The Investec Ashes 2015
The fates of David Warner and Jos Buttler vital to either side
Hurrah, the build up is finally over! The sledging, the predictable interviews and all the nonsense that goes with an Ashes series build up is almost complete – It’s time to bring on the cricket!!
Australia will start as slight favourites, due to their superior fast bowling depth, but only slight favourites. A tight series waits between two sides that are not by all means finished articles. England is still a side in transition while Australia still has a few worries with their batting and the age of their squad.
Like the beginning of most Ashes campaigns there remain plenty of questions to be answered for both sides.
Will England walk the talk and play with the aggression and freedom they have promised and that they showed in their recent ODI series with New Zealand?
They certainly have the players in their side to go with this new philosophy brought about by a combination of a new coaching set up, some new blood and a mimicking of a Brendan McCullum-led New Zealand. If they are to go with this new theory then they will need huge contributions from their attack-minded middle order of Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler.
Buttler could well be the key player for England. If you look at the way in which Brad Haddin outperformed Matt Prior in the 5-0 whitewash eighteen months ago, you could say after destruction caused by Mitchell Johnson, the way that Haddin rescued the Australians with counterattacking innings was the defining moment of the series. Buttler could well be that man for England.
Despite playing just eight Tests since being fast tracked into the side to replace the injured Matt Prior, Buttler has made a promising start to his career with the bat in particular. He has the ability to play not just the swashbuckling innings that he is renowned for in one day cricket but to get his head down in times of need and pace a ‘proper’ Test innings. This was evident during his most recent Test innings where he scored a rearguard 147-ball knock of 73, as others around him simply threw their wickets away.
But of course with his exploits in ODI cricket in the past year, the hundreds against Sri Lanka and New Zealand of course stand out; he has the ability and talent to take the game away from the opposition in Test cricket too, much in the way that Adam Gilchrist used to for Australia. Another bonus for Buttler is that he has Moeen Ali behind him in the batting order at number eight. This should allow Buttler even more freedom, knowing that he has a batsman who has made his living in county cricket as a number three, below him in the order.
Like England, questions still remain for Australia. How will Steve Smith react to batting at number three in English conditions is a question that has been flying around in the media for the past few weeks, but equally important is how David Warner will go about his business conquering both James Anderson and Stuart Broad with the new cherry in their hands.
Warner is certainly coming into the series a more compact and mature cricketer than the one who arrived on English shores two years ago and made the headlines first by having a twitter row with two Australian journalists and then by punching Joe Root after a Champions Trophy defeat in Birmingham.
Warner’s game has improved massively to the point that it’s hard to look past him, alongside an inform Alastair Cook and India’s Murali Vijay as the world’s top opening batsman. But while he remains a superb player on the fast and bouncy wickets found in Australia and South Africa, opening the batting in overcast English conditions remains a different kettle of fish.
Warner must find the correct balance between his batting with gay abandon approach and the caution required to succeed in England. If he is to do this, then forget Smith, Warner – with his ability to take the game away from the opposition in just a session, could well be Australia’s key batsman in the series.
Another key battle that could go some way to deciding the winner of the Ashes is the fates of the veteran pair Michael Clarke and Ian Bell. After both making their Test debuts in 2004 the pair now aged 33 and 34 respectfully are the only survivors from what was perhaps the greatest Ashes series of them all ten years ago and it’s not inconceivable that it could be their final campaigns against their old foes.
They have both played 110 Test matches and between them they have scored almost sixteen thousand Test runs to go with fifty Test hundreds and unlike many current batsman on either side, they have the experience of having performed in previous Ashes campaigns.
Clarke has seven Ashes hundreds to his name, while Bell has four – including three in the series between the sides two years ago, a campaign in which he went on to become the player of the series.
But while both men remain vital to their sides, their current form remains a concern. Clarke has averaged just 30 in the last year and has had serious back and hamstring injuries which have affected his ability to play long innings in the middle, he has been replaced by Smith as the sides best batsman and one wonders how long it will be until he is replaced by the younger man as the teams captain. He did spend vital time in the middle against Essex in the last warm up fixture at Chelmsford, where he scored 71 and will be confident he can return to lead his side with the crucial runs he has scored in the past.
For Bell it’s a similar story. Despite scoring a hundred in the first innings of the first Test during his side’s tour of the West Indies in April and May, it has been a lean time with the willow in hand. His recent Test scores read: 11, 1, 0, 0, 1, 29, 12 and 1. Like Clarke with Smith, he too has been replaced as his Country’s premier batsman by the emergence of Joe Root. Bell though still has plenty to offer this England side which includes plenty of youth and not a whole lot of experience. Alongside his captain, Bell has to step up as a senior batsman especially as the side step away from the era which included Kevin Pietersen and Jonathon Trott in the middle order.
There was talk of England including Adil Rashid in their side as an extra spin option alongside Moeen Ali, but with recent weather in Cardiff keeping the pitch wet and damp that idea will now be put on the backburner. It remains likely that they will go in with the same side that played the two Test matches against New Zealand earlier in the summer with Mark Wood getting the final seamers spot ahead of the recalled Steven Finn.
For Australia, the retirement of Ryan Harris means that its likely they will go in with the same bowling line up that they used in Jamaica last month, meaning Josh Hazelwood and Mitchell Starc with start alongside England’s tormentor of eighteen months ago Mitchell Johnson. With the current grass on the wicket, there has been talk that Clarke will go into the match with four seamers but it seems unlikely that Peter Siddle with get the nod ahead of spinner Nathan Lyon.
Elsewhere, Shane Watson looks to have won the all-rounder’s spot ahead of the younger Mitchell Marsh. Watson’s bowling is seen as the stronger between the two especially in English conditions and he will be given at least the first Test as the current incumbent in the side.
England: 1. Cook, 2. Lyth, 3. Ballance, 4. Bell, 5. Root, 6. Stokes, 7. Buttler, 8. Moeen Ali, 9. Broad, 10. Wood, 11. Anderson.
Australia: 1. Rogers, 2. Warner, 3. Smith, 4. Clarke, 5. Voges, 6. Watson, 7. Haddin, 8. Johnson, 9. Starc, 10. Hazelwood, 11. Lyon.