Fallible batting line-ups set to be at the mercy of formidable pace units as English conditions will likely ensure a series for the bowlers.
And so, the Ashes have arrived again. With cricket very much in the public spotlight once more, the sport’s greatest rivalry is set to resume in Birmingham on Thursday morning – just a mere 18 days after England lifted their first World Cup on home soil.
Because of that home World Cup, the 2019 version of the Ashes is very much cricket in the fast lane with five Tests – spread across four cities – arriving in just six weeks.
And with such a short turnaround between matches, this series could well hinge on how each side handles their squad rotation and fast bowling depth.
With the English wickets expected to offer plenty of swing and seam, coupled with the obvious batting frailties on either side, it looms as a low scoring series set to be dominated by the ball.
Thankfully for each side they’re stacked in that department. Between them England and Australia have both opted to include six front line seamers in their respective squads.
England will again rely on the evergreen pair of James Anderson and Stuart Broad as chief destroyers alongside the dependable Chris Woakes, the all-round package of Sam Curran and the new speed merchants Jofra Archer and Ollie Stone.
While Australia have the veteran UK specialist Peter Siddle, the World Cup’s leading wicket taker Mitchell Starc, the ever-reliable Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, and are rounded off with the hustling seam of Michael Neser and the trump card James Pattinson.
After almost five years of frustration, Australia finally has the ‘Big Four’ of Cummins, Hazlewood, Pattinson and Starc all fit and available for selection. This, once distant, dream dates back to late 2014 when Hazlewood was the last of the quartet to make his Test debut.
A combination of injuries, both minor and serious, have meant that, until now, the four have never simultaneously been available. However, with Hazlewood having recovered from the back injury that’s ruled him out since January and Pattinson also seemingly over his own back troubles, they suddenly have an abundance of riches.
Now the visitors must stick to the fundamentals of succeeding in English climes and pick accordingly to the varying conditions. Their 2019 squad make-up suggests they have learnt plenty of lessons from their flawed 2015 Ashes campaign.
After a successful 2013-14 campaign, in which a fiery Mitchell Johnson blow England away, Australia entered English shores in 2015 intent on following a similar pathway.
However, although a pre-tour career ending injury to Ryan Harris scuppered their plans somewhat, an attack of Johnson, Starc and an off-colour Hazlewood was quickly found out across the series despite Johnson’s match winning contribution at Lords.
The 2015 surfaces of Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, in particular, were crying out for the wiles of Siddle, however he was only turned to once the series was already decided in England’s favour.
Siddle, now entering his twilight at 34, is again included in the touring party. And after a successful recent spell in county cricket with Essex, where he’s reaped 34 Championship wickets at 20.08, he’s likely to play a larger role from the get-go this time around.
With Pattinson and Cummins already etched into the starting XI for Edgbaston, Siddle’s in a three-way battle with Hazlewood and Starc for the remaining seamers role.
For England there were similar dilemmas regarding the third seamers role. With Anderson and Broad already certain to begin the series, Woakes has edged out Archer for the final spot.
With his strong Edgbaston connections and figures of 6-17 against Ireland last week, Woakes was the obvious candidate for the role, however, Archer’s inclusion is likely to come later in the series.
Despite a fine start to his international career, Archer has been carrying a slight side injury since his World Cup final exploits and is also short of red-ball practice, having not played a first-class match for ten months.
In the batting, Australia must decide whether Marcus Harris or Cameron Bancroft will open the batting alongside David Warner. Despite Harris being the incumbent, it’s likely that Bancroft will get the nod after his steady runscoring feats with Durham and match-winning contribution of 93 not out in the Australian inter-squad match last week.
England captain Joe Root has already confirmed that he will swap places with Joe Denly in the order and bat at number three. After pressure from parts of the English media and also his coach Trevor Bayliss, Root has decided to make the jump to add more experience to a top three also containing Surrey pair Rory Burns and Jason Roy – who have a combined eight Tests between them.
So, where does this leave us?
