Former England captain turned commentator Michael Vaughan isn’t giving them much chance of regaining the Ashes, after the summer’s series was given the all-clear by the England Cricket Board.
After much speculation over whether the tour could be cancelled due to concerns over Australia’s mandatory quarantine restrictions – and uncertainty over whether their families would be permitted into the country – the series was officially agreed to by the ECB. But speaking to ABC Grandstand’s Corbin Middlemas on Saturday, Vaughan said the visitors will have a tough time returning home with even a solitary victory.
“I’ll be totally honest with you – this series could be 5-0,” Vaughan said.
“You’ve got to be realistic. The last four tours of Australia, England have lost 5-0 twice, 4-0 once, and obviously they won in 2010-11.
“This England Test match team are the kind of side that, if they get on a roll and get playing well, they’ll be fine. But if they start badly – so if they go out of Brisbane having gotten a hammering, it is going to be a long tour for them.
“They do have it in them to beat good sides, but they also have it in them to lose against anyone.”
With talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes all but ruled out of the tour after undergoing finger surgery, their chances for an upset victory rest on the shoulders of captain and gun batsman Joe Root, according to Vaughan.
Root has enjoyed a career-best 2021 so far. In 12 Tests, he has tallied an eye-watering 1455 runs at 66.13 for the year, including six centuries and two double-tons, to have Pakistan great Mohammad Yousuf’s Test record haul of 1788 runs in 2006 within reach.
By contrast, there has only been one other triple-figure score made by an Englishman this year – 132 by opener Rory Burns against New Zealand at Lord’s.
“If Joe Root can somehow install some of his methods into a few of the others, of course they can be threatening,” Vaughan said.
“They’ll massively miss Ben Stokes’ runs, so Ollie Pope will get that slot. A very promising young player, but he’s yet to really step up… this is the ultimate challenge.
“And then you look at the likes of [Jonny] Bairstow and Jos Buttler: dangerous players, but very inconsistent.”
However, Vaughan has spied a glimmer of hope for England fans heading into the series, claiming the favourites are ‘vulnerable’ when things start to go against them.
“I don’t think they are anything like an Australian side of old. I think they are a good team with a very good bowling attack, but they’re certainly vulnerable,” he said, pointing to the Aussies’ 2-1 loss to an injury-riddled India last summer as evidence.
“Going 1-0 up; bowling India out for 36 at the Adelaide Oval; [Indian captain] Virat Kohli going home, and then not to win that series — it tells me they are a vulnerable team.
England had previously suggested the Ashes would be cancelled if they were unable to send “a squad befitting a series of this significance”, with several senior players reported to be reluctant to tour. However, with captain Root now all but locked in, it appears the rest of the players will follow the leader down under.
Vaughan also expressed his disappointment in Australian Test captain Tim Paine’s comments on SEN Hobart, over which he has been accused of lacking empathy for England players unwilling to head into another ‘bubble’ environment now part and parcel of international cricket in the COVID-19 era.
“The First Test is on December 8th — whether Joe (Root, England captain) is here or not,” Paine said. “No one is forcing any England player to come. That’s the beauty of the world we live in — you have a choice. If you don’t want to come, don’t come.”
Vaughan accused the skipper of lacking ‘class’ in his comments, pointing out that Australia haven’t played an overseas Test since the beginning of the pandemic, while cancelling a number of tours of their own in the process.
“As a Test match captain, you have to show a bit of empathy,” Vaughan told ABC Grandstand.
“In the last two years, he hasn’t taken his team overseas. He hasn’t had to go through what these England players have gone through. He hasn’t gone through what Joe Root has gone through. He plays only one format of the game. I do believe he showed a bit of lack of class.”
“I don’t think that went down well with the players. And particularly, anyone that’s captain of an international side, I personally think he didn’t need to say what he said.
“I’m not too sure whether in time Tim Paine will look back at those comments and think, ‘Maybe I got that wrong.”
Vaughan also targeted Paine’s captaincy, which has drawn criticism from fans and analysts alike throughout his tenure, as a potential road to victory for England.
The wicketkeeper was roundly savaged for several blunders throughout the successful 2019 series in England, in which he spurned a crucial review late in the dramatic Headingly Test and controversially opted to bowl first in the dead-rubber Fifth Test. Both ended in Australian defeats.
“When the pressure’s on, and I think that’s the message I would say to England: get Australia into days four and five when they know they can lose and get them in a tactical battle,” Vaughan said.
“It’s been proven of late that if you can get Tim Paine into a tactical battle… I do think you can get Australia.
“If you can get Tim Paine thinking, and get him into that pressurised zone… anything’s possible in cricket these days.”
The first Ashes Test is scheduled to start on December 8 at the Gabba.