On November 23rd, play will commence in the 139th Ashes series between England and Australia in Brisbane.
England go into the series on the back of a good summer, beating both South Africa and the West Indies in home test series. But since then the squad has been ravaged by injuries and an incident involving vice-captain Ben Stokes which has led to him being involved in a police investigation. The challenging conditions down under only adds to the already steep challenge England face, from the hostile abuse coming from the stands to the hard, bouncy pitches which favour Australia’s fast bowling attack.
The tourists’ main problem is the absence of Ben Stokes. The charismatic all-rounder is dependable with the ball, on the field and has a knack of rescuing a poor start with the bat through his aggressive batting style. Experienced fast bowler James Anderson has been named vice-captain in Stokes’ absence, but he cannot replace what Stokes offers with the bat. There remains a possibility that Stokes will join up with the squad, but England cannot bank on that which puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders of the likes of captain Joe Root and opening batsman Alastair Cook. Stokes was initially replaced by Steven Finn, who was brought back into the fold more than a year after his last test match for England, but has since had to withdraw with a knee ligament injury. The replacement for the replacement is Surrey’s Tom Curran. The South African born all-rounder has impressed at county level and in his One Day International debut but is yet to make a senior start. A baptism of fire awaits.
I spoke to Michael McCann, who will be working with Sunset Vine, logging the first three Ashes tests for BT Sport, about England’s chances of retaining the urn. Listen to a clip from the interview below and click here for the full interview.
England’s experienced duo of fast bowlers, Stuart Broad and James Anderson, will need to bring their A-game in order to give the batsmen freedom to take risks. The pair were excellent in the summer, with Anderson making history as he picked up his 500th test wicket against the West Indies. Keeping the pair fit will be paramount to England’s chances.
A lack of experienced specialist batsmen has seen rookie James Vince called up, as well as Gary Ballance, who average 19 and 32 runs in test matches respectively, although in his last 10 test matches, Ballance averages just 13. The pair will be battling with Dawid Malan for two spots in the middle order, with Vince expected to bat at three, allowing Root to bat at his preferred position of four. Surrey’s Mark Stoneman, who only has 3 tests under his belt, has opened the batting well alongside Cook in the first two warm-up matches, scoring impressive totals of 85 and 61. Although, occupying the crease will be vital when Mitchell Starc runs in on Day One at the Gabba in Brisbane.
Starc is one third of Australia’s extremely fast bowling attack, which also includes Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, who will unleash a barrage of short-pitched bowling on England’s batsmen. Fortunately for England, the hosts will be without James Pattinson who has been ruled out after the recurrence of a back injury. England will be thankful for his omission, given his frighteningly good record of 70 wickets in 17 tests.
So what do England need to do in order to have a fighting chance? According to former England captain Michael Vaughan: “his [Root’s] greatest challenge as captain is to convince the team they can win.” The Ashes is a gruelling mental battle, as well as a physical and tactical one – Root has already started his mission of lifting team morale with a four-day bonding camp in Loughborough before the team flew out to Australia.
David Warner has made the first move in what will be a long mental chess match. The Australian batsman said: “as soon as you step on that line it’s war.”
They’ll hope that Australia choose to bat first too, in order to prolong the match to the full five days. Should England bat first and have a poor first innings, the test could be over by the end of Day Three. Also, the key to winning any test series: scoring runs. If Cook can dig in and allow the ball to wear before the middle order arrive, and the new recruits step up to the plate with the bat, England will give themselves a good chance of competing. They cannot afford to be sloppy out in the field either. Catches win matches. It’s not all doom and gloom, but England must be at their best down under to retain The Ashes.
Words: Reuben Pinder | Subbing: Kieran Soutter