So the Ashes is here again. Are you ready?
Don’t worry if you feel less prepared than a priest at a brothel. You can’t be less prepared than England are. Half our team haven’t played more than a single first class game all season, and some of them are still drunk after the World Cup celebrations. Bodes well doesn’t it.
Fortunately, the visiting Australians are no great shakes. And it’s a good thing too. Had it been the Waughs, Ponting, Warne, and McGrath turning up then this series would have 5-0 written all over it. They’d eat this England side for breakfast and wouldn’t even need a coffee to wash down the unappetising bolus.
But in this battle between two flawed sides, on pitches that will probably be tailor made (some might say ‘doctored’) for Jimmy Anderson, England have a better than even chance of regaining The Ashes again – if only because I’d back us to win low scoring games on English pitches.
Having said that, I do feel this is the Aussies’ best chance of retaining the urn over here since 2005. Why? Because England have clearly taken their eye off the (red) ball over the last few years. Something that Ashley Giles freely admitted earlier this week.
There’s no point crying over spilt milk, but we can’t ignore the fact that England go into this series without a single established opener and no decent number 3 either – although there’s a rumour that Joe Root might swap places in the order with Joe Denly at Edgbaston.
Moving Root from No.3 to No.4 will be spun as some kind of progress but personally I’m not so sure. All it’s doing is creating a new weakness one spot lower. What’s more, if Denly is going to bat 4 then there’s absolutely no reason why he should be playing ahead of the likes of Northeast, Hildreth, Hain, or Lawrence. But hey ho. In Big ‘Ed we trust.
Personally, I think the lesser of the available evils would be to move Stokes to 3, keep Root at 4 (where he averages 48 as opposed to 40), and then pick Buttler at 5 with Jonny at 6. The other option – one which Mark Butcher keeps banging on about – would’ve been to bat Roy at 3. This might have opened the door for Sibley to open. Whatever England do it’s going to be a mess though.
The management also seem confused about the makeup of the bowling lineup for the first test. Apparently we’re likely to field an attack of Anderson, Broad, Woakes, Stokes, and Moeen. This will be fine if it’s overcast and the ball swings, but picking four right-arm fast-medium seamers rarely works well. It’s all so samey.
If I was picking the England team I’d move heaven and earth to find a place for Ollie Stone – at least until Mark Wood and Jofra Archer are fit. My gut tells me, however, that Sam Curran is more likely to get a game. I guess we’ll need his batting when we’re 50-6 again.
As for the Australians I think their team will actually look better than billed on paper. Warner will open with either Cameron Bancroft or Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja will bat 3, and Smith 4. It’s not the greatest top 4 in the world but it’s better than England’s.
What’s more, the Aussies’ attack looks rather tasty. Indeed, they’re so strong that they’ll inevitably have to leave out very fine bowler indeed. My gut tells me that Josh Hazlewood or Peter Siddle will miss out. I expect James Pattinson, who has been tearing out giant redwoods for Notts, will join Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc. Oh, and we shouldn’t forget that Nathan Lyon is a better bowler than Moeen Ali.
Australia’s weakness will be in the middle-order batting, where either Matt Wade (presumably playing as a pure batsman), Mitch Mash (who must have the most Australian name ever), and Marnus Labuschagne (who must have the least Australian name ever), are competing for places. Travis Head is the only middle-order player who provides any solidity in my humble opinion. And I only say that because he played for Worcs once upon a time so I’m biased.
So there we have it. Two pretty averages sides who are about as settled as my stomach after three pints of lager, two craft ales, a large glass of cheap plonk, two gin and tonics, a vindaloo, a double brandy, and a flaming sambuca. I doubt we’ll see much quality cricket although it’s sure to be exciting with wickets falling like sterling as we approach a no deal Brexit.
Who will win? It’s hard to say. But winning takes on some extra importance because this will be England’s first games in the inaugural World Test Championship. Now we’ve won the World Cup, perhaps we can focus on becoming red ball champions? We might eventually get there but I can’t see it happening in this cycle.
Anyway, here are the definitive Ashes predictions from all the TFT contributors. You’ll see that our guesswork is all over the place. Take this as an indication that we expect a topsy turvy and unpredictable series. The real reason, of course, is that we don’t have a clue what we’re talking about. But hey, it’s been that way for the last ten years so why change now?
James Morgan: Australia to retain the Ashes 2-2 (with one washout)
Although my head tells me that England will scrape the series, my gut is telling me something very different. I just can’t see the cricketing Gods permitting us long-suffering England supporters the twin joys of a World Cup triumph (in rather fortunate circumstances) plus an Ashes win in the same summer. It just doesn’t happen like that.
It would be so typically English to become white ball champions and then fail to win the Ashes at home for the first time since 2001.
Alex Ferguson: Australia to win 3-1
Actually a nip and tuck series punctuated by crap batting, good conditions, and England having a couple of meteoric falling aparts.
