When was the last close Ashes Test match in Australia?
I can’t seem to remember one in the last 15 years.
The amazing Adelaide Test in 2006 could be considered close. It was an amazing Test match in which both countries batted for two days, making over 500 runs. Shane Warne then spun Australia to victory on the last day. That Test match is one of the rare occasions where bat has dominated ball and it has ended up being an exciting Test match.
The best Test matches are where the ball has the edge over the bat, which is why the best Test matches of recent series have been in England, where you feel there could be a wicket any ball. The batsmen who make centuries are more appreciated for the struggle.
It’s why the scores in England are more around 280 to 350 rather than 400 to 500 in Australia. The 5-0 series clean sweep in 2013-14 was great fun to watch. It’s remembered for Mitchell Johnson’s devastating bowling – he achieved 37 wickets at an average of 13.9 for the series. That is what made the series exciting, rather than Australia piling on the runs.
The 2017-18 Ashes I can’t really remember a lot of. The pitches were flat and docile and Australia made the most of it. The wickets may continue to be flat due to the drop-in pitches and the fact that AFL is king in Australia.
Can you imagine a game similar to that at Headingley at the Gabba? A frantic finish, both sides going for the win, everyone racing to a pub to find a screen to watch the game.
The truth is the most exciting Ashes Test matches have been in England. Of course I preferred the 2017-18 Ashes to that of the 2010-11 series, when England completely dominated Australia and won three Tests by an innings. And there have been many exciting Test matches in England recently. I grant you that the majority of them were from the 2005 and 2019 Ashes.
But this could be the series in which we finally have a close game in Australia. Both teams have fragilities in their batting order along with a couple of stars: Joe Root and Ben Stokes for England, and Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne for the Aussies.
Another factor could be whether England have the firepower in their bowling line-up. Mark Wood, Chris Woakes and Ollie Robinson – a lot rests on them, so it’s not down to just Stuart Broad and James Anderson again. Whoever they give the spinner role to, either Dom Bess or Jack Leach, will have a big task to withhold an end if the pitch isn’t offering very much.
The Australians have issues to contend with as well. Who will open with David Warner? And who should bat at No. 5? George Bailey has said the home side will be sticking with Marcus Harris as Warner’s partner, which I understand, though I would have liked to have seen Usman Khawaja given another shot.
The identity of the batsman at No. 5 is a bit more open, with Cameron Green set to bat at No. 6. Travis Head will probably maintain his spot – he hasn’t done anything wrong to lose it. Nic Maddinson would be a good option – he has been in very good form for the past 18 months and seems a much more settled player now than when he was rushed into the team in 2016. Mitchell Marsh had success against England last Ashes series in Australia.
The quartet of Australian bowlers got beaten by India in the last series, apart of course from the miracle that was 36 all out. It will be interesting to see if they do mix it up. One of Scott Boland, Jhye Richardson or Michael Neser could definitely hold their own if one bowler was to drop out.
The most likely is Mitchell Starc I’m not ready to write him off just yet. A horses-for-courses strategy could work here: play Starc in the day-night Test with the pink ball, with which he has had proven success. Play Boland, Neser or Richardson at the other venues depending on conditions.
My hope for the series is that Australia wins and retains the Ashes, but the thing I want the most for Christmas is a close Ashes match. Perhaps I’m asking for too much and should be happy with another 5-0.