With the first Ashes Test approaching, the following are some predictions on how key players for both teams will fare – and how this will affect the likely outcome of the series.
Don’t depend on Dave Warner to be our saviour
Dave Warner will go off in a few innings and have a good enough series to keep him in the team, but if we are depending on him to make big runs to win the series, we’re in trouble.
I predict Warner will generally struggle against Anderson and Broad with the new ball, nicking off and being trapped in front or bowled at some crucial moments.
Still, he will score reasonably in other innings and average around 35-40 for the series.
Shane Watson as a top order Test batsman is a myth
As powerful as Watson is, and as well as he can hit the ball, I feel he just doesn’t have the technique to average what is required (at least over 40) at number three.
He’s talked about how he’s ironed out his technical flaws, but he was still bowled through the gate a couple of times in India by their seamers and is very vulnerable to the ball seaming in off a length.
He might have one or two decent knocks on flatter pitches, but by the end of the series I feel the selectors will realise Watson is a great ODI player but not a Test batsman and will look elsewhere – preferably to Alex Doolan – as a reliable number three.
Steve Smith will show his class
In England, Smith showed Australian fans, and himself, that he is a Test batsman who can make runs in difficult situations on wickets that are doing a bit.
This series he will finally realise that he’s not just a good player but a very, very good player. I use the words ‘very, very’ deliberately, as the way he times the ball at times reminds me of the ‘Very Very’ Special Laxman, who loved the hard and true pitches in Australia.
All the talk before this series has been about Warner, Watson and George Bailey, but Smith can be better than the lot of them.
Smith nearly scored two hundreds in England (he threw away a hundred for the taking in the third Test) on pitches that were hard to bat on and don’t suit his game. I predict he’ll score at least two in this series, maybe even three.
If Australia are to win the Ashes, Clarke or another batsman needs to step up and have a mammoth series (600 plus runs). Smith is the most likely to be that ‘other’ batsman.
George Bailey will do fine
George Bailey has shown he steps up to big challenges and I think he needed this challenge, after nearly a decade in Shield cricket, to reignite his longer form batting.
Everyone talks about his recent series on the belters in India, but he also scored in England. Bailey made a couple of 50s in the Champions Trophy before the Ashes – one against basically the same England attack that will be bowling at Brisbane – when the rest of the top order capitulated.
He’ll prove he’s a more than capable Test batsman.
Nathan Lyon will enhance his reputation
I said in a previous article that I don’t expect Lyon to ‘run through’ England. After some thought, I’ll reserve judgement for the time being.
Lyon’s recent remarks that he wants Kevin Pietersen to take him on are heartening, showing he is a clever customer with plenty of ticker.
His record so far – 85 wickets from 25 Tests at 33 – is very good. New Zealand’s Daniel Vettori averages 34 and is seen as a world class bowler.
Lyon flights the ball well and deceives batsmen in the air. What he needs to be more willing to do is really rip the ball in the second innings, and try to beat batsmen off the pitch. He’s only 25 and, judging by his intelligence, will learn that.
Let’s hope he learns it in this series. I think he’ll have a good series and will take some crucial wickets. Whether he’s willing to really give it a rip on days four and five will determine whether he, and Australia, have a very good series.
Mitchell Johnson will…
I really have no clue about how Johnson will go, and am not brave enough to make a prediction. I’ll just reiterate the obvious: Australia’s chances of winning the series rest right here. If Johnson can have even an okay series, Australia can win.
One of the ‘Big Four’ will go big
In a team that boasts four batsmen with near 50 averages (Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Pietersen), on the true wickets in Australia one of them is bound to get away and have a significant series.
Let’s pray it isn’t Pietersen, as if he scores heavily he’ll set up games for England. If Australia can keep England’s leading run scorer, whoever it may be, to just a good series rather than a ridiculous one (see Bell earlier this year, or Cook in 2010-11), they can still win the Ashes.
If Australia had nabbed Bell on 60 rather than 110 a couple of times in England, they would’ve fared much better.
Stuart Broad will be a beast
James Anderson will bowl well, but the absolute danger is Stuart Broad. He looked unplayable on a juiced-up pitch in the last tour match and I can see him devouring the likes of Warner, Watson and even Clarke at times.
His average of 30 belies his ability – he bowls a near unplayable spell in pretty much every series he plays, and Australia’s hopes lie in getting through those spells.
Don’t let him get a five, six or seven-for in the series, because when he’s done that against us (The Oval in 2009, Durham 2013), England has stormed to victory.
Carberry, Root, Tremlett and Prior will be vulnerable
All four of these guys are weak links in England, and their relatively averages performances will keep Australia within sight of England throughout.
Conversely, if guys like Tremlett and Root have a big series, on top of England’s world-class players, then look out – we could be looking at another 3-0 drubbing from England.
The sensible prediction is a close England win, but by no means is that a certainty. Australia can win or draw the series, but England could also win at a canter.
Australia’s hopes depend on whether Clarke and another batsman can have a big series (with one having a huge series), and whether Johnson and Lyon can keep up with the ever reliable Siddle and Harris.
The first two Tests may well be draws, with rain predicted in Brisbane and Adelaide’s drop-in pitch appearing to be a feather bed. If the series is level after two Tests, it’s game on.
I’m tipping England to win 2-1.