England are perhaps slight favourites at this stage with home conditions taken into account and the simple fact that not many current Australian batsmen are very equipped at playing the moving ball.
However, England’s own frailties in the batting department will concern them too. While they pride themselves on batting all the way down to number 10, their top order is a serious worry. After getting bundled out for 85 on a green Lords wicket by 37-year-old county stalwart Tim Murtagh – there are plenty of issues to iron out.
Burns is averaging just 22.28 after 14 Test innings and Denly isn’t fairing much better with 24.16 across six innings. It’s beginning to appear that a lot will rest on Roy’s ability to transform his limited overs form into the Test arena as England continue their long quest to replace Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook at the top of the order.
Keep an eye on:
Now 29, Pattinson’s only previous Ashes experience was as far back as six years ago when he played in the opening two Tests of the 2013 Ashes series before breaking down with yet another unfortunate injury setback.
After career-threatening back surgery in late 2017, Pattinson has finally returned to his fearsome best this summer during a county spell at Nottinghamshire and the recent Australia A fixtures.
While its doubtful he will play in all five matches, Pattinson’s ability to swing and seam the ball at high speed whilst also offering control will make him a tough proportion to face for the English batsmen.
While England have a number of talented batsmen in their ranks, only Root can claim to be truly world class.
After stating for much of the past year that he prefers to bat at number four, Root has finally budged and moved up one.
The number three spot has been problematic for England ever since Jonathan Trott departed from the international scene in 2015 and despite Root averaging 40.47 batting there instead of the 48.00 he averages at four, it’s a decision made with the best interests of the team at heart.
How Root handles the responsibility of captaincy with the added burden of batting at first drop will likely define the series.
A strong and athletically gifted right-arm fast bowler capable of touching the 90mph barrier, Henry Brookes rose to promise for Warwickshire last summer before a stress-fracture to his back put his fledgling career on hold in mid-July.
By that point, the then 18-year-old had already received a maiden callup to train with the England Lions setup despite having appeared in only six first-class fixtures. Since making his Championship debut in late 2017, he’s captured 21 wickets at 21.38 and looked set to make further strides before his 2018 ending injury.
Also, a capable lower-order batsman – he’s registered two fifties in just eight first-class innings – Brookes has made a huge impression on former Warwickshire sport director, and current England director of cricket Ashley Giles in his so-far nascent career.
The Solihull-born teenager has been with the Midlands county since he was just nine-years-old and recently reaffirmed his commitment to the cause by signing a new contract in December, keeping him at Edgbaston until after the 2021 season.
A former regular with the England U19’s before breaking into the Warwickshire senior setup, he also impressed in both limited-overs formats last summer and looks set for a long and fruitful career for both county and country.
What 2019 holds in store?
Brookes has recently returned to full training and has participated in warm-up matches during Warwickshire’s pre-season tour of Abu Dhabi.
It’s likely that his workload will be managed early season to aid his still-developing body back to full fitness after suffering such a serious back injury.
With former England assistant coach Paul Farbrace replacing Giles as sport director with an emphasis on developing more youth at Edgbaston, Brookes can be expected to make more strides in 2019, especially with Chris Woakes likely to be unavailable for most of the summer and fellow club stalwarts Keith Barker and Chris Wright having recently left for pastures new.
New bowling reinforcements have arrived in the form of Gloucestershire pair Craig Miles and Liam Norwood, while Ollie Stone should shortly return from his own injury issues to bolster the newly promoted side.
But while Division One opponents and pitches will be a step up for Brookes, there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue his rapid rise and work his way back into England Lions consideration during the summer.
Ben Charlesworth (18) – Gloucestershire
A prodigiously talented 18-year-old seam-bowling allrounder, Ben Charlesworth provided a shining light at the end of a disappointing 2018 summer for Gloucestershire.
Taking time out from his A-Level studies at St Edwards School in Oxford, Charlesworth made his first-class bow in August aged just 17. Despite scoring just 1 and 5 and failing to take a wicket on his debut against Warwickshire, it wasn’t long before he began to turn heads in Bristol.
