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The Ashes: How the urn will be won - the case for Australia and England

20 November 2017 16:00

The Ashes are almost upon us, and with the start of a new series comes the age-old arguments between rivalling Australian and English players, fans and pundits alike.

Joe Root's side are in possession of the urn, but the current skipper was sent home early in a 5-0 mauling when they last toured Australia.

Both sides seem to be unsure of their best XI at this late stage, while the tourists have been ravaged by injury in the build-up to the series.

As the battle for the little urn draws nearer, Dejan Kalinic, from Melbourne, and Leeds-based Matthew Scott look at the key issues from either side of the argument.

 

"BRISBANE IS A TOUGH WAY TO START ANY SERIES, JUST ASK STEVE HARMISON."

DK: Home, sweet home. Australia always take some stopping in their own backyard, and that is particularly the case in the Ashes.

Australia have won six of the past seven series at home, including two 5-0 whitewashes, and are hot favourites to reclaim the urn.

And offer that opportunity to captain Steve Smith and star batsman David Warner and the tourists have plenty to worry about.

For Smith in particular, the numbers tell a story.

The superstar right-hander is the world's top-ranked Test batsman and averages 59.66 in the five-day format with 20 centuries. That average improves to 68.65 for Tests in Australia.

While huge question marks remain over the spot at number six – Shaun Marsh has never convinced – and Cameron Bancroft is unproven but in form, Australia have quite the platform to build from with Smith and Warner.

Warner remains the most destructive batsman in the game and is capable of turning a match in a session, and he (47.94 average) too much prefers home (59.21).
 

MS: Australia's key batsmen have fearsome records on their own turf, that cannot be denied.

However, the up-turn in form of England's key men since the mauling of 2013-14 is enough to get me interested in the series.

Since that fateful debacle: Root averages 59.83, Jonny Bairstow has scored each of his three Test hundreds, Alastair Cook remains metronomic at opener and Moeen Ali has developed into the lower-middle order dasher capable of masking many of the ills above him in the order.

Mark Stoneman's main criticism in the summer was his one-paced approach, but a watchful method in Australia against the Kookaburra ball could result in the kind of runs that Cook, Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott hoarded in 2010-11.

The selection of James Vince at three, given his propensity to nick off in his last Test run, does seem strange, but there is no denying that he has the kind of attacking temperament that could take games away if things somehow click into place.

 

"LEHMANN'S DETERMINATION TO PICK A BATSMAN AT SIX COULD BACKFIRE."

MS: If 2010-11 taught us anything, it's that victory in Brisbane is not required to turn the Australian public against their team.

Grind the flimsy lacquer off that Kookaburra ball and ride out Mitchell Starc's early efforts and England are then in business. Darren Lehmann's determination to pick a batsman, rather than bowling all-rounder, at six could backfire big style if England can dig in early on.

Lehmann has already confirmed he expects Smith to get through some leg-spin, despite his captain's desire to not bowl.

Once we get to Adelaide, James Anderson and Stuart Broad should have big fun if the swinging conditions of previous day-night matches are replicated.

Australia's batsmen have shown a clear weakness against the moving ball in England - how many catches has David Warner spooned to mid-on on Ashes tours?
 

DK: A day-night Test in Adelaide provides England's seamers with the chance to do some damage, but they may already be 1-0 down.

Australia at the Gabba? Daunting. The hosts are unbeaten there in Tests since 1988. The last time England won a Test there? 1986.

Brisbane is a tough way to start any series for a touring side, just ask Steve Harmison. Former England captain Michael Vaughan suggested the first Test may be decisive – and the tourists will be in huge trouble if they are beaten.

And for all the fun England's seamers may have under lights at Adelaide, so will Starc and Josh Hazlewood.

In three day-night Tests, the pace duo have combined to take 34 wickets.

Starc is dangerous at the best of times, but his average under lights is 22.75. Hazlewood's is 20.33. Australia have already played three day-night Tests – all at home and two in Adelaide, and all victories – while England's only outing was at Edgbaston, against West Indies.

Sure, Anderson and Broad will also enjoy the conditions, but the former in particular has rarely enjoyed Australia and is yet to take a Test five-for in the country with a bowling average of 38.44 – well below his career 27.39. And, while Anderson did not play, England took just one wicket in a day – against a Cricket Australia XI – on the final day of their last tour match. Matthew Short and Jason Sangha, the latter an 18-year-old playing his second first-class match, scored centuries.

 

"THERE ARE AS MANY QUESTION MARKS OVER AUSTRALIA'S XI AS ENGLAND'S"

DK: Serious question marks remain over England's batting heading into the first Test, with plenty of inexperience in the line-up.

Australia have similar issues. Only Bancroft pushed his case with Sheffield Shield runs, so much so that the selectors turned to Marsh again at six.

The big problem behind the stumps also went unsolved to open the Shield season. Matthew Wade is out of form and Peter Nevill was also making few runs, leading to Tim Paine's call-up. Plenty like – or liked – Paine, but the 32-year-old was behind Wade as Tasmania's wicketkeeper. The issue for Australia is that it is difficult to argue for someone who definitely deserves a spot ahead of either Marsh or Paine so thin were runs at domestic level.

However, at home and with Smith, Warner, Starc and Hazlewood firing, plus England being without arguably their best player in Ben Stokes, Australia have all they need to reclaim the Ashes.
 

MS: "Agent Renshaw, come in. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to infiltrate the Australian line-up before the Ashes and then cause chaos to ensure the urn's safe delivery back to Blighty."

The Middlesbrough-born opener picked an inauspicious time to have his form drop through the floor, putting just as many question marks over Australia's XI as there may be in England's.

Cameron Bancroft may be a man in form, but a few of England's players will have seen plenty of him with a spell in the County Championship with Gloucestershire this year.

He made a huge chunk of his 685 Division Two runs in one match against Kent and struggled in two games against Stuart Broad's Nottinghamshire.

Shaun Marsh has made two runs in his Test career against England. Tim Paine? NEXT.

For all the talk around England's uncertainty in the batting, Vince is the only new face in the top seven - although it is of course shorn of Stokes - with Stoneman and Dawid Malan appearing to settle into their roles as the English summer went on.

There is of course, the not-so small issue of Stokes' absence. As the days drag on it seems increasingly unlikely that the all-rounder will make the trip. Replacing him with a bowler is smart, Chris Woakes' return should give him the chance to shine with the bat, which should be well-received by a man with nine first-class hundreds.

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