Following the 3-0 destruction of the Australians by the English side in the previous Ashes series earlier on this year the majority of pundits believe that this series will follow the same pattern with England running out easy winners. However I believe they could be surprised as the Aussie’s have had a much less frenetic build up to this series. In the build up to the previous series the Australian team encountered various distractions the most notable of which the sacking of their coach Mickey Arthur, who was replaced by Darren Lehmann, and the ban enforced upon David Warner following an unfortunate incident in a nightclub involving England’s Joe Root. Adding to the frenetic build up the Australian team was very unsettled and had no idea what its best team was, for this series things are different. The Aussies used the tough series to figure out their best team and there build up this time has had much less disruption.
One of the few positives the Australian test team took from the series in England was that they established a settled top 5. Their openers Chris Rogers (36) and David Warner (27) are experienced cricketers however they lack test match experience having played only 28 test matches between them with relatively poor averages of 35.09 and 36.87 respectively, however there first class statistics are much more impressive with Chris Rogers playing 251 matches with an average of 50.19 and Warner playing 38 matches with an average of 45.01. Both of these players need to impress in the first couple of tests otherwise I fear for their test match futures, this applies especially to Rogers who after coming into the team aged 35 has always been in the last chance saloon. England’s likely openers are the England captain Alastair Cook (28) and Michael Carberry (33) following their impressive opening partnership in England’s rain-affected warm-up match against Australia A, they put on an unbeaten 318 for the first wicket scoring 154n.o and 153n.o. Carberry is very similar to Rogers in that he has very limited test experience, having played only the one test match in which he scored 32 runs against Bangladesh in 2010, and he needs to impress in the first couple of tests as Joe Root (22) is likely to be pushed down the order to accommodate him rather than bringing a talented youngster such as Gary Ballance (23) to slot straight into the team at number 6. Carbs is a vastly experienced first class player having played 148 matches with an average of 44.08. He earned his call-up following a very impressive season with his county Hampshire, during which he scored 687 runs at an average of 42.93 in the County Championship Division 2, 471 runs at an average of 47.10 in the domestic one day competition and 502 runs at an average of 55.77 in the domestic 20 over competition. England’s other opener and their captain Cook has far more test match pedigree than the other openers having played 97 test matches with an average of 47.85 and being England’s all-time leading century scorer with 25 test match centuries despite only being aged 28. Cook was the only of the four openers to play in England’s last test match tour of Australia in 2010/11, in which he was the leading run-scorer, scoring 196 runs more than the second top run-scorer in the series Michael Hussey; Cook scored 766 runs in 7 innings with a high score of 235n.o and an average of 127.66. If he even gets close to replicating these fetes then he can almost single headedly retain the Ashes for England.The remainder of the Australian top 5 is made up of Shane Watson (32) at 3, Michael Clarke (32) at 4 and Steven Smith (24) at 5. In my opinion Watson is the second most important player in the Australian team due to his ability to bat towards the top of the order and the ball, he bowls many valuable overs of right-arm fast-medium, however the difficulty with Watson during the former series was finding a place to bat him. He opened the batting and batted number 6 during the series before securing a position at number 3 in the final match of the series with an innings of 176 only his third test match century in 46 test matches and 85 innings. During the last Ashes series in Australia in 2010/11 Watson batted very impressively scoring 345 runs in 10 innings at an average of 48.33, this included 4 50s with a top score of 95 which underlines the frustrating trend in Watson’s test match career of him failing to convert 50s into 100s. His test average of 36.12 isn’t a true representation of his ability and I feel he with thrive in his new role at number 3. However Watson picked up a slight hamstring injury in the final ODI in India and it is uncertain, particularly given his poor injury history, how this will affect him during the upcoming series. At number 4 for the Aussies is Michael Clarke, the premier batsman in the series with a test match average of 52.08 in his 97 tests. He is the only player in the series to have a triple century in test match cricket to his name, 329n.o against India in 2012. Australia’s success in the series revolves around there leader if he fires the Australians will be in with a huge chance of taking something out of the series. Despite his impressive career statistics Clarke struggled in the last Ashes series in Australia only managing to average 21.44 in the series. Batting at number 5 is very likely to be Steven Smith whose ability to bowl some erratic but more than useful leg spinners as well as his incredible ability in the field gives him an edge over most other batsmen. Smith has a very good first class record averaging 44.16 in his 52 matches however the start to his test career hasn’t been as successful, averaging 34.77 in his 12 test matches including one century which came in the Ashes series earlier this year. He had a fairly impressive series scoring 345 runs at an average of 38.33, surely cementing his place at number 5 for the upcoming series.
England’s number 3 to number 5 is completely settled, it will be made up of Jonathan Trott (32) [47.39 test match average in 48 matches], Kevin Pietersen (33) [48.39 test match average in 99 matches] and Ian Bell (31) [46.67 test match average in 93 matches]. These three players are all class acts and should all make big contributions during the series. I believe Pietersen in particular will have a huge impact on the series as the first test is his 100th therefore he will being going all out to make it memorable.