In just his second fixture against Leicestershire, he took the winning wicket with his first delivery of the match and took that confidence into his next match against Middlesex, where he scored a composed first-innings 77 not out and followed it up by taking 3-25 from 13 tight overs with the ball.
In scoring his maiden Championship fifty he became the youngest Gloucestershire player to do so in over 70 years. He soon followed it up with another, when he scored 72 against Glamorgan in Cardiff in another match that his side managed to win.
Although predominantly seen as a bowler first and a batsman second (He batted at seven and eight throughout his six Championship matches for Gloucestershire) It’s his batting that has impressed the most during his blossoming young career.
Following a strong finish to the County season, Charlesworth took his form into the winter with the England U19 side during their tour of Bangladesh.
After making 115 out of a total of 203 in the third YODI he scored 188 runs at 47.00 across the two Youth Tests including first-innings scores of 99 and 63 whilst opening the batting.
What 2019 holds in store?
Having enjoyed a fruitful winter with the England U19’s and also signing a new three-year professional contract with Gloucestershire in October, the future looks bright for Charlesworth.
With Miles and Norwood moving to Warwickshire and fellow seam-bowling allrounder Kieran Noema-Barnett having returned to New Zealand, the first team opportunities are likely to remain for Charlesworth as the summer progresses.
In the meantime, he’ll continue to balance his time between the Gloucestershire First and Second XI’s and his school commitments as shown recently when he skipped the County’s pre-season tour of La Manga to concentrate on his studies.
Jamie Smith (18) – Surrey
A modern-day wicketkeeper batsman with all the strokes, Jamie Smith recently enjoyed a memorable first-class debut for Surrey during their County Champion Match at the ICC Academy in Dubai.
After impressing behind the stumps with a stumping, a catch and a run out, Smith then hit 127 in his maiden first-class knock. Batting at number six, he put on 266 with Ollie Pope for the fifth wicket.
It certainly didn’t go unnoticed that Smith forged such a hefty partnership with Pope – a man he one day hopes to emulate. A fellow wicketkeeper-batsman, Pope made his first-class debut for Surrey in 2017, aged 19 and was representing England at Test cricket just a year later.
Like Pope, Smith is an innovative and attacking batsman capable of playing a variety of diverse innings across the different formats.
Born in Epsom and educated at nearby Whitgift School, he has featured for Surrey since under 10 level and made his T20 debut against fierce rival Middlesex at a packed Lords last summer.
He went onto play a further match against Kent in July before enjoyed success with the England U19 during their winter tour of Bangladesh.
After a pair of low scores in the first Youth Test he relinquished the gloves for the second and scored 90 and 104 batting at number three.
What 2019 holds in store?
With recently jettisoned England wicketkeeper Ben Foakes due to return as the Championship season nears, Smith is certain to again relinquish the gloves and fight for a batting spot in the middle order.
Despite his debut hundred he’s certainly not guaranteed a place in the first XI and it’s likely he’ll be fighting with fellow youngsters Will Jacks and Ryan Patel and new signing Jordan Clark for the final batting spot at number six/seven as the defending County champions retain great strength in depth going into 2019.
However, with injuries and international callups expected throughout the summer, Smith will likely see some first team action across the three formats as well as time representing the Surrey Second XI and club side Sutton CC of the Surrey Premier League.
Liam Trevaskis (19) – Durham
Spinning allrounder Liam Trevaskis shot to fame in a T20 match against Lancashire last August when he took three wickets and defended six runs off the final over to bowl Durham to victory.
Seen largely as a batsman who also bowls some slow left-arm spinners, he’d hitherto taken only one wicket in his prior seven T20 matches leading in, so when he took 4-16 on that Manchester evening it was quite the unexpected coup for Durham.
