Go on. Admit it. You watched the first Test between India and Australia and couldn’t resist a smirk. Whereas England have gone from disarray to destructive under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, and actually managed to win in the subcontinent recently, the Aussies looked clueless in their opener against India. They knew what was coming but still couldn’t put up the slightest resistance – despite winning the toss and having the advantage of batting first.
Strangely enough, however, England’s metamorphosis was largely triggered by our Australian cousins: it was the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the old enemy in the 2021/22 Ashes Series down under that finally prompted some changes. It was one embarrassment on the other side of the world too many. Root stood down as captain (before he was pushed), Stokes stepped up, and Baz, the creator of Bazball, stepped in for the underwhelming Chris Silverwood as coach. And England haven’t looked back since.
But what bearing, if any, will Australia’s impending whitewash in India have come 16th June when The Ashes begins on English soil? Probably not a fat lot if we’re being honest. The conditions this summer will be a lot more favourable for Australia’s batsmen and bowlers. And whatever the outcome in India, the Aussies will arrive in England with a potent seam attack, a very solid spinner, and two world-class batsmen. That’s the basis of a strong side and England will need to play well to beat them.
However, at least this time England will be feeling confident and in form, which is why the bookies currently have us as favourites to regain the Ashes for the first time since 2015, as you’ll see at https://www.bovada.lv/sports. But before we get too excited, let’s look back at recent meetings between the two sides. After all, recent performances in ‘like for like’ series is probably the best indicator of future results.
Sadly, we have to start with that horrendous 0-4 thrashing mentioned above. Although most of us suspected that it would be a tough tour beforehand, hopes were raised somewhat before the series started when long-time Aussie captain, Tim Paine, was dropped and replaced by Pat Cummins as skipper. Although England supporters have never really feared Paine, it suggested all might not be well in the Australian dressing room. Sadly, however, Silverwood soon threw any psychological advantage away by inexplicably leaving both Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad out of the first Test in Brisbane. Ooops.
After Rory Burns was bowled for a golden duck on the first ball of the match, we all knew this wasn’t going to be our tour, again. And, quite predictably, three further humbling defeats would follow – although we did manage to avoid a series whitewash by nicking a draw in Sydney.
The 2019 series, which was at home, of course, was a much more even and compelling contest – as Ashes series in England tend to be. It was an incredibly close series that ended with Australia retaining the famous little urn after a 2-2 draw.
England’s star man was obviously Ben Stokes, who played one of the finest innings English cricket has seen when he smashed 135 not out in the third Test at Headingley to keep our series hopes alive. If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend watching Justin Langer’s reaction to Stokes’s innings in The Test, the excellent Amazon Prime documentary. Highly amusing.
Stokes’s total series aggregate of 441, however, was dwarfed by that of Steve Smith, who hit an astonishing 774 runs throughout the five-test series. It’s hard to see England stifling Smith completely this summer – we’ve tried and failed plenty of times before – but one hopes that Joe Root, now freed from the mental burden of captaincy, might be able to keep pace with him.
Going back to the 2017/18 Ashes Series, it was déjà vu all over again (if you know what I mean). Australia were completely dominant and raced to an unassailable 3-0 lead before we stopped the rot, and sidestepped the whitewash, by scoring enough runs at Melbourne on the most lifeless wicket imaginable to earn a draw. The Aussies comfortably made it 4-0 at Syndey where there was a little more in the surface for bowlers.
Top series run scorers for the Aussies on this occasion were Steve Smith, again, with 687 runs, closely followed by Shaun Marsh and David Warner. England’s only bright spots were centuries by Jonny Bairstow, Dawid Malan and Alastair Cook, who made 244 of his 376 series runs in one innings on that benign MCG wicket. Chef was rapidly running out of gas at that stage of his career so thank heavens he was able to dig deep, and dig us out of a hole, one more time.
Of greater relevance to this upcoming summer, however, was the 2015 Ashes series back in England, which we won 3-2. This was the last time that England actually won a series against Australia – although we haven’t actually lost a series at home since 2001, which I like to remind my Australian friends as often as possible.
On this occasion, the two rivals traded victories in the first two Tests. England picked up a 169-run victory in Cardiff, but Australia roared back at Lord’s, winning by a whopping 405 runs. England would then take an unassailable lead by winnings Tests 3 and 4, with the Aussies picking up a consolation victory at The Oval. This was obviously too little, too late but it did give the scoreline a more respectable look.
So what’s going to happen this time? Obviously the last series in England – the one that finished 2-2 – is the most helpful indicator. Australia are a similar side now to the one they were then. The key players are almost entirely the same. However, the good news for us is that England are now an entirely different animal.
Four years ago, the ECB had prioritised the World Cup, which we’d won a few weeks earlier, and the Ashes just didn’t seem to be the main priority. What’s more, our Test side felt a bit stale back then. It was inconsistent, prone to batting collapses, and we’d probably put too much pressure on Jofra Archer to reinvigorate the bowling.
This time, however, we have a clear methodology and a lot of momentum. We also have genuine competition for places in both batting and bowling, plus an ascending talent in Harry Brook who could do something similar to Steve Waugh in 1989.
The big question, obviously, is whether Bazball can work against fast bowlers of the quality of Cummins, Hazlewood, Starc, Boland, Green and Lyon. It’s bound to be a step up. But whatever happens, it’s bound to be exciting, too.