the number one ranked batter becomes spicier when there is history between the two. In 17 innings, Cummins has dismissed Root seven times. The England skipper averages only 20 against the prime Aussie pacer. It is a battle that holds the potential to decide the Ashes given the burden on Root’s shoulders to see his side through. 

Stuart Broad versus David Warner 

If Broad is benched for this Test, Warner would be the happiest with the idea of not seeing the lanky pacer charge in from around the wicket angle. In the 2019 Ashes, Broad dismissed Warner seven times at 5 runs per wicket. The conditions would be vastly different in Australia but Warner’s self-deprecating tweet a few months back confirmed Broad’s mental edge in this battle. 

Probable XIs

Australia (as confirmed by Pat Cummins): David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey (wk), Pat Cummins (c), Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood

England (from their 12-man squad): Rory Burns, Haseeb Hameed, Dawid Malan, Joe Root (c), Ben Stokes, Ollie Pope, Jos Buttler (wk), Chris Woakes, Ollie Robinson, Jack Leach/Stuart Broad, Mark Wood

 

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Australia vs EnglandEngland tour of Australia, 2021/22AustraliaEnglandDavid WarnerMarnus LabuschagneSteven SmithJoe RootPat CumminsStuart Broad

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