Building up to Edgbaston: The Ashes

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Steve Smith after scoring a century at The Oval during the 2015 Ashes series. (Photo by: Sam Ferris)

The World Cup is over, but the real contest we’ve all been waiting for is almost here.

The 2019 Ashes series begins on Thursday as Australia looks to retain the urn against an English side that is fresh off of a World Cup triumph.

England’s controversial yet gripping victory over New Zealand in the World Cup final at Lord’s ensured one thing, that the whole of England would be riding a wave of momentum into the first test against the Australians.

That wave may have since halted slightly, when England were bowled out by 85 in under a session during their standalone test match against Ireland last week; although in the end they did eventually manufacture a victory.

The news of the England cricket team being dismissed for 85 was wonderful to Australian cricket fans, and despite the fact they escaped with a win, it will certainly ensure the English reassess things before the opening ball is bowled at Edgbaston on day one of the first test.

Australia are hunting their first ashes victory in England since 2001, and whilst the Australian XI still isn’t settled, this is certainly a winnable series for the Aussies.

The announcement of the Ashes squad came last Friday and it features an ensemble of fast bowlers along with some in form batsmen that are looking to work their way back into the Aussie side from the test wilderness.

Well over a year since the events of Cape Town, Cameron Bancroft is on the road to redemption, and his recent form sees him in the frame to partner David Warner at the top of the order in the opening test, it will seemingly boil down to a decision between him and Marcus Harris – who looked promising over Australia’s home summer.

If incumbent number three Usman Khawaja is unfit however, they could select both, it really is anyone’s guess which way the selectors will move.

Matthew Wade’s inclusion in the squad means he may finally get an opportunity to pull on the baggy green again almost two years since his last test, this time as a specialist batsmen, and he’s made enough runs over the past couple of seasons to warrant another chance.

The addition of stars Warner and Steve Smith following their lengthy bans adds the run-scoring prowess and experience that the Aussies will sorely need on the challenging pitches in England; there is no question that they will need a huge series from former captain Smith.

Travis Head impressed over the Australian summer and he should slot in at number five in the batting order, and it will be the performances of players like him that will be crucial to Australia’s success.

It’s also a huge series for wicket keeper/captain Tim Paine, captaining his first Ashes series, he’s yet to make a test hundred and there would be no better timing than in an Ashes series against the old enemy.

The pace attack Australia will roll out at Edgbaston is where it gets really interesting, they have an abundance of choices and whilst it is a great dilemma to have – it will surely create a headache at selection.

Pat Cummins is arguably Australia’s most important cricketer now and he’s been outstanding for his country over the past couple of years – he’s the number one test bowler in the world and he’s a certainty to feature at Edgbaston.

Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have been the other two bowlers who have taken the new ball for the Aussies in recent times.

The x-factor of Starc makes him a huge threat, but the accurate line and length bowling of Hazlewood could excel in English conditions.

The forgotten man of Australia’s fast bowling stocks is spearhead James Pattinson.

Pattinson, 29, is back fit and firing after a number of injury setbacks that have stopped him from fulfilling his potential in the test arena.

Along with the four express pace options the Aussies have, 64-test veteran Peter Siddle also gives the Aussies another fast bowling option along with the uncapped Michael Neser who’s been labelled as the bolter into Australia’s squad.

You expect Australia to roll out three of Cummins, Starc, Hazlewood or Pattinson for the opening test alongside Nathan Lyon – and whoever misses out from that quartet of fast bowlers can consider themselves unlucky.

Then there are the all-rounders, we know that the selectors love picking an all-rounder and there’s a good chance we will see Mitchell Marsh or Marnus Labuschagne during this series – if not both.

The Aussie selectors have loved the proposition of Marsh for years now, yet he’s failed to deliver on his promise, whilst Labuschagne has shown he’s got the temperament for test cricket.

The English pitches are likely to be lively, and that’s where the Aussie batsmen will be tested, this series will not be won on good performances from Australia’s two best batsmen in Warner and Smith alone.

Whilst the Aussies haven’t won an Ashes series in England for almost two decades, a series victory against England is certainly not unattainable.

England’s top order isn’t as experienced as it has been in the previous Ashes series, and a lot still rests on the shoulders of captain Joe Root and star bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

England are only ranked one position higher than Australia in the ICC Test Rankings at number four.

The first test at Edgbaston will be huge for the Aussies, a win will have them head to Lord’s for the second test with some momentum, whilst going down 1-0 on enemy soil will have them under some early heat.

We shouldn’t expect too many drawn matches if the English wickets offer as much assistance to the bowlers as has been anticipated, which really does bode for some exciting and entertaining test cricket.

England will be eyeing some revenge after their 4-0 defeat in the last Ashes series of 2017-18 in Australia, but an Ashes victory in England would be immense for an Australian team that has been engulfed in so much turmoil over the past 16 months.

Australian Squad: Tim Paine (c), Travis Head (vc), Patrick Cummins (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.

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