The Ashes are bearing down on us faster than Virender Sehwag hoes into a freshly prepared serving of butter chicken.
England are prancing around like some kind of drunk adolescent tour group at the Sydney Mardi Gras after recently beating New Zealand 3-2 in an ODI series.
They won something. It’s all very exciting. Except for the fact that ODI cricket isn’t Test cricket.
England’s recent Test record is uglier than a half finished bowl of porridge.
They lost the previous Ashes series 5-0. To manage that takes a special kind of ineptitude. England have done it a few time now.
They then lost to Sri Lanka at home. Well, James Anderson lost them the series, attempting to fend off a bouncer rather than leave it. There were only two balls left. He cried at the awards ceremony. Magical.
England followed up that loss by being mauled in the later ODI and T20 series to make it a clean sweep to Sri Lanka.
That special kind of ineptitude was peaking.
The subsequent Test series win against India doesn’t count. India haven’t won away since the time of King Dravid. Ishant Sharma bowling India to victory at Lord’s with the old ball was English buffoonery at its finest.
An early exit from the World Cup, and then two South African-like chokes complete the English Ashes preparation. They were 1-0 up against both the West Indies and New Zealand. In both cases, they couldn’t close out the final Tests. Instead, they lost them.
How do you lose a Test against the West Indies? In their last 12 months, England have lost Tests to India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and the West Indies.
Australia do not suffer from this affliction.
So, that brings me to the Ashes.
The only fair and sensible way to critique England’s chances are to line each player up against their direct Australian opponent. Let’s see how many contests they can win.
Warner v Cook
One has been protected by the ECB and allowed to ruin his team’s morale so that the establishment can retain a sense of power. The other was sent off to play with Australia A in Zimbabwe, came back and is the best opener in the world.
Where Alastair Cook will let a game meander and probably average 30 at best for the series, Dave Warner will win at least one Test with a raging second innings century to rip the heart out of this falsely hoped English pack. The longer Warner bats, the more the English level of self worth with fall. The same with Cook really.
Australia win this match up. 1-0
Chris Rogers v Adam Lyth
One has over 20,000 First Class runs, with more than half made in England. He also has six consecutive Test half centuries to his name. The other is just another guy playing the game of ‘who does Cook like to play with’. Nick Compton, Sam Robson, Michael Carberry and now Adam Lyth.
Let’s just hope Lyth is a subservient little thing, else Alastair will cut his career down. Rogers has no such problem.
Australia lead 2-0
Smith v Ballance
One is ranked as the best Test batsman in the world. The other beats up teams ranked seventh and eighth, but was made to look out of his depth by Trent Boult and Tim Southee.
Graeme Swann may not rate Steve Smith’s technique, but Swann also didn’t rate not quitting on his team mates mid tour.
We can’t make any South African jokes about Gary Ballance because he is from Zimbabwe. However, we can once again highlight that the person in the most important batting spot in the English line-up has been imported. Is it impossible for England to grow their own heroes? Is there a problem with acidic soils that we don’t know about?
Smith will leave these upcoming Ashes like Steve Waugh did in 1989. Ballance may not even make it to the fourth Test. Piers Morgan will be chanting ‘Bring Back KP’ after about the seventh ball Ballance faces.
Australia lead 3-0
Clarke v Bell
Is Ian Bell still in the English team? Really? His 2011 was amazing. He averaged 118. Since then, his annual returns have been 33.6, 41.8, 34.7 and a lowly 22.0 this year.
He has had 51 innings against Australia. His highest score is 115.
Not nearly good enough for a number 4.
Michael Clarke on the other hand is finding his way back after the injury that he finally succumbed to in Adelaide last season. His recent West Indies tour wasn’t great, but his captaincy is still the best in the business.
Clarke performs when under pressure. His 161* in Cape Town is legendary. His centuries in the first two Tests of the last Ashes set the scene. His hundred, when he couldn’t move due to a bad back and the loss of his mate Phil Hughes was herculean. What has Ian Bell done?
This could be the final hurrah for both these players. Clarke will play all five Tests if his back is willing. Bell is fighting off better and more deserved players.
Voges v Root
Let me be clear, in case you assume I suffer from bias-itis.
Joe Root is a star. He forms part of the Holy Trinity with Steve Smith and Kane Williamson. He is an unstoppable baby faced assassin. He will make runs in these Ashes. Lots of runs.
But none of them will win England a Test match. A Joe Root hundred is not like a Steve Smith hundred. A Joe Root hundred comes at number 5. If he is making tons, he is desperately trying to save the innings. When Steve Smith makes hundreds, they are at number 3. He is setting up the innings for a declaration.
So, whatever greatness Joe Root achieves in this upcoming series, it will be meaningless in regards to England’s chances.
Therefore, it doesn’t matter what I think of Adam Voges. He could make none for the whole series and it won’t affect the result.
