The Ashes: Closely Fought Series on the Cards
The latest edition is set to roll at Birmingham on Aug 1
However much it is taken for granted that the biggest rivalry in international cricket is between India and Pakistan thanks to the numbers involved there is an aura about an Ashes series that will just not disappear. Even as attendances at Test matches have dropped alarmingly over the years a contest between England and Australia almost always draws a full house whether it is held in the Mother Country or Down Under. There is an excitement about it whenever it commences and whatever the outcome and it is no different this time. After all it is the oldest and most traditional rivalry in the history of the sport now all of 142 years old.
The latest edition is set to roll at Birmingham on August 1 and to say that the five Test series - which incidentally also marks the beginning of the World Test Championship – will be a closely contested one is to state the obvious. It is not just that England are No 4 and Australia No 5 in the ICC rankings. A look at the two squads and it is clear that it’s going to be battle royal in keeping with the exalted status the Ashes series has always enjoyed.
An interesting fact is that while Australia are the holders the last time they won a series in England was way back in 2001. Australia won eight contests in a row from 1989 to 2003 at home and away but once England regained the Ashes in the course of that unforgettable contest in 2005 they have dominated at home winning again in 2009, 2013 and 2015. Moreover they have a strong squad balanced in batting and bowling and recent events – the World Cup triumph and the victory over Ireland albeit not without a few shocks – should be enough to raise the level of their confidence.
But they are up against an Australian team which looks as strong in all departments particularly with the return of Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft to the Test arena after having served their bans. It appears that the Australians are banking on pace in their bid to retain the Ashes for they have picked a battery of fast bowlers. Not many teams can boast of such a fearsome line-up as Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Peter Siddle and new boy Michael Neser. But when you put down the names of James Anderson Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Sam Curren and Jofra Archer on the opposite team sheet it is clear that the battle of the pacemen could well hold the key to the outcome of the series.
But then the bowlers too need some total to back them up and here again both sides are well served in the batting department. Smith for one has not lost his hunger for runs and the manner in which he has been preparing mentally and physically for the series has caught the eye of the experts who firmly believe that he is set for a highly successful return to the Test arena. He is a champion batsman and one that the English bowlers will fear the most. And in Warner, Bancroft, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Matthew Wade and skipper Tim Paine hey have a formidable line-up. But then no less strong is the England’s batting with it being manned by the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Jason Roy, Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes.
So whichever way one looks at the squads it is clear that there is very little to separate them. Two high quality sides who are evenly matched means that the prospect of a memorable closely fought series is very much on the cards.