Monday, 6 July 2015

What Hope for an Ashes Upset?

Let the captain battle commence
So here we are again. The Ashes start again this Wednesday, with England looking for their fourth consecutive home series victory for the first time in 120 years (when they won the first 6 home series). Australia go in as firm favourites, clearly ahead of England in the rankings and having won 4 of 5 series since they last visited England (we've won 1 of 5 in the same time). Perhaps one of the most telling indicators is Australia's convincing 2-0 victory in the West Indies, so soon after England battled to a 1-1 draw against the same mediocre opponents. 

How different from two years ago, when England almost underachieved in winning the series 3-0. This time around it's the hosts who enter with an inexperienced and potentially fragile line up, couple with decent but not spectacular bowling attack. The concern at having no stand-out spinner the main point, but we've also had trouble restricting heavy scoring, maintaining discipline against tailenders and finishing off collapsing opponents. This was such a feature of the 2013 series, with Haddin / Agar standing out in particular. 

Perhaps a smaller trophy
in a couple of months?
Both sides are now without their best bowlers from 2013 - both Swann and Harris retiring and each team needing to find 25 wickets from elsewhere. Whether Moeen and/or Rashid can step into that breach remains to be seen and I must say I'm not convinced either is the full package. In contrast, Australia have a good range of pace bowlers vying for a place, with Josh Hazelwood and the left-armed Mitchells likely starting ahead of Peter Siddle. The fact that Nathan Lyon is a solid rather than world-class spinner may not matter too much if England don't survive until the 5th day. Their bowling averages against West Indies don't make fun reading for an English battling line up who had more than one shaky moment against the Aussies' neighbours.

There are signs that things might not be all baggy green, with England experiencing a new lease of life and optimism after some of the performances against New Zealand. If players like Broad, Anderson, Bell and of course, Cook, can find anywhere near top form to provide the backbone to exciting talent of Root, Buttler and Stokes, it could yet prove to be a closer series than anticipated. 

But why can't we have 10 reviews
an innings?
One thing which doesn't seem too likely at the moment but that we could seriously do with is a bit of weather like two years ago. Things we can do without this time - DRS controversy, England failing to reach 400, England batting at about 2.5 runs per over for the entire series, Mitchell Johnson actually bowling well and straight. Oh and Australia winning, I could definitely live without that.

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