@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read
It’s been a miserable month for English cricket – one blighted by high profile cancellations, the prospect of further withdrawals and, on the pitch, the poorest home Test summer in quite some time.
It’s given a sense of doom and gloom about what is to come this winter, in particular the prospect of an away Ashes series without several key players. English pessimism is understandable – after all, they have gone winless on three of their most recent four away Ashes series.
But while Australia should be regarded as overwhelming favourites, there should be space for cautious optimism, too. Or, in this case, completely unhinged certainty.
Australia are undercooked
Australia’s Test side have had the opposite problem to England in recent times – they’re not playing enough cricket. Since their most recent Test – the famous Gabba defeat to India – England have played 11 Tests. The Sheffield Shield begins this month but Australia’s multi-format stars are unlikely to get that much red-ball cricket match practice under their belt before the opening Test.
Reliance on the big three
Their top six, David Warner, Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne aside, is hard to pin down. Cameron Green showed some promise in his first series as a Test cricketer last winter without setting the world alight, Matthew Wade went the whole India series without a 50-plus score and the identity of Warner’s opening partner is still up in the air, though Will Pucovksi scored 62 doing the job on his long-awaited Test debut at the SCG.
Whisper it, but Smith’s home form since the 2017/18 Ashes isn’t quite as dominant as you’d expect – 567 runs at 40.50 with one hundred from nine Tests. Still good, but not the ‘best since Bradman’ output viewers were accustomed to. Stuart Broad will fancy his chances against David Warner after his dominance over the left-hander in 2019.
They never rotate their bowlers
Australia’s first choice attack is arguably the best in the world, but the bowlers beneath the ‘Fab Four’ of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon in the pecking order have had very little exposure to Test cricket. Jhye Richardson is a hugely promising quick but hasn’t played a Test in nearly three years and while Michael Neser has been in and around squads for a while, he is yet to make his Test debut.
The other potential problem with the lack of rotation is how fatigue can hamper the quicks as a series progresses. For instance, Starc averages less than 25 in the opening two Tests of a series but that number rises above 40 for the final two – Hazlewood averages 37 in fourth and fifth Tests of series. India ground down Australia’s quicks last winter before capitalising at the Gabba in dramatic style. Unless the Aussies have learned their lesson, England could plan something similar.
They are not unbeatable at home
Since the 2017/18 Ashes, Australia have lost twice at home – on both occasions to India. In 2020/21, they were beaten by an India side so far away from their first choice XI it was arguably closer to an ‘A’ side than anything else.
Unrest in the Aussie camp
All is not well inside the Australia camp, with reports of player unrest and dissatisfaction with Justin Langer’s intense leadership style unlikely to be far from the truth. Should England start strong, could Australia unravel?
England will probably take a squad close to full strength
There still are real concerns that this winter’s series won’t go ahead and that if it does, England might be without many of their first choice group of players.
However, the tide seems to be turning somewhat. Since the culmination of the India series, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Dan Lawrence have all publicly expressed their desire to tour whatever the quarantine measures the players and their families are asked to endure. The withdrawals of Jos Buttler, Dawid Malan, Chris Woakes and Jonny Bairstow from the IPL were perhaps made with this winter’s Ashes in mind. That said, England are already without two of their three genuine quicks – Jofra Archer and Olly Stone – due to injury and their talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes is still in the midst of an indefinite break from the game to look after his mental health
England have a better attack than in 2017/18
For many England fans, memories of the 2017/18 Ashes will be dominated by long, dark nights watching England struggle to dislodge the Marsh brothers. Though England will definitely be without Archer and Stone, they have a much better attack than the one they took to Australia four years ago, where Tom Curran, Jake Ball, Mason Crane and a young Craig Overton were on the touring party.
Ollie Robinson has enjoyed immediate success at international level, Chris Woakes is an improved overseas operator, Mark Wood has been an altogether different bowler in Test cricket since the 2019 tour of West Indies and there are more options in the spin-bowling department than there were then.
Australia should still win and win comfortably. They are a better side and have home advantage, but all hope shouldn’t be lost just yet.