A home World Cup is always a super occasion. The last time it happened I was actually travelling around Australia. We’d just endured another Ashes defeat, and I decided to come home after a few months specifically to catch the end of the tournament. Unfortunately England got knocked out before I flew into Heathrow. I shouldn’t have been surprised.
Back then we had a few months to recover from our Ashes trauma before the action began. This time, however, there’s virtually no time at all between the World Cup and the pinnacle of red ball cricket in our country. The World Cup final is on 14th July. The Ashes starts on 1st August. That means there’s only two and a half weeks between the two main events of the summer.
This schedule really grinds my gears to be honest. How are our players going to successfully transition from white ball mode to red ball mode in such a short space of time? It’s going to be absolutely shocking preparation. The only consolation is that Australia shouldn’t have long to prepare either.
Because I’m concerned that the Ashes probably won’t get the attention they deserve this year, I’ve decided to write a quick preview now, just to keep test series (the proper cricket!) at the forefront our our minds. Most cricket media outlets are focusing on the IPL and the Jos Buttler mankad controversy right now. Speaking of which, what the hell was Ravi Ashwin trying to prove? It’s not like Jos was creeping out of his crease, backing up too far, and seeking an unfair advantage. I really like Ashwin as a cricketer so I was really disappointed with his ‘tactic’.
It’s a shame that the Ashes has to share the summer with the World Cup because I actually think it could be the most interesting tussle between England and Australia for some time. The series should be really close and I can’t decide who I fancy. This isn’t like all the home Ashes series since 2009 when England were significant favourites. A quick perusal of BetSafe reveals that the teams are quite close – although England are slightly favoured with the bookies at this point.
They often say that flawed teams make for exciting cricket. And that’s exactly what we’ll have this summer. Both teams have good bowling attacks but extremely flakey batting line-ups. I wouldn’t be surprised to see quite a few batting collapses and one or two tests finishing inside 3 days.
Overall, however, I do think Australia have a slight edge. Why? Because I think their tail-enders are slightly more likely to dig their team out of a hole. This might sound a little upside down, as England’s tail have frequently ridden to the rescue in recent times, but this was generally against less than stellar opposition. I think it will be different against Australia’s ferocious pacemen.
It’s one thing for tail-enders to score useful runs against medium-fast bowling and orthodox spinners, when there’s no threat of physical danger, but it’s a different story when you’ve got bowlers operating at 90mph. Just look at the way Mitchell Johnson used to deal with the likes of Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad. These guys used to score rather useful runs against other teams. But Australia’s pacemen blew them away. England were basically all out once we reached six down. And it might be the same again.
Australia’s tail, on the other hand, are far more likely to score runs against Broad, Anderson (and Moeen Ali for that matter). England’s seamers are obviously very skilful bowlers, but sometimes their subtle variations are lost on slogging tail-enders who aren’t quite good enough to get an edge. I’ve lost count of the number times that England have been well on top but then struggled to take the final two or three wickets. This is one of the reasons why England should consider picking either Mark Wood or Jofra Archer (or possibly both). We might have to fight fire with fire at some point.
The top-order batting looks pretty similar in standard to be honest, although again I think Australia have a slight edge with the return of dumb and dumber. At least Australia will have one quality opener in David Warner, and an established test No.3 in Khawaja. Heaven knows who’s going to bat in England’s top 3 at this point. We’ll probably have Rory Burns, who remains unproven, plus a couple of random guys playing for their places. Will it be Keaton Jennings? I sincerely hope not. Will it be Joe Denly? Although there’s aspects of his game I like I predict he’ll become a forgotten man pretty quickly. The shortage of quality alternatives is quite alarming really.
At least England should have an advantage in the middle-order though. Buttler, Bairstow and Stokes are better players than Tim Paine and any combination of Travis Head, Marnus Labuschagne, and Kurtis Patterson. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Shaun or Mitch Marsh back in the team instead of these guys. The Aussies newcomers might have scored some runs at home against Sri Lanka, but these were essentially Gary Ballance style buffet runs. Centuries at home against weaker test opposition really don’t tell us much.
The other thing is England’s advantage, of course, is that we’ll be playing at home. This is obviously huge as it means we can prepare a conveyor belt of green-tops specifically for Jimmy and Broady. What’s more, everyone knows that touring teams traditionally struggle to play the moving ball. I’ve read that Cameron Bancroft will be warming up for the Ashes by captaining Durham – yeah thanks for that guys – but there’s no guarantee that he’ll make the Australian side. He didn’t exactly look brilliant in 2017 and Joe Burns is the man in possession.
Overall therefore, although I do think Australia will have a slightly better team on paper, in both batting, fast bowling, and spin bowling (don’t forget Nathan Lyon), England’s home advantage balances things up rather nicely. What’s more, my gut tells me that England have more X-factor players who could rise to the big occasion.
Yes, I know that Ben Stokes’s reputation somewhat exceeds his actual achievements in the test arena, but he’s still an immensely talented cricketer who will be desperate to make his mark after missing the last Ashes series in controversial circumstances. My gut tells me that this will be Stokes’s Ashes. In the same way that 1981 belonged to Botham and 2005 belonged to Flintoff. It would be one hell of a story.
Written in collaboration with BetSafe