Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Anything but an Ashes whitewash?

Unquestionably, England are overwhelming favourites to take the Ashes over the coming weeks, and convincingly so. Apart from the odd Aussie pundit or ex-player, almost all of the cricketing world is predicting a relatively comfortable victory for Cook and his men. 

So is there any realistic danger of Michael Clarke getting his hands on the urn come the end of August? There are obviously a lot more thorough and expert previews of the series available but here's a quick run down of the factors that can/will make the difference:

1) The squads - looking at the respective records, it is hard to see how the inexperienced Aussies can compete with a English team that is extremely well settled and have dealt with a range of opponents and conditions. Although the bowling units are relatively well matched, it is with willow in hand that England will surely dominate. The below table shows the comparison of averages (not too dissimilar in fairness) but also the number of test matches played by each team's potential top 9. The contrast is startling and could be crucial over the course of the toughest series in test cricket.

Root - 42.4 (6 tests)
Rogers - 9.5 (1)
Cook - 49.2 (92)
Warner - 39.5 (19)
Trott - 50 (43)
Watson - 35.3 (31)
Pietersen - 49.1 (94)
Clarke - 52.3 (92)
Bell - 45.6 (88)
Khawaja - 29.2 (6)
Bairstow - 31 (8)
Hughes - 33 (24)
Prior - 44.3 (67)
Haddin - 35.5 (42)
Bresnan - 31.3 (18)
Starc - 32.7 (9)
Broad - 24.6 (57)
Pattinson - 28.8 (10)
Swann - 23.2 (52)
Harris – 17.7 (12)
Total = 390.7 (525)
Total = 313.5 (246)
*I appreciate that this won't likely be the order of the Oz batting line up but given that they've selected 19 openers, it's quite hard to predict 

2) The pressure - there has been a lot of talk about how England will cope (or not cope) with being favourites. As the top ranked test team they won just 1 of 4 series and seemed unable to live up to the top billing. Just look at the series in New Zealand back in the spring.
That being said, the vast experience of the English squad, established team spirit and familiarity with being both ahead and behind in games may well make all the difference. There appears to be a good positive vibe and enthusiasm about the Aussies under Lehmann and no doubt they will be pumped up and raring to go on Wednesday morning, but when they're up against it, Clarke and Watson back in the hutch, who will stand up to fight? No amount of Aussie fighting spirit is going to save you from Anderson, Broad, Finn and Swann when you're 40-4 and the ball is swinging and spinning. I'd be surprised if we don't bowl them out for under 150 at least 2 or 3 times.

3) The weather - Perhaps the only thing that can stop a whitewash. A few lost days and even England's dominance could be thwarted, at least in a couple of matches. If the weather holds as it is currently then it will help the Aussies feel at home but will also enhance the effect of Swann. Given our respective recent results away in India (Eng won 2-1, Aus lost 4-0) and their lack of a quality spinner, the weather really is a no-win situation for the men from Down Under. 

So in answer to my question earlier, no, there is no danger of Clarke getting his hands on the little urn.

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