The Ashes will see some of the world’s best bowlers battle it out in Australia, beginning on Thursday in the first Test of the series in Brisbane.
Australia’s pace trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins will aim to exploit home conditions to trouble a shaky England batting unit. Nathan Lyon will also be desperate to make his mark in the series, having taken serious strides forward in his development as an off-spinner.
The Three Lions will also be desperate to capitalise on Australia’s problems in their batting ranks. James Anderson is closing in on Glenn McGrath’s milestone for most Test wickets by a pace bowler. Stuart Broad always relishes an opportunity to thrive against the Baggy Greens, while Chris Woakes will be desperate to enhance his reputation.
Both sides have been robbed of their star all-rounders as Ben Stokes has been sidelined due to his off-the-field behaviour. Mitchell Marsh will also miss the series due to injury, putting the pressure on the three quicks and Lyon to atone for his absence. England have the benefit of balance with Moeen Ali moving up to six, giving them an extra option to spread out the overs.
Mitchell Johnson proved that one man can turn the series, taking 37 wickets last time out down under. Can anyone rise to the challenge of matching that feat this time around?
Starc shares a number of traits with Johnson. Both are left-arm seamers and can bowl in the high 90s to terrorise batsmen. However, he has not enjoyed a great deal of success against England. All eight of his matches against the Three Lions have come on English soil.
In three matches in 2013 he took 11 wickets, while he played in every match in 2015, striking only 18 times in nine innings. The 27-year-old’s average against England is decent at 31.24, but the Baggy Greens will need a stronger effort from their leading man.
He has developed since the last time the teams faced off two years ago. Starc took 24 wickets in just three matches against Sri Lanka. His efforts were not enough to guide his side towards a series victory. However, he averaged 15.16, highlighting that he is capable of producing an effort similar to that of Johnson should he find his peak form.
Starc’s performances have not been great in an Australia shirt recently. The 27-year-old did take two hat-tricks in a match on Sheffield Shield duty for New South Wales – sending a warning to England. Back him at odds of +225 with Bet365 to lead the wicket column for the series.
Since Australia do not have an all-rounder in their side more responsibility will be place on the shoulders of Lyon. The off-spinner has been an accomplished player for the Baggy Greens after an inauspicious start to his career. The 29-year-old had an impressive series against India on tour at the start of the year.
He claimed 19 wickets at an average of 25.26, although it was in a losing effort. Lyon followed that up with stronger set of displays on tour of Bangladesh. He took 22 wickets at an average of 14.31, including 13 strikes in Chittagong to help his team avoid a series defeat.
For all of his success on the sub-continent, Lyon has not managed to thrive in Australia. The 29-year-old averages 34.55 on home soil, although he has a slightly better pedigree against England.
In 13 matches against the Three Lions, he has notched 44 scalps at 29.84. Lyon has to be economical in this series to save the legs of the pace attack, who have struggled with their durability. He got the better of Kevin Pietersen in their duel in 2013 – he could be the wildcard for the Aussies. For value take him at +800 with BetVictor.
Broad won the Ashes series for England in 2015 by taking eight wickets at Trent Bridge, ending the series on his home ground. It was a spell of pure magic – something that Australia have witnessed before against the 31-year-old. He always seems to rally himself for matches against the Baggy Greens, although he was not part of the side that defeated them in the 2010/11 series down under.
He was one of the few England players to emerge with credit in the 2013/14 series. Broad took 21 wickets at an average of 27.52 in Australia last time out. That followed on from his performance in the English summer when he notched 22 wickets.
His average against the Baggy Greens of 27.69 is just a shade lower than his Test career’s. The 31-year-old always seems to have something special in store against the Aussies, notching eight five-wicket hauls in six years.
Broad’s form during the summer for Joe Root’s men was not at the standard expected. His figures were decent, although he played second fiddle to Anderson. England will expect more from him over the course of the series – as a result back him at odds of +750 with 888Sport to rise to the occasion.
Anderson continues to operate at the peak of his powers even at the age of 35. The Lancashire paceman is 57 wickets behind McGrath in the all-time list, while he could surpass Courtney Walsh even with average production in the five-match series.
Injuries appeared to be slowing down Anderson last year, struggling to complete matches against Pakistan and India. However, he was back to form during the English summer, taking 39 wickets in seven matches against South Africa and the West Indies at an average of 14.10.
The 35-year-old’s record in Australia is poor, although his statistics are skewed by his first tour of the country in 2006. Anderson was a raw prospect back then and was not helped by the struggles of the senior players around him.
His average of 82.60 raises his total to 38.44 down under, striking 44 times in his 13 matches. He was not at his best last time out in Australia, averaging 43.92, while his recent tours seen a slump in his form. Anderson is capable of producing his best, taking 24 wickets in England’s win in the 2010/11 Ashes series.
Root’s men will need their newly-appointed vice-captain to shine to have a chance of defending the urn. Back him at odds of +450 with 888Sport.
Stuart Broad To Be Top Bowler
23rd November 2017 – 8th January 2018