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Opinion

Likely highlights and predictions for the Ashes

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Roar Guru
6th December, 2021
13

There’s less than 48 hours to the first Test and like everyone who loves Test cricket, the next few days will seem to take forever, before the first ball is bowled.

Touch wood, weather doesn’t delay the start of play and rain doesn’t play too great a part in the outcome of that match.

Australia’s already named its XI for the Gabba and in reality, despite all manner of comments from supposed experts, it’s pretty much an expected side.

Mitch Starc was always going to play in both Brisbane and Adelaide, while Head had done plenty in red ball cricket with the bat since being dropped from the Test side last year. He’s clearly shown selectors he’d listened to their concerns and was capable of making big scores.

England, as the touring side, will not probably not name their starting XI until the toss in Brisbane, but it’s a certainty they’ll go with their strongest team which includes:

Rory Burns
Haseeb Hameed
Dawid Malan
Joe Root
Ollie Pope
Ben Stokes
Jos Buttler
Ollie Robinson
Stuart Broad
Mark Wood
Jimmy Anderson

There’s going to be some great cricket played in this series and I want to look at a few of the key players for both sides.

England’s openers – if they’re to be any chance in the series, England must get off to good starts with the bat. This is going to be tough to do for Burns and Hameed, not only because of Aussie attack, but because of the technique changes the England openers will have to make.

While England have played way more Test cricket than Australia in recent times, most of these games have been on pitches with low or no bounce. This has meant the openers in particular playing with “low hands”. This is a serious problem when it comes to Australian conditions and both need to adjust their bat height to cope with the increased bounce.

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Prediction – one or both openers will have a broken finger or hand in the series, but will still make at least one century opening partnership.

All eyes will be in Joe Root and Ben Stokes when it comes to making runs, but Malan and especially Pope, need to step up and have strong series.

If the openers fail, Malan needs to stop the rot quickly by playing as a true number three. He had a very good series four years ago and seems to enjoy batting in Australia.

Pope needs to prove that he really is a Test quality player. He’s soon turning 24 and has already played 20 Tests so it’s time for him to turn that youthful promise into runs, which I believe he’s more than capable of doing.

Prediction – both to improve their batting averages and both to score a hundred – Malan in Perth and Pope in Melbourne.

A lot of the talk since Ben Stokes joined the England squad, has been about how important he is to the England batting line-up, but in this series, his real importance is likely going to be with the ball.

Ben Stokes

Ben Stokes (Photo by Surjeet Yadav/Getty Images)

Chris Silverwood, selector supreme, seems to have little faith in either of his spin choices, so Leach and Bess should get used to wearing high-vis clothing.

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That being the case, Stokes will need to get quickly get used to bowling at least 15 or 20 overs per innings, to help out an attack I expect to bowl a lot more than 100 overs, in most Australian innings.

Prediction – Stokes will have a greater impact on the series with ball, rather than bat.

Other England predictions:
Ollie Robinson will struggle across the series. He’ll take no more than 15 wickets at an average in excess of 35.

England will only play a spinner in Sydney.

Joe Root will win more tosses than he loses, but will lose more Tests than he wins.

In the Australian camp, most will be looking for the usual suspects to have big series with the bat – Warner, Labuschagne and Smith, but I see this series as make or break for Marcus Harris and Travis Head.

Harris and Head don’t lack talent, nor do they lack the ability to make big first-class scores, but when it comes to Test cricket, they’ve had their chances and underwhelmed. It’s time both really lifted and I believe they will.

Prediction – Harris and Head will both have 400 run series.

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Cameron Green is a name barely mentioned in the current Test line-up, but he too needs to prove himself. He had a fair start to his career against India and will have gained a lot from the experience, especially when it comes to bowling.

Green initially made his reputation as a very good and quick bowler for WA, but has now mellowed into a better batsman but still a very useful fast-medium bowler.

Prediction – His efforts with the ball will be crucial to Australia’s success in this series. He’ll take only 5 – 8 wickets, but will take key wickets at key times – and he’ll score his first century.

There’s one match up I’m looking forward to; Alex Carey versus Jos Buttler – debutant versus Test veteran.

Prediction – no mucking around, Carey will have a better series with bat and gloves than Buttler because this is Test cricket.

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Most people will be watching the Australian attack and in particular Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc.

Cummins will be under the microscope because of his dual role as leader of the attack as well as leader of the team, while Starc will be under pressure because Shane Warne doesn’t like him.

The real bowlers under pressure will be Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon.

The Australian attack is well balanced. Hazlewood is a world-class bowler who quietly goes about his work, but always seems to either get wickets or concede few runs. He needs to stay healthy because he’s almost impossible to replace and if he doesn’t play most of the series, the attack becomes unbalanced.

The GOAT knows he’s under the pump, but as previously mentioned, if one or more parts of this attack are out of whack, it places huge pressure on the others to lift.

I don’t think he was in great form last summer and given Starc’s injuries, issues and form slump, it wasn’t surprising the Indian batsmen played Lyon relatively easily. I expect that to change in this series.

Prediction – no Australian bowler will dominate the series but Hazlewood and Lyon will be Australia’s two best bowlers.

Other Australian predictions
• Australia will only have to bat on a maximum of eight occasions in this series
• Smith and Labuschagne will have at least one partnership over 150
• Jhye Richardson will play at least two Tests
• Australian catching will significantly improve from last year; and
• The little urn will stay Down Under.

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