Carlisle-born and raised in nearby Penrith, the 19-year-old made his T20 and first-class debuts in 2017. However, he’s yet to add to his solitary Championship appearance earned against Worcestershire in September 2017 – despite being named in a several squads throughout 2018.
His spin bowling progressed last summer after having worked with South African legspinner Imran Tahir – who was over representing the Durham Jets in the Vitality Blast and he now has genuine hopes of playing as an allrounder across all formats.
Trevaskis also experienced England U19 honours during the 2017 summer; where he opened the batting in a YODI series against India with reasonable success.
What 2019 holds in store?
With new management at Durham, (Marcus North as Director of Cricket and James Franklin as head coach) Trevaskis could see more first-team action.
He was left out during the recent MCC Universities match against Durham MCCU in favour of the more experienced Ryan Pringle, but he’s likely to rival Pringle for the spinning-allrounder role in the Championship side.
Opportunities for a debut in the Royal London one-day cup are also likely to be forthcoming with Durham kicking off their tournament against Northamptonshire on April 17th.
Perhaps pigeonholed as more of a limited-overs player at this stage of his career, Trevaskis will no doubt look for more openings in the longer format as the summer progresses. In the meantime, he’ll continue to represent the county’s Second XI and South Northumberland CC in the North East Premier League.
Ethan Bamber (20) – Middlesex
A right-arm fast bowler who burst onto the County scene last summer, Ethan Barber impressed with 28 wickets at 20.25 for Middlesex spread across his initial six first-class appearances.
The former England U19 standout made his first-class debut against Northants in August and was a mainstay through to the conclusion of the season, taking a career best of 4-81 against Gloucestershire.
The son of two actors (David Bamber and Julia Swift) and a current Theology student at the University of Exeter, Bamber isn’t your usual run-of-the-mill cricketer.
The Westminster-born youngster, who turned 20 in December, was a late starter to the game after his brother, seven years his senior, had taught him in the family garden and he only began taking it more seriously when he first represented Middlesex at U15 level.
Just a few years later he was playing at the U19 World Cup in New Zealand where he finished England’s joint leading wicket taker with eight wickets in four matches at 13.50 apiece.
What 2019 holds in store?
Middlesex are once again stacked in the fast bowling department with onetime England pair Steven Finn and Toby Roland-Jones both fit again after long-term injuries and the evergreen Tim Murtagh still going strong at 37, that’s before mentioning the likes of James Harris, Tom Helm and Martin Andersson who all contributed last summer.
With such bowling options, Middlesex are firm favourites to gain promotion back to Division One. However, Bamber looks certain to be relegated back to the Second XI while he continues his studies.
Although he impressed in the most part during his maiden summer, he also lacked consistency – as to be expected for any young bowler, but his development will certainly be aided by the presence of new bowling coach Dimitri Mascarenhas.
Jack Haynes (18) – Worcestershire
A highly-rated young batsman who Worcestershire have great hopes for to eventually replace another prize batting asset in Joe Clarke who joined Nottinghamshire in the offseason.
The right-handed Haynes – whose father Gavin made 100 first-class appearances for Worcestershire in the 1990’s – made his Worcestershire List-A debut against a touring West Indian A side last June, scoring 33 in a narrow defeat.
Shortly after his debut he signed his first professional contract to stay at New Road until after the 2020 season and has continued to be closely mentored by Academy coach Elliot Wilson.
After making his Second XI debut in 2017, he was given further opportunities to develop in the seconds last summer where he scored a match-winning 131 against Notts in the Second Eleven Trophy.
A former captain of the England U16 side, he made his international U19 debut against South Africa last July playing two Youth Tests and two YODI’s with a top score of 74.
He was then named in the Young Lions training camp during the winter – where he briefly worked with former England batsman Ian Bell at the ECB high performance centre in Loughborough – but didn’t make the 15-man squad that went onto tour Bangladesh.
What 2019 holds in store?
Haynes looks set to complete his studies with Malvern College in Worcester before then joining the club on a fulltime basis later in the summer.
