CRICKET BADGER’s ASHES PREVIEW and PREDICTIONS

The Ashes is the biggest contest in cricket. We take a look at the key men and make our predictions on what will happen over the five Ashes Tests.

It may be tough for other nations to take, but nothing, not even World Cups, come close to the theatre, history, drama and significance of an England v Australia Test series. It is the third Ashes series played inside a two year period yet it loses none of its potency. In some ways knowing the Australians a little bit better adds to the occasion.

For many players, careers are defined by performances against the oldest of enemies. For the very few whose talent enables them to translate back garden Ashes feats as a child to the real thing, there can be nothing better.

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Adam Lyth is set to make his Ashes debut - can he continue to impress for England?

The harmony of a New Zealand series has already been disturbed by the arrival of the Australians. Despite saying he hopes that the Ashes will be played in Kiwi-esque harmony, one wonders whether Jimmy Anderson will be able to resist a snarl in the heat of battle. Although the question was undoubtedly phrased to provoke a response, Ben Stokes has already he said he will stand his ground if the Aussies get up close and personal.

Australia currently hold the Ashes, but it’s 14 years since the last won a series on English soil. Remember they only have to draw the series or better to take home the urn. Make no mistake this Australian team would win a series against England if it were played on paper. But in English conditions and with a new broom sweeping a culture of positivity into the English dressing room this series promises to be keenly contested.

The recent one-day fireworks against New Zealand are a slight red herring. The attacking flare shown by young white ball England needs to be embraced by the Test team, but in the longer form it is a different side. Remember though, the England Test side has enjoyed a lot of success in recent years, it was the one-day outfit that needed most repair. But don’t get swept along with the hype – the Ashes is a different challenge entirely.

There are a lot of questions to be answered by England. Can Adam Lyth continue his emergence as a Test opener after stellar performances for Yorkshire and a century in his second Test, or is this a step too far? Will Gary Ballance live up to a Test average of 52.19 or continue his more recent failings in the World Cup and New Zealand Tests? The lively Mark Wood has shown pace, heart and real talent – can he trouble a very strong Australian batting lineup?

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David Warner

David Warner was suspended for the first two Ashes Tests in 2013 as a punishment for punching Joe Root in a Birmingham Walkabout bar. Now regarded as one of the most entertaining batsman in world cricket, the left-hander would be well advised to have left questions about the incident well alone outside his off-stump. Instead, he’s rekindled the Root controversy by stating he punched him after believing the Yorkshireman was ‘insulting Muslims’ by putting a wig on his chin and mimicking Hashim Amla.

Root fired back with “”Disappointing to have my character questioned - those who know me realise how ridiculous Warner’s excuse for hitting me sounds but that’s his choice to try and justify his actions. I’m just extremely excited about next week and getting back out there.” Whether it affects performances on the pitch remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, there will be plenty of nose from all corners when Warner walks to the crease.

The captains – Alastair Cook v Michael Clarke

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Alastair Cook chats to Jason Gillespie in Abu Dhabi, March 2015

Cook can appear negative and lacklustre, but has relied on weight of runs to see him through. When those runs went missing his captaincy took a hit and attracted a lot of criticism. His form has returned and he needs hundreds at the top of the order, not only for his team, but to avoid a focus of attention on his captaincy.

Clarke has the job of leading a side most people expect to win. His tactical prowess is superior to Cook’s and he uses his bowlers well.

Star batsmen – Joe Root v Steve Smith

Nottinghamshire v Yorkshire - LV County Championship

Joe Root has been in phenomenal form for England, but is yet to make an impression in an Ashes summer

A lot has happened since Joe Root was dropped for the Sydney Test of the Ashes Down Under when England were in the process of being whitewashed in 2013-14. In his 27 Tests he has scored 2.273 runs, notched six centuries and boasts an average of 54.11. Since being omitted at the SCG he has averaged more than 90 in Tests.

The England batsmen will have been pleased to see Tom Westley and Daniel Bell-Drummond score centuries against the Aussie pace attack in the warm-up games.

Steve Smith however, is the current number one batsman in the world. Will England be punished by the one that got away. As a 16-year-old he was on the books at Kent and was not offered a permanent deal. He was by Surrey, but opted to emigrate English-born mother Gillian and Australian father - the pair had met when Peter Clarke had been working in the UK.