It is very likely that the English middle order will be completely with Joe Root at number 6 after impressing in that position at the very start of his international career. He had a reasonable series earlier on in the year scoring 339 runs in 10 innings at an average of 37.66 opening the batting; however it is widely believed that he can perform at a higher level in the middle order. This view is also helped by the outstanding season had by Michael Carberry allowing him to slot into the team at the top of the order. Other possible selections for the number 6 position in the first test are Gary Ballance who had an outstanding county championship season for Yorkshire averaging over 60, however he has failed to impress in the two warm-up matches so far scoring 0 and 4. Ben Stokes (22) who’s offers an all round option as he is a decent right arm seamer as well as a hard-hitting middle order player, he impressed in helping Durham to claim the county championship division 1 title this season averaging 30 with the bat and 28 with the ball. A very outsight bet for the number 6 spot is Jonny Bairstow (24) who seems to have gone out of favour due to a lack of quality performs for his country. If any of these three are selected then it is likely to be Carberry who gives way with Root continuing at the top of the order.
The number 6 spot for the Australians has been a hot topic with various candidates being suggested for the role including Nic Maddinson (21), Phillip Hughes (24), Shaun Marsh (30), Aaron Finch (26), Glenn Maxwell (25) and Alex Doolan (27). However following the announcement of the Australian squad the choice is down to two names James Faulkner (23), the Tasmanian whose batting particularly impressed in the recent ODI series in India winning one game and almost another with late onslaughts, who can also bowl fast-medium left armers, and George Bailey (31) who is third in the ICC ODI rankings (below Virat Kohli and AB de Villers) right now and captain of the Australian T20 side. I believe the number 6 place will go to Bailey because of the unbelievable form he showed in the recent ODI series in India however he doesn’t have a particularly impressive first record, averaging only 38.28 in his 97 first class matches. With Shane Watson batting in the top 6, I don’t believe that the Aussies require the extra bowling option that Faulkner would offer as he would be an unnecessary 5th seamer. However if Watson’s slight injury prevents him from playing or even just bowling in any of the tests I would imagine that Faulkner would be brought into the team in his place and Bailey would move up to number 3.
Both teams rely heavily on their wicket keeper/batsmen at number 7, Brad Haddin (36) and Matt Prior (31) are both vice captains and experienced campaigners who have a massive impact in the field. Neither fired with the bat in the recent Ashes series averaging only 22.88 and 19.00 respectively however there glove work was outstanding. If anything happens to Haddin during the series then Australia has Matthew Wade (25) ready to come in as a replacement, Wade was unfortunate to be dropped for Haddin prior to the previous Ashes series. Prior currently has a slight calf tear and is not a certainty for the first test, if he is unavailable Jonny Bairstow will have to come in as a replace, this would be a huge loss to the team as Prior is not only a superior wicket keeper and batsman to Bairstow but his leadership skills will be sorely missed on the field.
The spin bowling option for both teams is also an easy selection with Graeme Swann’s (34) off-spinners being England’s option. He was the leading wicket taker in the most recent Ashes series in England with 26 wickets and he also played a huge part in the 2010/11 series in Australia as the 4th highest wicket taker with 14 wickets in the 5 tests. The Australian spinner will be the off-spinner Nathan Lyon (25), who despite being dropped at the begin of the last series for the young slow left-arm bowler Ashton Agar (20), who impressed more with the bat than the ball scoring 98 batting at number 11 in his debut test match, regained his place during the most recent Ashes and secured it taking 9 wickets in his 3 matches in the series. Swann is in a completely different class to Lyon and it is expected that Swann will easily out bowl the Aussie spinner the different in ability between these two players could be a crucial factor in the outcome of the series. England will also be able to call on some part time off-spin from Joe Root however I feel these will be more fill in overs to give the front line bowlers a rest as his bowling isn’t particular potent. Australia’s part time option can be considered much more of a threat due to both the England batsmen’s inability against spin bowling and the unpredictable nature of Steve Smith’s leg-spinners. In the previous series earlier this year Smith took 3 wickets in a session and caused problems for the England batsman however Clarke can only afford to use Smith’s leg-spin scarcely as it can be very expensive.Now I come to the main strength of the Australian team their fast bowling attack, the 3 front line seamers selected for the first test are Ryan Harris (34), Peter Siddle (28) and Mitchell Johnson (32). Harris has had a torrid career in terms of injury and has only managed to play 16 test matches so far. However he has built up some very impressive stats with 71 test wickets to his name and at an average of 22.16. Peter Siddle has been the only player in the Aussie bowling attack to remain constant over the past couple of years and is now fitter than he has ever been and is bowling very impressively. Although it has been thought that Siddle’s bowling is only effective at the beginning of series as history indicates that batsmen manage to work him out after a couple of test matches. Therefore Siddle may be ineffective in the series as the England top order had chance to figure out how to counter him in the English summer. Mitchell Johnston has had a terrific year after a few years in the wilderness due to a combination of injuries and lack of form. He found his form at the beginning of the year starring in the Mumbai Indians IPL winning side; he has carried this rhythm through the year and has been bowling genuinely quickly. Johnston’s left arm angle and shear pace will cause much difficulty for the England batsmen; I believe Johnson could play a starring role in the series as he has the attitudes to concern all of the English batsmen. The Australians will also be able to call on the right-arm fast-medium of Shane Watson who plays a very important role in the attack as he has the ability for bowl very economically. This allows Michael Clarke to keep in control of the match and not let the England players to score freely and take the game away from the Aussies. During the series I expect James Faulkner, Jackson Bird (26), James Pattinson (23) and Mitchell Starc (23) to feature; James Faulkner has been selected in the 12-man squad for the first test and will fill in for Shane Watson if his hamstring injury doesn’t completely heal in time. Bird, Pattinson and Starc are currently injured otherwise would have been right in the mix up for a starting place in the first test, it is believed that they will be back battling for selection in either the 3rd or 4th test matches.
