The Ashes begin in earnest in Australia on Thursday morning as the two old foes commence in battle for the first Test of the series at Brisbane.
England travel down under to defend the urn following their 3-2 victory over Australia in the 2015 series. Joe Root’s men are in form, having defeated South Africa and the West Indies during the summer, but face a tough task against the Baggy Greens.
The Aussies defeated the Three Lions 5-0 in the last series to be played in Australia, and although the teams have changed significantly since the whitewash, Steve Smith’s men will be looking to capitalise on home soil once again.
England will be without the services of Ben Stokes as his off-the-field behaviour has seen the all-rounder suspended until further notice.
The Three Lions also made curious selections in their squad as James Vince and Gary Balance were recalled, while injuries in their bowling ranks have tested their depth.
Experienced players will be the key for England. There are three contenders to lead the way for them with the bat and we’ll break down the odds to see who will top score in the series.
The 26-year-old has established himself as one of the leading batsmen in world cricket. His duel with his opposite number Smith could well decide the series. Both players are operating at the peak of their powers and should be able to rack up the runs over the course of the five matches. Root last travelled to Australia as an emerging prospect at opener.
He had scored 180 during the Lord’s Test of the 2013 Ashes series, helping guide England to a comfortable win. However, his first tour down under proved to be a disaster – not just on a personal level – as the Three Lions were whitewash. Root averaged just 27.42, scoring one half-century in the process – a high score of 87. He was dropped for the final Test of the series as England wilted at Sydney.
Since then he has rebuilt his reputation with a number of outstanding performances. He won the Compton-Miller medal for the quality of his displays against Australia in the 2015 Ashes series. Root scored 460 runs, including two centuries – one of which came at Trent Bridge to take the urn away from the Baggy Greens. The 26-year-old is a player that rises to the occasion and will be determined to atone for his below-par outings last time out in Australia.
One criticism of Root has been his inability to convert fifties into hundreds. His conversion rate is far inferior to that of Smith. That will have been fixed on the mind of the Yorkshireman as he aims to guide his side to just their second victory down under in 30 years. It would be surprising not see Root at the forefront of that effort – therefore back him to top score at odds of +163 with Bet365.
Cook rose to prominence on the world stage for his match-winning performances guiding England to victory down under in the 2010/11 series. The opener had been on the verge of being dropped following a lean time with the bat during the English summer of 2010. However, he scored a career-saving century against Pakistan and carried that momentum forward. Cook’s series began with a half-century in the first innings, but the Three Lions were put under pressure by the Aussies’ counter-attack.
England trailed by 221 runs heading into their second innings, but the opener combined with Andrew Strauss and Jonathan Trott to lead the team out of the mire. Cook scored an unbeaten 235 and went on to dominate, amassing two more huge scores at Adelaide and Sydney to guide Strauss’ men t a comfortable win. He has not scored three figures in his 15 matches against Australia since Sydney, which is a cause for concern for England ahead of the series.
He assumed the captaincy from Strauss in 2012 and led England to a comfortable 3-0 win on home soil in the 2013 series. However, the whitewash down under put him under immense pressure and to some extent Cook has not managed to recover from the damage sustained.
The 32-year-old found a semblance of form in the 2015 Ashes win, although he played second fiddle to Root. Having relinquished the captaincy, the opener was freed of the leadership burden and scored a double-century against the West Indies to find his form.
Cook has been up and down in the warm-up matches, but England need him to fire on all cylinders at the top of the innings. Back him to lead the way and rise to the occasion at odds of +225 with Bet365.
Bairstow does not have great experience of the Ashes and has struggled in his matches against Australia in his Test career. However, in 2013 he had issues with his technique and was far from the polished player he is now coming in at number seven in the order.
When he made his first bow in the intense arena of the Ashes, Bairstow notched only one score of note early in the series. As a result, he was dropped from the team for the series down under. He played in the final two matches, although the outcome had already been decided – failing to impress.
He spent 18 months out of the team before he was recalled during the 2015 series. Bairstow only played one innings of note scorning 74 in England’s comfortable win at Trent Bridge. However, he has not given up his space in the side since, with his huge knock against South Africa with Ben Stokes kickstarting his Test career.
The 28-year-old has been a reliable foil down the order for the Three Lions, firing important runs down the order along with his wicket-keeping ability. He will be tested once again down under. Brad Haddin played vital innings’ for the Baggy Greens in the last series in Australia, while Matt Prior has also had his Ashes moments.
Bairstow has the ability to play a vital role in the lower order. Due to the struggles of England’s top order, he and Moeen Ali have been called on numerous times to save the Three Lions. He could be worth an outside shot at odds of +650 with 888Sport.
Joe Root To Be England’s Top Batsman
23rd November 2017 – 8th January 2018