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Opinion

This Ashes series will be closer than you think

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19th October, 2021
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Thanks to the great work of the Australian and UK governments, cricket boards, Joe Root, Joe Root’s dog and the not-so-stellar work of Tim Paine’s Twitter account, the Ashes is on this summer!

Attending the cricket sans-Barmy Army means that spectators will not have to bring their earplugs and maybe the Poms will learn more quality Australian slang.

That said, I will miss the slightly off-key strains of ‘Jerusalem’ blaring through my TV screen – I might have to dig up my choir’s performance of it from my university days just to help me get by!

Anyway, despite at least one pundit predicting a 5-0 Ashes scoreline, the series will probably be much closer than that.

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Australia’s batting line-up flatters to deceive
Ten months ago, the Aussie’s last Test against India contained an out-of-form David Warner (still out of form) and Matthew Wade (the World T20 could be significant).

None of Australia’s potential Test XI nor any potential replacements will have had much exposure to the red ball. As the schedule stands, two Shield matches have been completed with two more to come, and none of them involves New South Wales or Victoria, from where the bulk of the Test players come.

Are the days of handing out baggy greens with baggy blues over? Perhaps not. But looking at the in-form domestic players, few of them would even have a hope of getting into the current Test side. Consider the players who have made either 50 or 100 in the Shield, and there is a whole host of them thanks to the 22 yards of bitumen in the middle of Karen Rolton Oval.

The full list: Shaun Marsh, Cameron Green, Hilton Cartwright, Josh Philippe, Jake Carder, Travis Head, Nathan McAndrew, Tim Ward, Charlie Wakim, Ben McDermott, Jordan Silk, Bryce Street, Jimmy Peirson, Lawrence Neil-Smith, Beau Webster, Usman Khawaja, Harry Neilsen and Alex Carey.

That’s 17 players. Some of those have just one good innings under their belt and few have scored consistently in multiple seasons. In fact, the only shoo-ins based on consistent form and temperament would be Shaun Marsh and Travis Head, who both over-promise and under-deliver.

Travis Head

Travis Head (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The English attack is better than most think
James Anderson, even at the age of 502, still manages to run in and deliver the ball at a pace not much faster than I bowl and take wickets.

Stuart Broad, the perennial thorn in the Australian side, grows an extra leg against Australia, and three legs seemingly allow him to bowl better than with just two legs.

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Ollie Robinson could be a handful here on Australian pitches, while Craig Overton’s height and extra bounce could be the difference on decks like Brisbane and Perth – notwithstanding his lack of pace.

Chris Woakes, Dom Bess and Jack Leach do not exude confidence, but Leach’s bowling sucks up the runs from one end. Alternatively, Nasser Hussain’s “We’ll have a bowl” on Day 1 of the Brisbane Test in 2002-03 could come back to haunt them once again.

Furthermore, the Australian bowling attack began to look rather pedestrian against India towards the back end of the series.

None of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood or Pat Cummins will have any red-ball cricket in the lead-up, and hopefuls like Mitchell Marsh and Mitchell Swepson could potentially mistake apples for cricket balls so rare have their sightings of red balls been.

Mitchell Starc

Mitchell Starc. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Michael Neser, Mark Steketee and Jhye Richardson had better hope that their state premiers realise the paramount importance of cricket and open their borders to allow matches to be played.

The English batting line-up could crumble quicker than a stale scone
Outside of Joe Root, none of the English average over 40 in Test cricket, and while some have had success (Dawid Malan’s 70 and Haseeb Hameed’s 68 stand out), these innings are as rare as Shane Warne talking commonsense.

Root’s scores may be the only thing anchoring the English batting.

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It will take more than autotune to fix both these sides.

Marnus Labuschagne, Joe Root and Steve Smith will help to patch some big holes. Who else from both sides will stand up?

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