The Australia versus England series is underway despite series being considered unimportant for the fans who value Test cricket over one-day cricket.
The Poms won’t miss a chance to get in the face of the Aussies. We have been hearing in the soundbites – Nathan Lyon replying to a fan who taunted him by asking whether there’s any sandpaper in his pocket. His reply? It’s the Ashes rubbing salt into the wound of Englishmen.
England already have one match of the five in hand, and the score sheet aside, there are plenty of reasons why England is the favourite to win the series.
1. Home support
It seems whatever the form of the visiting team, the home team tailors the pitch according to their strength. Not discounting the England team, the current squad under Eoin Morgan, which was able to beat Australia in their backyard at the start of the year, looks unlikely to bow down, especially in conditions which England have been thriving since 2015.
The England team is more experienced and has grown much closer together as a unit in that time. They have a high win/loss of 2.27, better than India’s 2.04. Moreover, of 63 ODIs they have played since World Cup debacle, England have managed to score 300-plus on 27 occasions, the highest by any team during the time frame.
2. Loss of key player
If losing David Warner and Steven Smith wasn’t enough, Australia have now lost Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Josh Hazlewood and all-rounder Mitch Marsh. Despite Billy Stanlake and AJ Tye’s IPL exploits, international cricket is different propositions, and IPL success doesn’t guarantee success at the highest level. Both could do well, but they will have to overcome the tornado of the English batting line-up which seems to be never-ending.
3. A new captain under pressure
In David Warner and Steven Smith Australia didn’t just lose key players but the leadership group as well. It means the team needs a new leader, and it could take them some time to get used to Tim Paines’ style of play.
Though Paine has been great in Tests both in Australia and back in South Africa, his place in the middle order and as a keeper is far from secure with Alex Carey breathing down his neck in ODI format in particular. How Tim Paine handles the dual responsibility of batting-wicketkeeping and the captaincy remains to be seen. Justin Langer and teammates need to support him. But it’s not an ideal situation, especially if you are up against the number one side in the World.
4. England’s never-ending batting line-up
For a side to win matches more often than not bowlers need to get ten wickets, so it’s imperative the bowlers tie the England line-up down. But just a look at the England batting line-up – at the top it’s destructive Jason Roy, whose 180 will still be fresh in the minds of the Australians, and the consistently dangerous Jonny Bairstow, Joe Root, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler.
It still doesn’t end here, with Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and David Willey more than capable with the bat. So that’s like every player from one to ten can bat for England, which makes it much tougher for Australia to tie them down for low scores. Perhaps their strong batting line-up is the reason England are the number one side in the world right now.
Indeed, last night’s game was a fine example of their batting depth.
5. Australia’s new approach
With the ball-tampering saga a lot’s been written and said about the team’s culture. Tim Paine has looked like a man who wants to make changes to how the Aussies play and behave on the field. For more than a decade they have been known for their sledging. There has been so much pressure on the Australian cricket team – perhaps a series win will have it all forgotten, but in case Australian players are caught conducting themselves or unethically, it would spread like wildfire and damage further the reputation of the nation.
Australia’s approach always gave them an edge over their opponents in the past, but without it, can they be successful? That is the big question.
Already one game behind after having damage inflicted on them early, perhaps the fearless English side is already giving us an asnwer.