The talk is almost over, the Ashes are here at last. England travel to Australia with the urn, but face a challenge to successfully defend the title.
Joe Root enjoyed a strong start to his captaincy during the summer. The Three Lions secured series wins over South Africa and the West Indies. However, they did have issues against both opponents and those could come to the light down under.
The Aussies have had problems of their own as injuries and a lack of form have dogged them in 2017. Steve Smith’s men were defeated by India at the start of the year on tour, despite a number of brilliant displays from the captain.
Australia needed a strong effort in the second Test of their series to avoid defeat Bangladesh. The Baggy Greens were able to secure the win in Chittagong in their last action in Test match cricket.
England have questions marks surrounding their batting unit, while injuries and an off-the-field incident have left them short of depth in their bowling ranks.
It should be an enthralling series that could well go down to the final match at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January. We’ll now break down the two teams and look at the best betting odds for the outcome of the Ashes.
The Baggy Greens were outplayed in the last Ashes series in England. The Three Lions were in a vulnerable spot, but Michael Clarke’s side were unable to capitalise. Their 3-2 defeat at the hands of England resulted in Clarke’s retirement. Smith assumed the captaincy due to his ascending talent with the bat and faces the cauldron of an Ashes series for the first time in a leadership role.
Although his predecessors Clarke and Ricky Ponting enjoyed 5-0 wins over England on home soil, neither were able to remove the stain of defeats from their records. Smith will be determined to begin his run against the Three Lions with a dominant victory.
The 28-year-old enjoyed an excellent run after taking charge of the team. The Baggy Greens defeated New Zealand home and away along with the West Indies in Australia. However, their form since has been up and down, losing to Sri Lanka and India on the road, while the Aussies suffered a 2-1 home defeat to South Africa last year.
David Warner and Nathan Lyon delivered heroics to help their side avoid a series loss to Bangladesh. Australia were brilliant in their win over Pakistan last year and will be hopeful of channelling that standard of performance rather than their patchy 2017 form.
Smith and Warner hold the key in the batting line-up. Smith has rightly established himself as one of the leading batsmen in the world, while Warner is close to joining him in that company. Beyond them the options are thin. Usman Khawaja has struggled against England, while Peter Handscomb has not been on form of late. Cameron Bancroft will be making his debut and Shaun Marsh has been handed his umpteenth recall into the lower order.
The onus will be on Smith and Warner, and while both players are more than capable of guiding their team to success, the pressure of the series could overwhelm them. The rest of the unit have to contribute and cannot leave it up to the experienced duo.
Mitchell Starc will be desperate to emulate Mitchell Johnson’s success in the 2013/14 series. Johnson destroyed England, taking 37 wickets to drive Australia to their whitewash success. Starc has been in form in the Sheffield Shield, but has not always translated his game to Test level. He’s also had injury problems, but on home soil should rise to the occasion.
Josh Hazlewood will provide the control, while Pat Cummins will bring the raw pace. The trio hold the key for the Aussies and have the ability to blow away England’s fragile batting unit.
The Three Lions were dealt a hammer blow before the end of their summer schedule with Ben Stokes’ off-the-field incident. Stokes was suspended by the ECB for his street brawl in Cardiff at the end of September, with the all-rounder still awaiting news of police charges. As a result, England have had to press on without their key man. Fortunately for them their depth at the all-rounder position has allowed them to maintain the make-up of their team. Moeen Ali will move up the order to number six, while Chris Woakes will also nudge up.
England performed well enough during the summer to defeat South Africa and the West Indies. However, concerns persist over their batting unit outside of Alastair Cook, Jonny Bairstow and Root. Mark Stoneman managed to survive for the tour and has played well during the warm-up matches. He is the 12th man to partner Cook at the top of the innings since the retirement of Andrew Strauss. England will be desperate for him to rise to the occasion to solve that issue once and for all.
James Vince was handed surprising recall to the team, despite struggling during his initial spell in the team in 2016. He faces a massive challenge on his hands batting at number three, having never scored a half-century in his brief Test career. Dawid Malan rounds out the top five, and although he showed a slight bit of promise during the summer, Australia will be eyeing the three players as England’s weak spot.
Root and Cook will need to be at their best throughout the series, much like Smith and Warner. Both players had disappointing tours of Australia last time out and will be desperate to make their marks. Cook was dominant in 2010/11 and will be aiming to enjoy similar success this time around, while Root will be looking to get one over on his opposite number. Bairstow, Ali and Woakes will play an important role down the order. Without Stokes, there will be pressure on them to provide a counter-punch in their roles. They’ve played well throughout the year, but more will be expected of them during the intense battle of the Ashes.
Stuart Broad and James Anderson hold the key for England. Should they be able to remove Warner and Smith cheaply throughout the series, the Three Lions could have a path to victory. Broad has been Australia’s nemesis, especially in England in 2015 when his 8-15 spell ended the series. Anderson has been inconsistent in Australia, and Root cannot afford one of his stars to struggle, considering his side are without Stokes and the injured Toby Roland-Jones. Ali, Woakes and Jake Ball can play a role, but Broad and Anderson will be the driving force.
Australia are a tough nut to crack at home, despite their recent problems. Their batting line-up has issues, although Smith and Warner are outstanding on home soil. The Australia Cricket Board will do their utmost to create beneficial pitches for their main men to thrive along with their trio of pace bowlers.
Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins will be licking their lips at facing England’s fragile batting unit, especially with Stokes sitting at home. Injuries could limit their ability to close out the series as all three players have had their fitness issues in 2017. Australia’s depth behind them is not great and could make the series close.
England are top heavy with quality with Root, Cook, Broad and Anderson. If those players can rise to the occasion then the Three Lions will challenge. However, if three out of four struggle like their last visit down under then it will end in defeat.
The odds are stacked against England, especially in conditions where they are not renowned for thriving. Back the Aussies to reclaim the urn at odd of -250 with Bet365. The scoreline will not be 5-0 like the last series in Australia. Root’s men will certainly challenge in the day/night match at Adelaide due to the conditions that benefit seam bowling.
It all rests on the start at the Gabba. If that game is close it will be reflected in the series. However, if England get off to a losing start it could spiral downwards quickly. Perth has not been a happy hunting ground either, which could see the series over before the MCG on Boxing Day. Australia are not a complete unit – so expect a small margin of victory. Take Smith’s side to win 2-1 at odds of +1200 with 888Sport.
Australia To Beat England
23rd November 2017 – 8th January 2018
Australia To Beat England 2-1
23rd November 2017 – 8th January 2018