Marco Jackson: England win 3-2
It’s rare to go into an Ashes with no idea who is the favourite; England have looked vulnerable, and Australia have problems of their own. Certainly looks like it will be a bowlers’ series, which favours England, just, for me. They have more bowlers who can exploit the lateral movement or at least who have demonstrated that talent more.
Long odds prediction? I reckon we might see at least two knocks of 50 or more from English batsmen who are yet to win a cap, and play on just one of the allocated Day 5s.
Geoffrey Bunting: England win 2-1
Teams just don’t win away anymore. England is a poor test team, but home advantage should drag them over Australia in a series between two very flawed teams. That being said, cracks are starting to appear in England’s core as the schedule takes its toll: Root seems a bit frazzled, Bairstow’s form has disappeared, and there are fitness concerns over a number of England’s players – all of which Australia can, and will, exploit. England, with their slap-dash style, don’t tend to do draws but don’t rule out weather playing a major part in this series as it heads into September.
How’s that? Being optimistic, given I think Australia are a better side and better led, I just think being in England – and with Australia practising by playing with themselves – is going to be decisive.
Peter Jackson Eastwood: Australia retain the Ashes 2-2
I’m predicting no close games in this series as bowlers dominate batsmen in a month of calypso collapso cricket. The only draw is for the game played in Manchester in September, guaranteed to be rained off. Tim Paine to be replaced as captain by Cameron Bancroft mid-series, after Paine is caught roughing up the ball with David Warner’s face.
Stuart Broad to finish top wicket taker, and Kent’s Joe Denly to score a match-winning and career-defining 150 in third Test Match, paving the way for future Kentish stars to break into the England side. Also, Steve Smith to flop.
James Wilson: Australia to win by the odd test
History (only one away win apiece in the twenty-first century) suggests a substantial home advantage, and England has the bowling resources to take 20 wickets in a test. The problem is that it is very difficult to win when you’re 30/3 at the start of every single innings.
It’s tempting to suggest inserting bowling allrounders at the top of the order on the ground that at least they’d be able to contribute in other ways. True, England won in 2013 with a negligible top order contribution (Bell stood virtually alone), as did Australia in the return series (Haddin ensured they always got a competitive score) but it’s hard to see it happening again.
Since Australia welcomed back Smith and Warner (who would have been banned for life in baseball, but we all have to move on) their top order looks stronger and I fear will be enough for them to win by one or two tests. I hope I’m proved wrong – and I will be if they’re put in on green tops and torn to pieces like Trent Bridge in 2015.
It should be a great series with two evenly matched teams. Home advantage will be important for England and they may have a slight psychological edge after their recent World Cup victory. I’m looking forward to some great cricket.
I see we all agree (how could we not?) that England’s batting will lose them the series (not draw it, same thing as the Australians hold the Ashes). Still, the 87 side was written off, so there is some precedent in 140 odd years …
Two key men for me are Denly and Moeen. If they contribute at 4 and 8 then we should post some competitive totals.
I thought Denly was unlucky last week and looked in decent order. I’m backing him to make runs this series, especially if (IF) our top 3 see off the new ball.
Mo, just doesn’t seem able to get into line against fast short pitched bowling but at 8 he just needs a run of 30’s and 40’s (along with wickets) to make a telling contribution. Curran’s been doing this to great effect but if he misses out Mo has to step up.
Moeen just threw the bat at everything in 2015 and got away with it. He made a number of very useful contributions. He was extremely lucky, played and missed once per over, but also played some magnificent shots and entertained the crowd. Maybe he can do the same again? I’d just tell him to go out and enjoy himself. He’s a poor player of the short ball so eventually he’s get a ball with his name on it. Hopefully he’ll make some runs before that.
Mo’s fine when he can free his arms at short wide bouncers but the top international bowlers aim their bouncers in at him.
You really can’t underestimate the value of lower order runs, it can get the crowd and change momentum. Look what effect it had in the India series last year.
Man for man, Australia have a slight advantage, home advantage evens that out.
2-2, unfortunately Australia retaining The Ashes.
The biggest thing I’ve envied other countries over the years – all other test-playing countries – is their selection bravery. Certainly in relative terms to us.
I appreciate that there were years when an England place was as tenuous as Labour’s commitment to, well, anything and that that was not good but as is so often the case – the pendulum swung the other way. The question this then poses is; how long is long enough?
A World Cup may be enough for one year for some but I am sure the view of a gloating Ausi XI 2 ahead after 2 will have many feeling differently. So, how long is long enough for Burns and Denly?
If tons of people reckon Sibley then why not pick him? At very least the opposition will have to learn how to get him out. They already know how to get Messrs Burns and Denly.
Giles better be serious about red ball cricket. Enough of this IPL nonsense and get back to playing championship cricket. Because we’re going into an Ashes series right now and I’m the least enthusiastic I’ve ever been for one because I know we’re going to be getting a lot of rubbish served up
Giles made all the right noises in his recent interview about developing red ball players again. However, the elephant in the room is that we won’t be playing any championship cricket in the height of summer from next year because of the bloody Hundred! So good luck with that one, Ash. No championship cricket from mid-July until September. Shocking.
