The cricket calendar has been hit again by COVID issues with the Australia vs New Zealand Chappell-Hadlee series postponed indefinitely.
For Indian cricket fans like me, Ashes cricket had been a low-priority event for a long time.
From time to time events like Shane Warne’s ball of the century, Nasser Hussain’s decision at the toss or Mark Butcher’s Headingley century, among others, kept us glancing over the sports pages, but for neutral fans who grew up in the 1990s the one-sided nature of the contests failed to evoke any interest in the tournament.
It was the 2005 series that evoked the interest of many neutrals like me. From the second Test every week was filled with us basking in the performances of Steven Harmison, Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones and Matthew Hoggard giving a hard time to the Aussie juggernaut. It was also when the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and India’s rivalry with the Aussies had picked up steam.
These events came together and helped start my fascination for Ashes cricket.
In my two decades of Ashes watching I would rate the 2006 Aussie team and the 2010 English team as the best sides these nations have put together in that time. How I would love to see these two teams play against each other in a fantasy Ashes series.
So where do the Ashes 2021 teams stack up?
I’m a massive fan of Patrick Cummins, so no points for guessing which team I will support this Australian summer. Cummins leading the Australian team is an added incentive for me to follow this Ashes series closely.
The Australian bowling unit must be one of cricket’s most settled ever. Over many years the selectors have had no reasons to look past Patrick Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon for the starting XI. It must be frustrating for someone like Michael Neser or Jhye Richardson to sit on the sidelines waiting for their well-deserved opportunity. Neser could have been picked in the recently concluded Border-Gavaskar Trophy ahead of Starc.
The batting unit is where the relative poverty in talent is visible. Marnus Labuschagne, Steven Smith and David Warner are automatic picks. However, the fact that the same set of tried and tested batters like Travis Head, Marcus Harris and Usman Khawaja are being debated over for the other positions leaves me worried for the Australian batting bench.
I feel pretty bad that Will Pucovski, who showed good technique in the Sydney Test against India, is sidelined again due to a concussion. Thank God Shaun Marsh is still not in the reckoning. The debut of Alex Carey will hopefully add depth to the batting.
Cameron Green is a good prospect for the all-rounder spot, and he’ll get better on both sides of the game as he plays more cricket. I would love to see him bowl a bit faster or use his height better in his bowling or both. There is plenty of scope for Green to improve, and under a bowling captain he will get much better still.
My big worry from the Australian perspective is the lack of surprise element in this team. England have played against them frequently and know their strengths and weaknesses well. However, the big question is: will they exploit this familiarity with the team they have brought to Australian shores?
The news of Jimmy Anderson missing out on the Gabba Test must be a big blow for the English team. However, England does have a good mix of fast bowlers, like Stuart Broad, Ollie Robinson, Craig Overton and Mark Wood, to trouble the Aussies. These are tall bowlers who can hit the deck and seam the ball around. The new Kookaburra ball, introduced during the India series, has a more durable seam and should help the English cause.
Stuart Broad versus David Warner will be keenly watched. Ollie Robinson was brilliant against the Indians during the English summer. His bowling resembles that of Josh Hazlewood in every way. If Ollie bowls the way he did during that series, the Aussies will have a contest against the new ball.
I would play Jack Leach in every match during this series. Leach looked brilliant during the India series earlier this year. He seems to have worked with his coaches to give the ball a powerful rip, which will help him extract good spin and bounce on the Aussie wickets.
English batting, like the Aussies, is a significant area of concern for the team. This unit did not stand up well against the four-man Indian pace attack at home. The addition of Ben Stokes to the middle order might provide the much-needed solidity. However, the record of their batsmen in Australia is quite ordinary. The English mainstay, Joe Root, averages just 38 runs in Australia with no century, Ben Stokes averages 34 with just one century, Jonny Bairstow averages 27 with just one century. The rest of the batting unit have little or no experience of batting in Australia. So the English would want their bowlers to overcompensate in this series.
David Warner, Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood.
Joe Root, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Haseeb Hameed, Jack Leach, Dawid Malan, Ollie Pope, Ollie Robinson, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.