Ashes 2017/18: Ones to Watch

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Ahead of this winter’s Ashes series, LastWordonCricket‘s team takes a look at the players to watch on each side.


Josh Hazlewood (by Sean Wilson)

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During the last Ashes series in Australia, Mitchell Johnson took virtually all the credit for his 37 wickets that helped secure a 5-0 whitewash for the Aussies – and rightly so. Yet his opening partner, Ryan Harris, played a crucial role with his immaculate line and length which subsequently strangled the England batsmen.

This series, Mitchell Starc is the man deemed best capable of performing the Johnson role but Hazlewood’s metronomic ability with the ball could see him become Australia’s replacement for Harris. His excellent control with the new ball, along with his wicket-taking ability means that he could be a dangerous customer for the England top order to face.

Johnson has always said that he would have never been able to take the number of wickets he did during the 2013/14 series without the consistency from Harris at the other end. And if Starc and Australia are to expose England’s fragile batting line-up, they will need the likes of Hazlewood to keep things tight, not give England many scoring opportunities and take wickets at important stages.

Hazlewood certainly has proven that he has the ability to do so, taking 118 wickets in his Test career so far, but will have to improve on his form from the previous Ashes series in 2015, when he lacked consistency and was then dropped for the final Test at The Oval.

Australia will hope he is a different bowler now and he can indeed play the Harris role – a cog so crucial to Australia’s chances.

Peter Handscomb (by Karan Bhatia)

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A vital cog in the Australian middle order will be Peter Handscomb, who is expected to slot in at number five.

In his brief Test career, Handscomb has already shown his mettle in tough conditions with brave performances in India and Bangladesh. A player who may not be technically sound, he more than makes up for that with his unorthodox style.

With a healthy career average of 53.07, the 26-year-old has already notched up four fifties and two hundreds. What has been impressive to see in Handscomb from a neutral’s point of view is his ability to bat according to the situation. He can come out and score quick runs if the team is looking for a declaration or bat out for a long time if the innings needs to be resurrected.

With his batting average a humungous 99.75 in his four tests in Australia, the English team need to be aware of the threat Handscomb poses. With a stint in county cricket at Yorkshire behind his back, Handscomb will not be alien to the kind of threat the English bowlers will possess Down Under.

A handy wicketkeeper too, the Victorian star could be an option should the Aussies look to replace Matthew Wade and look at a regular member to fill his boots. With quality performances already on his young international CV, Handscomb will certainly be a player to watch out for in the forthcoming Ashes.

Matt Renshaw (by Harry Latham-Coyle)

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First-innings runs are going to be crucial in the series, and with each side boasting two world-class top order batsmen in their respective top fours it could be the other components that may decide the series. And thus Australia’s opener Matt Renshaw is my player to watch. Renshaw is not in great nick, struggling thus far in the Sheffield Shield but Australia would be foolish to move on from such a promising start to his Test career.The Middlesbrough-born 21-year-old cemented himself at the top of the order after a series of impressive knocks against Pakistan last year, proving a perfect foil for David Warner and his gung-ho style.

Renshaw is obdurate and patient, defending or leaving 69% of balls faced from quick bowlers and showing good judgement. He is more attacking against spinners, the left-hander particularly picking on Yasir Shah through the leg side in that Pakistan series, though his troubles with off-spin on the sub-continental pitches will have offered some hope for Moeen Ali. Renshaw is reluctant against the short ball and England may be wise to utilise the tall Craig Overton early should Broad and Anderson fail to make inroads. If Renshaw can provide a platform at the top of the order it will shore up any potential batting frailties in the lower-middle order, and springboard Australia to a comfortable series win. Fail to do so, and given Warner’s boom-or-bust style, Australia may be left two or three down for not very many. England’s attack thrives at punishing frail batting line-ups, and how the Renshaw goes may well decide the series.

