Five key matchups will decide the destiny of this year’s Ashes. From the openers, right the way through the team to the captains and coaches, whoever wins the majority of these battles should secure the urn. Both Australia and England enter the series with patchy recent results and questions around the lineups for The Gabba on November 23rd.
David Warner vs Alastair Cook
Without a doubt, a clash of styles that fits the stereotype of Australia versus England. On one side, the belligerent Aussie larrikin who subscribes to the “if you are going to flash, flash hard” school of batting. On the other, the calm, cerebral, English gent who nudges and nurdles the ball. Both are equally key, despite their differing modus operandi, for their team to build totals. Warner averaged 58.11 in 2013/14 and scored two centuries. Cook has played in three Ashes series in Australia: 2006/07, 2010/11 and 2013/14. In the series that England won, he averaged 127.66. Worryingly for England, Cook’s batting averages were 27.60 and 24.60 for both whitewashes. A measure of England’s success or otherwise for 2017/18?
Mitchell Starc vs Jimmy Anderson
Undoubtedly, the Australian bowling attack is far more decided in its makeup. Starc will spearhead a pace attack and is in a rich vein of form. Having taken 16 wickets in the Sheffield Shield so far, along with two hat-tricks in one match, Starc will be looking to add to his 148 Test wickets. Interestingly, Starc is yet to play an Ashes match in Australia. Anderson has bowled well in the tour matches so far and will be hoping to carry this through into the Ashes. Having toured three times, his best bowling is 4 for 44 in 2010/11 and has 44 wickets at 38.44. Conditions in Brisbane and Adelaide should suit Anderson and he will need to repeat his 2010/11 form (24 wickets at 26.04) if England are to bowl Australia out for reasonable totals.
Australian Middle Order vs English Middle Order
One area that England will feel that they have the advantage is in the middle order batting department. Jonny Bairstow and Moeen Ali are fine players whilst Dawid Malan will be looking to improve on his average of 23.62. Australia’s problem lies in the fact that they don’t know their best combination. Peter Handscomb’s tough times in India have encouraged questions about his suitability. The number six position has generated much debate over who should play with Glenn Maxwell and Hilton Cartwright being the front-runners. However, Jake Lehmann’s form for South Australia has added his name to the list.
The real debate revolves around the wicketkeeper position. Incumbent Matthew Wade is a major doubt with the man he replaced, Peter Nevill, high on the list. Alex Carey has been touted as a future keeper in Baggy Green but his current batting form may not be enough. A late arrival to the list of possible wicketkeepers is Cameron Bancroft due to his heroics in the last round of the Sheffield Shield.
Darren Lehmann vs Trevor Bayliss
This will be the second time that the two coaches have met in an Ashes series. Bayliss’s England regained the urn in 2015 with a 3-2 series victory. Both coaches have been subject to speculation regarding team selection for the Ashes. Bayliss is already at a disadvantage as injuries mount for a team already without Ben Stokes. His ability to prepare the team and keep them focussed will be paramount if England are to offer a spirited defence of the Ashes. Lehmann’s problems are similar to Bayliss’s, but he does have the luxury of having a larger pool of players to select from, should they need to do so.
Steve Smith vs Joe Root
Two of the best batsmen in the world, Smith and Root will need to lead from the front if their team is to prevail. Smith will not want to add his name to the list of Australian captains losing a series at home. He will also want to regain the Ashes for the nation. Root must keep his head as the crowds and press ratchet up the pressure on his team. Smith’s batting against England (43.19) supersedes Root’s average against Australia (41.29). On Australian soil, Smith’s average of 37.28 far exceeds Root’s average of 27.42. If this plays out in 2017/18, it should result in a comprehensive series victory for Australia.
The 2017/18 Ashes series will be won, and lost, mainly on the pitch. There are key battles to be won in every facet of the matchups. Whichever team can get the advantage from the above list should decide the fate of the urn. It will be another fascinating series, not perhaps the quality of others, but nonetheless riveting for each nation and its fans.