It’s finally here. The Ashes 2017-18 has been talked about, anticipated, and waited for longingly by cricket loving people all over the world. Make no mistake. The stakes may be highest for England and Australia but the whole cricketing world will be watching keenly.
Like all good Ashes series, this one has had its fair share of controversies before they start. Ben Stokes, England’s ace player, is not going to be making an appearance in the first couple of matches because of a drunken brawl. David Warner announced his intention to go to ‘war’ and to ‘hate’ the English players and then immediately said sorry and backtracked.
The time for talking, though, is now done. We take a look at both sides, their strengths, their weaknesses, their key players, and who is most likely to win.
The biggest strength that Australia has going into this series is their fast bowling attack. Mitchell Starc just warmed up by taking two hat-tricks in the same game and Pat Cummins too seems to be finally fit enough to bowl fast for prolonged periods of time.
They will also be backed up Josh Hazelwood, a bowler who has proven his worth in conditions all over the world. He is a bowler who is built in the Glenn McGrath mold and continues to plug away at the batsman relentlessly.
Genuine pace has the ability shake up batsmen, no matter how good you are and they don’t come faster than Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins. Australia will want to rekindle some of the memories that a rampaging Mitchell Johnson engraved into the English memories and go at them hard.
The Australians will also be banking upon their two star batsmen, David Warner and Steve Smith to score mountains of runs. Both of these players elevate their game to a whole another level while playing at home.
Steve Smith averages 68.65 from 43 innings while playing at home. He has 10 hundreds to his name and an additional eight fifties as well. This does get diluted down to an average of 37.38 from 15 innings versus England in Australia but the Steve Smith that England will encounter now is very different than the one they encountered three years ago.
David Warner is not far behind either. His average of 59.21 from 59 innings while playing at home is tremendous and includes 14 hundreds to his name. Unlike Steve Smith, David Warner maintains his record against England in Australia and averages 58.11 from 10 innings.
To think that this series is in the bag for Australia would be extremely foolhardy. They are a team that has seen more lows than ups in recent times and has plenty of chinks in its armor. For one thing, their number three Usman Khawaja seems to be perpetually making a comeback into the team. His run of golden form a season or so ago is well and truly past him and he will be under pressure.
Cameron Bancroft has been rewarded for his performance in domestic cricket and is expected to make his debut. A new opening partnership in a big Ashes series is a big gamble from Australia.
Australia also lacks a genuine all-rounder this time and will need its bowlers to stay fit for the series. Take Starc or Pattinson (both?) out from the equation due to injury and suddenly the Aussies are struggling to compete.
In Tim Paine’s selection as wicket-keeper, they now have a player at number 7 who has scored only one first-class century and does not have a secure place in his state side. Australia’s batting depth is questionable and could lead to some spectacular collapses.
David Warner, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc
No one in Australia seems to believe that England has a chance and it seems like most of England believes that their team does not stand a chance either. That could be rather shortsighted, though, because even without Ben Stokes, we believe this team has a fair chance of upsetting the Aussies.
The biggest strength that England has is its batting depth. Moeen Ali at number 7 and Chris Woakes at number 8 are miles ahead of anyone else that Australia has at those numbers. Ali is, in fact, a genuine batsman who has opened the innings in test matches before while Chris Woakes has eight first-class hundreds to his name.
Of course, for batting depth to matter the top-order must also perform well. There is no doubting the class of Alastair Cook or Joe Root. Cook may be a little past his best but is still good enough to make any test team in the world and Root’s poor Australian record can only get better.
Dawid Malan and Mark Stoneman have warmed up with a few big scores as has Jonny Bairstow. The latter is, we believe the most important player for England in this series. He has the ability to counter attack, is not cowed down by aggression from the opposition and along with Ali could find himself in a position to lay down the hammer on the Aussies.
The presence of two genuine all-rounders in the playing eleven gives England the ability to have a varied attack with no compromises. James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Moeen Ali are all certain to play the first test with maybe Jake Ball or Craig Overton as the fifth bowling option.
This is a bowling attack that is lacking a little in pace but has plenty of skill to go at the Aussies.
England has a new opener, a new number 3, and a number 5 that has struggled in test cricket up until now. They are missing their best all-rounder, possibly their best player, from the series as well. They are going to be up against an Aussie side that is well rested, fit, and raring to go.
The biggest weakness that England might have to deal with in this series is a lack of pace. James Anderson and Stuart Broad need some amount of assistance from the surface in order to be able to be at their best. The Kookaburra ball tends to go flat after the initial few overs and that is when the English bowlers will really be tested.
The other major weakness that England comes into this series is inexperience. Joe Root has just taken over the reigns of the England captaincy and will be put under tremendous pressure by the opposition. Everyone from the players to the spectators and the media will have a go at him. He is also expected to score the bulk of the runs for England. A couple of early failures could expose his lack of leadership experience in some of the harshest conditions in cricket.
Injuries to a couple of their backup bowlers have thinned the England squad and any more injuries could leave them crippled. They must ensure that their best eleven stays fit for the entire series if they are to compete.
Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, and Moeen Ali
There is no doubt in our mind that Australia goes in as favorites but if England can manage to avoid defeat in the first test then we think they could go on and really challenge the Aussies. At this point, though, with the assumption that both sides avoid further injuries and Ben Stokes does not make a miraculous entry to the squad, we are backing Australia to win 3-2.
Highest Scorer Australia:David Warner, Bet at Betway
Highest Scorer England: Jonny Bairstow, Bet at Bet365
Highest Wicket Taker Australia: Josh Hazelwood, Bet at 888sport
Highest Wicket Taker England: Stuart Broad, Bet at 888sport