He instead took up a rookie contract with New South Wales and the rest is history. The raw leg-spinning all-rounder that debuted back in 2010-11 is now a quality batsman with 5 centuries in his last 6 Tests at an average of 131.5. He’s the scalp England will value highest.

Where are the spin kings?

The lack of a world-class spinner in the England side has been a talking point ever since Graeme Swann retired midway through the 2013-14 Ashes series. This Ashes series will not be won by spin, but one thing is for sure, both sides will attack their opposition’s twirlers and the spinners will have a lot to do if the weather stays warm. We’re already seen the Aussies take to Kent’s highly promising Adam Riley and Nathan Lyon has looked the weak link against Essex and Kent as the counties attacked the off-spinner. If England can put him umder the cosh it would be a big blow for Michael Clarke who will be wanting to use him in a holding role. Shane Warne is irreplaceable, but Australia have tried many options and not yet come close. The jury is still out on Moeen Ali. He failed to provide turn against New Zealand, but rewind 12 months and he was bowling out India. Nathan Lyon looks to be able to edge this battle and Moeen will be looking over his shoulder at Adil Rashid who impressed with bat and ball during the recent one-day series.

The battle of the keepers

Brad Haddin constantly rescued Australia’s first innings in the 2013-14 series, but at 37 he is on the downward turn. Jos Buttler has grown into a potential international superstar over the last year. Their head-to-head with the bat could be crucial, particularly if their side becomes prone to losing early wickets. While Haddin remains the better gloveman, on recent form Buttler should win this contest in the batting department. England need to get early wickets and get to Haddin early. He rescued Australia in 
2013-14 in every first innings but he is now 37 and his recent form is poor.

Buttler has grown as a batsman. When he first came into the England setup he was known for his hitting ability, but in recent Tests has got his head down, played with good technique and developed the capacity to graft an innings.

Anderson & Broad v Johnson & Starc

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Coach Darren Lehmann has made a huge difference for Australia.

The loss of the hastily retired Ryan Harris, whose game suggests he should have been the most suited to English conditions, is a huge loss. A big-hearted bowler, Harris’s body has never backed up his talent and it’s tragic that his swansong was prematurely abandoned because of recurring injuries. Harris took 7-103 at Lords in 2013 and would have taken a chunk of pressure off the Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc left-arm spearheads. Both Mitchells are capable of match-winning performances, but also susceptible to inconsistency. Michael Clarke needs to be able to turn to his senior seamers with confidence.

BADGER PREDICTS

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Fancy a £25 bet on the Ashes?

This is going to be a much tighter series than many people believe. In their own conditions the English seamers will pose a stronger threat that they did Down Under a couple of winters ago.

  • 1st Test to be a draw at 9/4. England will hope Cardiff is a flat batting wicket and they can come through the first match unscathed and get a foothold in the series. It would be a win:win with the Glamorgan CCC stashing away five days full takings too.
  • 1st Test: Adil Rashid to be leading wicket taker in the 2nd The Australians will be intent on knocking him out of the attack (if he plays), but Rashid has been groomed by Jason Gillespie to relish giving it a rip and some air and not being phased if he gets hit a bit. Expect Rashid to rise to the challenge.
  • Australia to win the series 2-1 at 8/1. With the English weather bound to affect at least one Test and a good chance of a batted out draw elsewhere, we believe Australia will just have too much.
  • Top England bat: Joe Root at 5/2
  • Top England bowler: Jimmy Anderson at 2/1
  • Top Aussie bat: Michael Clarke at 4/1
  • Top Aussie bowler: Mitchell Starc at 5/2
  • A double century to be scored at 11/10

Tell us what you think will happen during the Ashes on Twitter. Follow us on @cricket_badger

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James Buttler

James Buttler

James has been working as a cricket journalist and broadcaster since 2006.
As the editor of Cricket Badger he is intent on building the website to give quality coverage of the domestic game around the world.
James was the full-time Media Manager at Yorkshire County Cricket Club between 2007 and 2010.
James is a published author and a writer/video contributor to many cricket publications.
He's unsurprisingly a complete cricket badger!
James Buttler

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