The cricket calendar has been hit again by COVID issues with the Australia vs New Zealand Chappell-Hadlee series postponed indefinitely.
Leading into this summer’s Ashes series, all the talk has been that Australia will win, and win comfortably.
However, I struggle to believe that Australia’s Test side is in a state to either clean sweep or dominate the five-Test series.
Don’t get me wrong. I still believe Australia will win this year’s Ashes, but not to the same extent that we have won the last two home series against England.
Since Justin Langer took over as head coach, Australia has had three series against competitive opposition on home soil, India twice, and New Zealand.
Of those three series we have lost twice to India and won the series against New Zealand.
Even then you could argue that New Zealand offered no competition for the Aussies, winning each of the three Tests by more than 200 runs.
Before Langer took over as coach in 2018 we had lost just the two home series since 2012. Now we have lost two series in the last three years.
So why do we think that the Ashes should be a walk in the park even if the Poms are facing issues of their own?
In the last 12 months Australia has played just the four Tests, which came in last summer’s disaster in our own backyard against a second-rate Indian side.
The Border-Gavaskar Trophy highlighted our bowling issues that are prevalent within the Test arena.
The fact that in a four-Test series the Aussies only managed to take all 20 wickets in one Test and failed to bowl out India on Day 5 in consecutive Tests is a major cause for concern.
For the majority of that series, Australia was relying on two bowlers to take the majority of the wickets.
Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood continued to show their undeniable class, while Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc looked about as threatening as a cat at a greyhound meeting.
Lyon looked like he found his form again in the Sheffield Shield where he finished last season’s competition as the leading wicket taker with 42 scalps.
However, this season from the opening two games he has taken just four wickets at an average of 62 and a strike rate of 159.
There’s no denying Lyon his place in the side for the Ashes as you don’t take 399 Test wickets without having serious talent. However, his recent form in the last 12 months is a cause for concern.
Mitchell Starc hasn’t played first-class cricket since the Sheffield Shield final in April, which capped off a horror summer for him.
Averaging 40 in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and 47 in the Sheffield Shield, Starc struggled for consistency and hasn’t been able to perform consistently in white-ball cricket since then.
If Australia want any chance of winning the Ashes, then Nathan Lyon and Mitch Starc both need to step up and perform at the levels that have got them to where they are today.
Having a world-class left-handed pace bowler is a massive benefit and will definitely cause problems for England’s batting line-up.
But if Starc is bowling half of his deliveries down the legside or bouncers that aren’t troubling the batsmen, then we shouldn’t persist with Starc for the sake of playing a left-handed bowler.
The fact that we could not bowl out a second-rate Indian side on Day 5 in consecutive Tests, and yet it looks like we will continue with the same bowling attack is definitely a cause of concern.
As for the batting side of things, David Warner seems to be finding some form right in time for the Ashes.
But let’s not forget, Warner was also in good form leading into the Border-Gavaskar Trophy last season in white-ball cricket but couldn’t carry that form into the Tests.
It is crucial that Warner steps up this Ashes as it looks like Marcus Harris – who hasn’t set the world alight so far in his Test career averaging just 23.77 from his ten Tests so far – will be partnering him at the top of the order.
I believe we will see Warner back at his best this summer as he averages over 60 in Australia and will be hungry to put to bed the nightmare 2019 Ashes series where he scored just the 96 runs in his comeback to Test cricket.
If the 2019 Ashes series was a nightmare for Warner, then Stuart Broad was the boogeyman living under his bed and living in his closet rent-free.
Should Broad get the better of Warner early in the series then Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne better be ready to do the heavy lifting for the Australian batting order this summer.
Oh, and just to top things off while I was in the middle of writing this, Tim Paine steps down as captain for Australia.
Whether Australia will be better without Tim Paine as captain is another debate for another time, but it sure does throw a spanner into the works for the side’s Ashes preparations.