Back in Division Two of the Championship, Worcestershire have re-shuffled the coaching setup with Alex Gidman now in charge of the first-team and Kevin Sharp returning to the seconds.
Sharp, who gave Haynes his Second XI debut in 2017, is again likely to have a positive impact on his fledgling career this summer with the 18-year-old primed for plenty more playing time.
Although Clarke has left and Moeen Ali will be absent for long stretches, it’s unlikely that Haynes will immediately oust experienced campaigners like Callum Ferguson, Rikki Wessels and Brett D’Oliveira from the side. He is though, expected to rival fellow rookies Ollie Westbury, Josh Dell and Alex Milton for some playing time across the three formats.
And with a three-day tour match against Australia pencilled in for early August, expect Haynes to feature. He’s also set to continue playing for Ombersley CC in the Birmingham and District Premier Cricket League throughout the summer.
Adam Finch (18) – Worcestershire
Like Haynes, right-arm fast bowler Adam Finch is another great example of the excellent work done by the Worcestershire Academy in developing their own talent in recent years.
The promising 18-year-old only turned to cricket at 14 when he was asked to make up the numbers in a soft-ball match, just three years later he was representing his country in the 2018 U19 World Cup in New Zealand.
Finch has often been praised by the County’s hierarchy for his fantastic work ethic and willingness to learn as well as the vast improvements he’s made to his tall physique.
Under the tutelage of bowling coach and former Pears seamer Alan Richardson, Finch has recently followed fellow young quicks Ed Barnard, Josh Tongue, Pat Brown, George Scrimshaw and Dillon Pennington into the Worcestershire setup.
He made his England U19 debut against India in 2017 after impressing in his first few outings for the Worcestershire Second XI – where he took 5-19 against Yorkshire seconds.
A regular for the England U19 side since his 2017 debut, he impressed with match figures of 8-69 against his South African counterparts in a Youth Test last summer and also represented the team during their winter tour of Bangladesh.
The next step of his development will be to break into the Worcestershire first XI.
What 2019 holds in store?
Worcestershire have recently signed former South African seamer Wayne Parnell to a Kolpak contract to replace the retiring Steve Magoffin – pushing Finch further down the ranks behind Barnard, Tongue, Brown and the currently injured pair Pennington and captain Joe Leech who are both due to return to bowling soon.
Finch and 21-year-old Scrimshaw – who missed all of 2018 with a stress-fracture – will likely be pushing for a reserve roll alongside Charlie Morris who also remains on the fringes of the first-team squad.
Finch remains very highly thought of at New Road and a first-team debut looks imminent after he was involved in many of the County’s pre-season fixtures.
Tom Lammonby (18) – Somerset & Devon
Allrounder Tom Lammonby, a left-handed batsman and left-arm fast bowler, has yet to make his Somerset first-team debut, but big things are expected in the West Country.
Despite not yet having represented Somerset, Lammonby, who doesn’t turn 19 until June, has plenty of other cricketing experience to fall back on.
Last summer he scored three consecutive hundreds for Devon CCC in the Minor Counties League – becoming the first player to achieve the feat for Devon, while he also spent time representing the University of Exeter alongside former England U19 teammate Ethan Bamber of Middlesex.
He certainly didn’t have 2018 all his own way though, as a couple of untimely injuries cost him dear on the international front. Firstly, he suffered a broken hand in the nets which ruled him out of England’s U19 World Cup squad in the winter before he injured his heel when due to captain the U19’s against South Africa in July. He did, however return to skipper the side against Bangladesh recently with mixed fortunes.
Born and raised in Devon, he joined the Somerset Academy in 2015 before signing a two-year professional contract in June 2018 and scoring his first Second XI hundred against The Unicorns.
What 2019 holds in store?
Somerset are not averse to giving youth a chance when they believe the timing is right. Recent examples include Dom Bess, Eddie Byrom, George Bartlett and Tom Banton who have all debuted for the County in the past few years.