For me it’s one of those series where almost anything could happen, largely because of the disparity between bat and ball. If the wickets are flat, which after this wet couple of months is unlikely, some of the matches may make it into day 5. Otherwise it’s difficult to see either of these batting lineups batting a full day against decent bowling attacks, which both sides have.
It could also turn out to be a question of who keeps their bowlers fit during a gruelling 5 tests in 6 weeks, so the likes of Stone, Archer and possibly Wood are likely to play a role at some point. Can’t see Anderson making it through all 5. Have a horrible feeling Sam Curran could play, mostly for his batting exploits.
For me their key player is Smith. If we can’t get him out the Aussies will win. Even Root doesn’t have his potential stickability. Just hope that we lose a few tosses, as batting 1st with our top order, even with Root at 3, could hand the initiative over straight away. Who’d back our main weakness against their main strength?
With an unsettled forecast nationwide for much of August, the weather may yet be the deciding factor, as even if we get the cricket, both sides could be bowling with a wet ball much of the time.
Lastly it’s catches win matches time, the best slip cordon could well be another key factor. How many of these players have spent much time fielding at slip this summer?
Speculation. Who knows? I think the weather may well play a big part. August can be iffy, September’s more recently have been good. But you could easily get two rain offs- tomorrow’s forecast is patchy at best for starters. And yes two tests in September starting at 11am. Blimey they can’t bowl 90 overs in a day now and with the nights drawing in you’ll be a shorthanded spectator on about 75 overs. Hey a refund!
5 Tests in 6 weeks is asking a lot, especially of Anderson, personally I don’t think Broad and Jimmy should play together in every test. At 37 injuries are more likely to occur, and we’ve got to get new talent in, Stone, Archer, Leach. It’s not a case of dropping them it’s being sensible. But Moen? Really? Completely out of form can’t bowl or bat, wouldn’t pick him for Surrey Seconds. Bairstow is only averaging 29 and is a sub standard keeper to boot. Leach must have come down from his Ireland high with an uncomfortable thump.
Ok I’ll go for a 2/1, but could be either side. Two drawn likely.
It’s going to be interesting. Just as well, only one round of county matches scheduled in almost 7 weeks, no wonder we’ve got virtually no specialist test players.
This is what I shared with some cricketing friends yesterday:
England have included 6 seam bowlers, plus Stokes, in their 14-man squad. This is apparently because there
are injury concerns about Archer and Anderson. Playing anyone who is less than 100% fit would be stupid but
may happen. But England’s weakness is its batting and it is unclear who will be playing, and where, at the top
of the order.
From what I can see, Oz are in a similar position with strong seam bowling and some fragility in batting.
I predict there will be no draws in this series and, unless they’re curtailed by bad weather, all the Tests will
fail to last 5 days. Edgbaston is a good opening venue for England and the Aussies will get a tremendous amount
of abuse from the rabble in the Eric Hollies stand.
I’m not going to predict a series winner. I know never to underestimate Oz, and their women gave our rather
pathetic girls a thrashing in their multi-format Ashes.
Commentary-wise, it is David Gower’s swansong as he’s been ‘retired’ by Sky. He was the last person to follow
the Benaud philosophy of commentating. Enjoy it while you can.
It is certainly true that the Australians will come in for abuse from the Edgbaston crowd – but not half as much as England if Woakes is left out on his home ground yet again. If that happens and I was Ed Smith I would be wearing my box under the suit trousers.
As if the players give two hoots about what the Hollies stand does. For some reason the beer swilling drunks do like to think they are some great thing. Stop the larger lout behaviour and watch the cricket. Warner and smith won’t care one bit
Actually the players do care, as the Barmy Army hang out there and they have a close relationship with the England team home and abroad, where they are even invited to join the team for social gatherings.
It remains to be seen what effect the crowd will have on messrs Warner and Smith. I predict a riot. Players when interviewed say that it’s like having an extra man on the field to have such partisan support. The Aussies get nothing like this, even at home and clearly find the Barmies an entertaining diversion. I get the impression they wish they had a similar following.
I know a lot of it is associated with the demon drink, but that is par for the course with sports fans over here, and has been for as long as I can remember.
Of course they’ll say that as it sells tickets.. meaning cash..
Warne, one of the greatest and sangakkara said earlier when asked ‘no, you don’t hear the crowd as you’re concentrating’
Crowd is like a footy game sadly, all beer fuelled and gobby
These teams in Aus I think it would be Australia trying for another 5-0. In English conditions I think it’s a slight advantage to England.
That said both teams are coming off white ball but Aus have been more acclimatised than usual coming off a long period in the country also playing later in Summer may make the conditions slightly more to Australia’s liking although I am sure the grounds men will have tried their hardest to negate that.
On the topic of the Barmies and home support England get huge support in Aus Due to both travellers and the number of poms living here. It’s common particularly outside the Sydney and Melbourne tests where they are played during holidays for Eng supporters to outnumber Aus supporters on the later days of tests particularly if they are on week days.