Although the Voges v Root match up is therefore a nil all draw, we will give Root the point for future potential if he stops hiding at number 5.
Australia lead 4-1
Watson v Stokes
Ah, Ben Stokes. The new Ian Botham. Better than Gary Sobers. He’s a Kiwi.
He is so exciting. English Madams are lining up to offer their daughters up to him.
There is just one small problem that is inconveniently ignored.
Ben Stokes has Test batting and bowling averages worse than Shane Watson.
So enjoy the merry journey that the red headed wonder is about to take you on. It involves frustration, bad DRS reviews and countless injuries. How do I know? We just lived it with Watson.
Based on the stats, and the stats don’t lie, this is an easy contest to adjudicate.
Australia lead 5-1
Brad Haddin v Jos Buttler
Buttler joins the long list of recent English wicket keepers who haven’t done much. Prior left the scene after giving away more byes in his final Test than he made runs. Bairstow’s performances in the last Ashes series were pure comedy – cringeworthy comedy.
Buttler appears to be the new flavour of the month.
It is hard to judge him on only eight Test matches to date.
Those of basic mind will surely point out his batting average is over 50. However, Moises Henriques once averaged more than Sir Don Bradman. Moises also once made a pair in a T20 match. He’s a special player.
Brad Haddin’s keeping is at the top of its game at present. It is good for at least one or two extra dismissals per match. This is partly offset by falls in his run making output, but in the scheme of things, he is still a solid bet.
Both have the ability to hit out, but Haddin gets the nod for his superior sledging ability.
Australia lead 6-1
Anderson v Johnson
If we were debating the merits of Corey Anderson, then this battle may have been a little closer. But we are not.
James Anderson may have a record 400 Test wickets for England, but that is a pure measure of longevity. Or as the English call it, a job for life even if my performances haven’t deserved it.
Which country celebrates a bowling record that used to be held by an all rounder anyway?
Here is a definitive list of things that Mitch Johnson does that James Anderson doesn’t:
– Takes top order wickets
– Scares English batsmen
– Breaks Graeme Smith’s hand. Twice
– Hits sixes that break the commentary box window
– Looks masculine
– Strikes at 50
– Bowls fast
– Changes the course of matches and series
Here is a definitive list of things that James Anderson does that Mitch Johnson doesn’t:
– Takes lower order wickets with the third new ball. Johnson has the opposition out by then.
– Celebrates with the elegance of a professional dancer in a Broadway Musical
If Anderson was Australian, he would be fighting for the fifth bowlers spot with Peter Siddle. Their averages and strike rates are almost identical.
As the saying goes, swing the ball for show, take wickets and break bones for dough
Broad v Starc
If we were awarding this bout on comedic value only, Stuart Broad would most likely win. A purveyor of the LBW law, his antics are legendary both far and wide throughout the kingdom.
However, this is a cricket match. So, we will just have to judge cricketing ability and impact.
Broad can bowl. The problem is that nowadays, he is all over the shop. Too short. Too slow. Too wide. All the makings of a bloke on his way out. Make no mistake, he will have his moments this Ashes. He will probably have more impact than James Anderson. I suspect he will get David Warner more than any other player.
But Mitchell Starc is now ranked number 1 in the ICC Mitch Rankings. He is possibly the most explosive bowler on form in the world at the moment. His full in-swinging yorker brings back memories of Wasim Akram in his prime and before the Qayyum report labelled him likely to be corrupt.
If last series Harris was the destroyer, than this series it will be Starc. In his three Ashes matches to date, he already has a better average against and strike rate against the English than James Anderson does against Australia.
He could take 40 wickets this series.
Wood v Hazlewood
The excuses have already started for Mark Wood and the guy has only played two Test matches. Social media was buzzing with the proclamation that Wood’s figures in the New Zealand Test series underplayed his value. What they meant to say was that like Anderson, the guy looks pretty, but wasn’t as effectual as we would have liked.
Compare that with Josh Hazlewood.
5 Tests. 24 wickets. An average of 19.03. A strike rate of 45.5. The new Glenn McGrath.
Wood will be hoping to have impact with the new Duke. On the hand hand, Josh doesn’t have to hope. He just will.
Ali v Lyon
No, this is not Mohammad Ali versus a giant jungle cat. How good would that fight have been? Instead it is another one of England’s ‘how pretty do I look batting and bowling’ guys against the ex-groundsman from the Adelaide Oval.
One started his career as a number three, before debuting at number 6 and is now at number 8. The other is the best number 11 in the world.
One is a part time tweaker, whose First Class bowling record is almost identical to Cameron White’s. The other is Australia’s best ever off spinner.
One has publicly expressed his thoughts on Gaza. The other remains firmly apolitical.
Moeen Ali will not spin England to any wins on Day 4 or 5 of a Test match this summer.
Nathan Lyon will.
So, can England win the Ashes?
The answer, emphatically, is no.