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.