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Australia will attempt to regain the Ashes when the first Test of the series begins on Thursday in Brisbane.
Steve Smith is the man charged with reclaiming the urn for the Baggy Greens. The 28-year-old has established himself as one of the leading batsmen in the world. However, despite his excellent performances, Australia are far from the powerhouse they were during the early stage of the 00s.
He has to rise to the occasion otherwise the Aussies will be in danger of losing to their old foes for the fifth time in their last six Ashes series. Smith will be under a great deal of pressure, but his batting has not suffered with the additional duties of captaincy.
The Aussies have surprised with their squad for the opening two matches. Cameron Bancroft will make his debut at the Gabba, while Shaun Marsh has returned to the fold. Perhaps the most baffling decision was to hand Tim Paine the gloves, who has scored just one first-class century in his career.
David Warner will do his utmost to support his skipper. However, for all the talk of England’s troubles; Australia do not look an overly formidable host, although they still have home advantage.
We’ll now look at the three men who could top score for the Baggy Greens during the series.
Smith’s performances have lifted him to the top of the ICC batting rankings in Test cricket. The 28-year-old has been a model of consistency since breaking into the team in 2013. He did not make a name for himself initially during Australia’s hammering of England during the winter series. However, he did put the death knell into the Three Lions’ hopes with a match-winning century at Perth. Smith finished the series with a century at Sydney to boost his statistics after a slow start.
His rise to the top began by making four centuries against India in 2014, averaging 128.15 in the four-match series. Smith continued with that rich of vein of form until reaching England for the 2015 Ashes. Although he notched two centuries in matches at Lord’s and The Oval, he struggled immensely against the moving ball. When his side needed him the most, he could not muster knocks at Cardiff, Edgbaston or Trent Bridge.
Smith averages 59.66 in Test cricket, an incredible statistic that cannot be match by any active player in the game. His record on home soil is even more impressive at 68.65 in his 24 matches, scoring 10 centuries in the process. England are one of the few teams that have managed to have success against the 28-year-old. However, James Anderson and company will not be able to use the swinging conditions to their advantage down under.
Michael Clarke was solid against England in the last series in Australia, while the previous series was the end for Ricky Ponting as a true force in the game. The Baggy Greens are due a special run of matches from their captain – therefore back Smith to top score at odds of 7/4 2.75 +175 1.75 1.75 -0.57 with 888Sport.
Warner has been a polarising figure in the game, but has started to round into a fine opening batsman. He rose to fame for the wrong reasons for punching Joe Root during the 2013 Ashes series in a nightclub. The incident resulted in a suspension for the Aussie, ending a miserable tour for the opener.
However, Warner bounced back with a fine performance during the corresponding series down under. His performances in the second innings of matches compounded England’s agony, scoring his two centuries at Brisbane and Perth.
His 523 runs played a vital part in Australia’s dominant win and since then he has taken his game to the next level. Warner has 20 centuries and 24 fifties under his belt in 66 matches, with an excellent average of 47.54.
Darren Lehmann and Smith will be looking for the 31-year-old to set the tone at the top of the innings. He will have a new partner alongside him, making it essential that the New South Wales man thrives for his team. Warner performed well enough for his team in the last Ashes in England, making five half-centuries in their losing effort.
Warner’s record in Australia is outstanding, making 14 of his 20 hundreds on home soil. He has averaged 59.21, with an incredible strike rate of 84.21. The 31-year-old has the striking ability to take the game away from England once again.
One concern will be whether he has to rein himself in to protect the inexperienced players in the batting unit. However, Warner still remains good value at odds of 15/8 2.88 +188 1.88 1.88 -0.53 with Betway.
The middle-order batsman is one of the inexperienced players in the Australia team that will have to come to the fore. The 26-year-old has made an impressive start to his career, scoring two centuries in his side’s series win over Pakistan last year. He was unable to maintain his form on a tough tour of India at the start of 2017, which brought him and the rest of the Baggy Greens back down to earth.
Handscomb notched a half-century against Bangladesh, falling 18 runs short of a third Test match hundred. England will be keen to test his technique in the middle order with the hope of breaking through the Aussies’ batting unit. The 26-year-old spent time with Yorkshire during the English summer, but struggled to find his feet in the County Championship. He played nine matches for the club, scoring one century. However, he averaged only 33.92 after scoring 441 runs at the Headingley-based outfit.
Handscomb cannot afford to struggle against the seamers, while his record against spin is not a great deal better. He holds an important position in the side as Marsh below him in the order has been in and out of the side. The lower does not have the strength of Australian sides of the past, especially as Paine has been given the nod with the gloves. The 26-year-old needs to come out firing and to not put himself under pressure like his predecessor Adam Voges did in the 2015 series.
The Victorian could be a surprise to top score for the Aussies with the attention elsewhere. Back him at odds of 9/1 10.00 +900 9.00 9.00 -0.11 with 888Sport for value.
Steve Smith To Be Australia’s Top Batsman
23rd November 2017 – 8th January 2018
Odds: 13/8 2.63 +163 1.63 1.63 -0.61
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