Two of England’s fast bowling positions are set in stone; they are taken by James Anderson (31) and Stuart Broad (27). James Anderson is considered by many as the premier fast bowler in the world however I believe this is far from reality. Firstly to me the premier fast bowler in the world is Dale Steyn who has taken 340 test wickets at an average of 22.66. These stats are much more impressive than Anderson’s who has taken 329 test wickets at a relatively poor average of 30.11. To me Anderson isn’t even the best fast bowler on show in the series, on his day I believe Mitchell Johnson has the potential to be better than Anderson and Ryan Harris’ career average f 22.16 is also more impressive than Anderson’s average of 30.11. Stuart Broad is a lot more inconsistent bowler than Anderson however if he can find his rhythm then he can be a huge weapon for England. The most highly contested spot in the England due to the injury to Tim Bresnan (28) is the final fast bowlers spot. Four other fast bowlers were selected in the England squad; those four are Steven Finn (24), Chris Tremlett (32), Ben Stokes and Boyd Rankin (29). Ben Stokes is more of an all-round option and would be more likely to be selected as a 4th seam option than 3rd. The other 3 options are all tall (either 6ft 8” or 6ft7”) ‘hit the deck’ bowlers, Finn the quickest of the bowlers and Tremlett the slowest. If I was picking the team Finn would get the spot as his extra pace could be a very useful attribute, especially due to the Australian middle orders perceived inadequacies against hostile short pitched bowling. However Finn has had a very poor year and has been very expensive every time he has bowled, but despite this he still has huge wicket taking potential. Chris Tremlett has also been in poor form this year after a long injury lay off, only managing to bowl in the 120 kph which isn’t quick enough for a top international bowler. The rest he is in the squad is because of the success he had in the 2010/11 Ashes series in Australia, in which he was the second highest wicket taker despite only playing 3 of the 5 test matches. Boyd Rankin is probably the most in form of the options however he has very limited experience in international cricket having played a few ODIs and T20s for both England and Ireland and never a test match.In conclusion, the series will be closely contested as England’s greater batter strength will be cancelled out by the Aussies superior seam bowling attack; however I believe Graeme Swann could prove a key difference between the two sides as he is vastly superior to the Aussies spin bowling option. Therefore I believe England is going to slightly edge the series and I am predicting a slender 2-1 win for England.
England 1st Test Line Up: Batting Average Bowling Average Rating/10
1. Alastair Cook (C) 47.85 8
2. Michael Carberry 32.00 5
3. Jonathan Trott 47.39 79.60 6
4. Kevin Pietersen 48.39 86.90 7
5. Ian Bell 46.67 76.00 6
6. Joe Root 40.15 23.66 5
7. Matt Prior (VC/WK) 42.36 7
8. Stuart Broad 24.73 30.58 7
9. Graeme Swann 23.40 28.55 8
10. James Anderson 10.49 30.11 8
11. Steven Finn 11.26 29.40 5
12. Jonny Bairstow 30.22 3
Australia 1st Test Line Up: Batting Average Bowling Average Rating/10
1. Chris Rogers 35.09 5
2. David Warner 36.87 51.25 6
3. Shane Watson 36.12 31.92 8
4. Michael Clarke (C) 52.08 37.63 9
5. Steve Smith 34.77 48.62 6
6. George Bailey Debut 7
7. Brad Haddin (VC/WK) 33.97 6
8. Mitchell Johnson 21.96 30.93 8
9. Ryan Harris 18.29 22.16 8
10. Peter Siddle 15.03 29.11 6
11. Nathan Lyon 13.55 33.23 4
12. James Faulkner 22.50 16.33 6