#Ashes: Smith against Root the key battle for the Ashes urn

Our guest columnist Abdad Bhatt takes a neutrals look at the forthcoming Ashes series which begins in Cardiff tomorrow. For him it’s Steven Smith (main photo) v Joe Root that could prove decisive.

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Are England ready?

Team Australia have arrived in England and have just wrapped up their preparations winning both their tour matches against Kent and Essex comprehensively.

Alastair Cook and his troops must be having bitter memories of the previous Ashes series which was played in Australia where they were not just beaten, but completely annihilated by the home side. The visitors were mainly troubled by the 150km/h thunderbolts hurled at them by the Australian fast bowling spearhead Mitchell Johnson who went on to take 37 wickets in that series. For his tremendous effort he was not only given the “man of the series” award, but he also went on to win the Allan Border Medal, ICC Test Player of the Year award and the ICC Cricketer of the Year award.

But the past is the past. At least England would like to think that. They are the hosts, and would like to make the most of the “home conditions”. Even the Pakistani flamboyant all-rounder, Shahid Afridi reckons England will have the advantage of playing at home. They’ve won three consecutive Ashes series at home since 2005. But would “home team advantage” be enough?

Australia come into the series as clear favorites even though they last time won the Ashes series in England 14 years ago in 2001. But would being the “hot favorites” be enough?

It is that time just before an Ashes series when a lot of things are said, quite some comments are made in the media, players take a dig at each other, play some psychological games just before the cricket. Statements, opinions and criticism have always been a part and parcel of Ashes series. Things are no different this year. A lot has been said already, and a lot has happened already.

Michael Clarke feels England are “not as strong” without Kevin Peterson. Steven smith has said he doesn’t think England will come close to challenging the Australian team. Jason Gillespie labeled the Australian squad as “Dad’s Army” because of their ages.

Like always, there would be a few very interesting “mini battles” to look out for.

slider-ashes-urn-2200975Shane Watson vs Mark Wood will be one such battle. The fast bowler from Durham is aiming to target Shane Watson with short deliveries. Shane Watson hit back at him and said Australia’s fast bowlers will test out Mark Wood’s reflexes. They last faced each other in nets a few years ago when Wood was still a teenager.

Ben Stokes vs Mitchell Johnson will be another interesting contest.

But the mother of all these battles would be the battle between the two young batting heroes, Steven Smith vs Joe Root.

Steven Smith (main photo) will be entering this series as the world’s top ranked batsman, who at the moment is scoring Test Hundreds for fun(5 hundreds in his last 6 tests!). Smith made his Ashes debut in the 2010-11 Ashes series, playing as a leg spinning all-rounder who batted in the lower middle order at number six spot.

Times have changed.

Cricket ballSmith quite recently successfully dethroned the Sri Lankan veteran Kumar Sangakarra as the world’s numero uno batsman. It’s safe to say that Smith, at the moment, is in the form of his life. And him, missing out on any opportunity to score runs seems almost unthinkable. He is currently the backbone of Australian batting line up. Smith’s first ever test century came in the 2013 Ashes series, where he made a hundred in the first innings of the last match. He hasn’t looked back since then.

A lot of things are being said about his batting technique though. He has a very unorthodox (but effective) technique of playing the ball. He moves a lot in the crease and that upsets his balance to some extent. It is expected that in England, the ball will move a lot (both in the air and off the seam) and his technique could be found wanting. But Smith has a brilliant hand-eye coordination, with the help of which he can compensate his shortcomings.

Smith will have to face James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn and Mark Wood. Anderson, considered by many, to be the “most skillful” bowler of the world will be his toughest opponent. Mark Wood, who is the fastest among English bowlers will also be looking forward to have a go at him. Spinners Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid will not trouble him because Smith’s footwork against the spinners is almost flawless.

Steven Smith has announced himself in England by scoring an unbeaten 111 against Kent in their first tour match. He would be itching to go out in Cardiff and continue his dream run of scoring runs( a lot of them) for his country.

Joe Root is currently ranked 6th the ICC Test rankings for batsmen. He comes into the series as the top ranked English batsman followed by his captain Alastair Cook at the 16th rank.

testerRoot had a miserable 2013-14 Ashes series(all the English batsmen had) where he just scored 192 runs in the first 4 Tests before he was dropped for the fifth and the final test. Joe Root would be aiming to put that series behind him.

He has an impressive batting average of 54.11 and already has a double century against his name. Out of his six Test hundreds only one has come against Australia, and he would be aiming to get a few in this series. Joe Root was at the receiving end of a punch from the Australian opener David Warner in a bar at Birmingham during the 2013 Champions Trophy. Warner has now revealed that the reason for punching Root was that he (Root) insulted Muslims in general or the South African batsman Hashim Amla in particular. Root has totally denied this accusation and this very episode may give that extra push to Joe Root and make him more determined to continue his brilliant form in Test cricket against the visitors.

Root’s biggest ability is to remain calm and cool in pressure situations. Australia would be well aware of how patient Root can be at the crease. They also know that he can score lots and lots of runs. So, they would’ve done their homework and they know how important it will be not to let Root score runs against them. Things will not be so easy for Root. Joe Root will have to face presently the most lethal fast bowling trio in the form of Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood. If he survives these brilliant fast bowlers then it will be safe to assume he will be untroubled by the spin in form of Nathan Lyon.

Joe Root is all ready to go out and bat for his country in the pursuit to bring back the Ashes. And if this Yorkshireman outscores Steven Smith in the series, there is a great chance of urn returning to England.

Expect plenty of action and plenty of sledging.

Abdad Bhatt

Abdad Bhatt

Employmentally challengedIT engineer who is very passionate about cricket
Abdad Bhatt

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