English cricket fans were looking forward to this Ashes series more in hope than expectation, with the Australians firm favourites to regain the urn. Australia came over full of confidence with fond memories of the Ashes just 18 months ago and having had success since. Or so we thought…
That was until Joe Root and co. began writing a script of their own and secured a 1-0 lead inside four days. It’s been 14 years since England lost an Ashes series at home, and if they continue in the same fashion as they started in Cardiff, Australia will have to keep waiting. What we learnt from the short, but exciting, New Zealand series was that England are a talented side growing in confidence. The last week in Cardiff has shown that these players are ready to produce on the biggest stage.
Having snatched the momentum so early in the series it is vital for England to keep the upper hand. But where will the series be won and lost? I have highlighted a few key battles that will be important in deciding England’s fate.
Cook v Clarke
The captains. The general consensus is that Michael Clarke is the better captain but it will be their form with the bat that proves to be more vital. Their records are amazingly parallel to one another. Cook has 9,032 runs from 115 Tests whilst Clarke has 8,553 from 111. They both have the ability to take the series away from the opponent, as we saw Cook do in 2010 when he averaged nearly 130 in Australia. Despite Cook’s remarkable series in 2010, it is Clarke that has more Ashes hundreds, leading Cook 7-4. It’s always nice for a captain of any side to be performing well personally to give them a lift as a leader, so it will be interesting to see how the pair do.
Root v Smith
On current form, the pair are without doubt the best batsmen in the two sides. Root and Smith have both had a remarkable 18 months since the last Ashes, averaging 82 and 93 respectively. Anyone who saw Steve Smith in 2010 would be in for a bit of a shock if they were told that five years down the line he’d be Australia’s mister reliable, and the World’s No1 batsman. He made his debut against Pakistan in 2010 as an unconvincing leg-spinner that batted at eight. Unlike Smith, Joe Root took to Test Cricket like a duck to water. He was dropped for the final Ashes Test in Australia but hasn’t looked back since and was named man of the match last week in Cardiff. It was Root’s 134 in the first innings and 60 in the second that put England in control of the match. If one of them is able score consistently, it might go a long way in deciding the series.
Ali v Lyon
Much has been made of the slow, lifeless pitch at Cardiff. This is likely to be a theme throughout the Ashes due to the success that Mitchell Johnson had on fast-paced, bouncy pitches in Australia 18 months ago. With this being the case, it will be harder for the seamers to force the issue and the role of the spinners will become more crucial. Lyon took six wickets in the First Test whilst Moeen took five. Lets not forget that Moeen is more than useful with the bat down at 8, as he proved with a first innings 77 in Cardiff. It will be interesting to see if either side opt for a second spinner but with 11 wickets apiece already, it’s game on.
Anderson v Johnson
Two of the most dangerous bowlers in world cricket. Mitchell Johnson caused England mental scarring and months of sleepless nights after he blew them away with raw pace in Australia. Jimmy Anderson recently became England’s all time leading wicket taker in Test Cricket and the first to pass 400. Contrasting to 18 months ago, the pitches in England will not be prepared for the benefit of Mitchell Johnson and it will be interesting to see how he fares if he cannot bully batsmen. Anderson doesn’t have Johnson’s pace, but he never has. His ability to swing the new ball both ways is frightening and in English conditions it will be Anderson dishing out the nightmares.
Stokes v Watson
The battle of the all-rounders. In Ben Stokes, England have raw talent. He doesn’t have the experience that Shane Watson has but he is in the form of his life and is the kind of character that will thrive in Ashes series’. We got a glimpse of that in Australia last time out when he scored England’s only hundred of the series in Perth. Watson is in poor form and has flaws in his technique which England exploit, having got him out LBW over 40 per cent of the time. He has injury problems and is used sparingly as Australia’s fourth seam bowler, proving largely ineffectual. There’s talk of Watson being replaced by Mitchell Marsh for the Second Test at Lord’s, which may be a better option.
Buttler v Haddin
The role of the wicket keeper-batsman has never been so important with the emphasis now placed on their batting. Brad Haddin has been the thorn in England’s side for years, providing vital runs down the order. He’s a fierce competitor and has an imperious Ashes record. Jos Buttler is an amazingly talented, young batsman with a mature head on his shoulders. Both are capable of swinging a match in their side’s favour within a session.
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