Lammonby will have to initially bide his time for first-team opportunities in 2019 as fellow youngsters Byrom, Bartlett and Banton and experienced campaigners like Steven Davies, James Hildreth and Tom Abell and Lewis Gregory all remain ahead of him on the depth chart.
He did, however, recently spent time with the first-team squad during their pre-season tour of Abu Dhabi before taking his place back in the Second XI for their friendly game against Gloucestershire. So, a First XI callup might not be out of the question this summer.
In the meanwhile, he will keep looking to represent the England U19 side along with his Second XI commitments and fixtures for Devon CCC and club side Exeter CC of the Devon Cricket League.
Jack Plom (19) – Essex
A right-arm opening bowler of genuine pace, Jack Plom could well become the next bright young thing to graduate from the Essex academy.
The 19-year-old joined the academy at 15 after current England bowling coach Chris Silverwood, then Essex assistant coach, identified him at a local U15 tournament.
Now he’s looking to join the likes of Aaron Beard, Sam Cook and Dan Lawrence who have all impressed at Chelmsford after making their first-team bows in recent summers.
The Basildon-born Plom made his first-class debut against Cambridge MCCU in early 2018 but did not bat or bowl in a weather affected match, however, he’ll be looking for further opportunities in 2019.
After taking 18 wickets in seven Second Eleven Championship fixtures last summer with a best of 6-33, he signed his first professional contract with Essex in October – committing his future to the County Ground until after the 2020 season.
He also impressed while representing the England U19’s against South Africa last summer where he topped the bowling charts in the Youth Test series with 12 wickets at 14.16.
What 2019 holds in store?
Plom looks set for another summer in and around Anthony McGrath’s first-team setup where he’ll relish the opportunity to work with former South African paceman Andre Nel who has joined as assistant and bowling coach.
He was recently involved in the club’s pre-season tour of Abu Dhabi where he played for a Combined XI against Somerset and took three wickets from his 10 overs.
Although, with such depth in the bowling department, he’s got plenty of hard work ahead to immediately dislodge the likes of Jamie Porter, Peter Siddle, Matt Coles, Matt Quinn, Beard, Cook and Paul Walter from the starting Championship XI.
However, with international callups and the inevitable injuries that plague fast bowlers, there are likely to be opportunities for Plom as the summer rides on, especially in the one-day formats.
George Balderson (18) – Lancashire
It wasn’t so long ago that fans of Lancashire and England were salivating over the talents of a young opening batsman by the name of Haseeb Hameed.
Hameed burst onto the scene three years ago and was representing England shortly after, but the weight of expectation and an enormous dip in form saw him average just 9.71 last summer.
So perhaps a more cautionary approach should be taken when championing the skills of another young opener in 18-year-old George Balderson.
The Stockport-born left-hander, who lists Alastair Cook as his cricketing idol, made excellent strides in the academy and Second XI setups last summer where he helped the County win the Second XI T20 competition despite missing several weeks with a hand injury.
After impressing when captaining the North in the ECB Super 4s, he made his England U19 debut against South Africa at Scarborough last July before being selected for the
Young Lions programme over the winter where he went onto play five times against Bangladesh U19s with a top score of 65.
Also, a useful right-arm fast bowler, he signed a two-year professional contract to stay at Old Trafford in December.
What 2019 holds in store?
Balderson was recently involved during Lancashire’s pre-season trip to Dubai where he took 3-37 against a UAE Men’s 1 side and he will officially join Lancashire fulltime at the conclusion of his A-Levels in June.
In the meantime, he’ll look to continue impressing head coach Glen Chapple, assistant Mark Chilton and the Second XI coaches as he looks to plot a pathway into the first-team setup.
That will be no mean feat though as Hameed, Joe Burns, Keaton Jennings, Alex Davies and Rob Jones are all vying for the top three spots and fellow youngster Josh Bohannon impressed in the allrounder’s role at the end of last season.
Balderson will continue to represent club side Hyde CC in the Cheshire County League where he hit 800 runs last summer.