Nathan Lyon (by Jonathan Northall)

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Much has been discussed about the Australian quick bowlers, but Nathan Lyon will play a crucial part in the Ashes series. The off spinner is getting better with age and “Garry” will be amongst the wickets again in 2017/18. Lyon has dismissed both Cook and Root twice in Australia, in the 2013/14 series, amongst a bowling record of 19 wickets at 29.36 against England in Australia. In fact, Lyon dismissed Cook a further three times in the 2015 series in England. Lyon took wickets at all five venues in the last Ashes series on Australian soil including 5/50 at the MCG.

Lyon is the most successful Australian off-spinner with 269 Test wickets and is coming off a successful series against Bangladesh. His 13/154 at Chittagong is the best ever bowling by an Australian bowler in Asia. Not only will Lyon tie up one end by stemming the flow of runs, he has the ability to genuinely take wicket taking balls. He’s not going to turn the ball like Shane Warne but he’s going to be very difficult to face at grounds like the Gabba.
England’s batsmen can’t take Lyon for granted. If they take relief from the sight of Lyon’s off spin coming on to replace the pace bowling of Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins then they could struggle. Lyon is workmanlike and unassuming, but his bowling ability is unquestionable. Any comparison to Moeen Ali is unfair to both players and, this series could see Lyon as the man to lead the Aussies to victory.


Craig Overton (by Sean Brown)

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The key for Craig Overton this winter is mentality. He has to tell himself that he is in the side on merit, not just to fill the void of Ben Stokes. The 23-year-old’s Ashes selection came out of the blue despite being highly thought of for a few years now – he took 46 Championship wickets this season at an average of 22.39. He won international recognition after being named in England’s T20 squad against South Africa this summer but was the only member not to feature.

An Ashes trip down under is a different prospect entirely and some promising performances in England’s two tour matches so far have earnt the 23-year-old a strong chance of making the side for the first Test.

The Somerset man brings a different element to the attack. Despite his height (6ft 5in), Overton swings the ball both ways, attacks the stumps well, and takes a lot of wickets bowled and leg before. The 23-year-old should feel slightly less pressure as the fourth seamer and be able to bowl freely and naturally. The only danger is that he may be awarded the unwanted role of the ‘enforcer’.

The biggest stage tends to unearth stars of the future and England certainly need one if they are to be successful this winter. Craig Overton’s bowling talent and unknown identify gives him every chance of taking the Australian batsmen by surprise over the coming months.

Mark Stoneman (by Sean Wilson)

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England have been searching for an established opening partner for Alastair Cook for over five years now and have yet to find one. The form of Stoneman, however, is leaving plenty of room for encouragement. The latest cab off the rank when it comes to openers has been in fine form in the warm-up matches so far on the Ashes tour, scoring 85, 61 and 51 in three innings.

Stoneman also impressed during his first Test series against the West Indies and has been a prolific run-getter for Durham and now Surrey over the past few seasons. He possesses a slightly crouched technique, relying on compact drives straight and through the off-side, similar to England’s last opener in an Ashes tour down under, Michael Carberry.

The left-hander has arguably looked Cook’s most secure partner since Carberry and now has a terrific chance to make a name for himself in the biggest of series. Admittedly, he will be up against the finest opening attack he has faced to date in Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood, yet the signs are there that he has a game to combat the threat the Aussies pose.

Head coach Trevor Bayliss said in the week that “sixties aren’t good enough. We need 160s,” and Stoneman will be fully aware that he has to cash in when he gets a start on what should be good, hard wickets. If he can take the pressure off Cook and Joe Root for runs, England will have a good chance of prevailing in the series.

Dawid Malan (by Matt Roller)

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England’s likely number five has largely flattered to deceive in his fledgling Test career. After failing to reach twenty in four innings against South Africa, Malan hit a pair of sixties in the West Indies series, but still averages in the mid-20s, and on that basis, there is no particular reason to believe that he will be successful on Australia’s bouncy pitches.

However, to write Malan off would be to fail to understand his game. Having largely eradicated his penchant for soft dismissals in the past couple of seasons of county cricket, Malan is a more experienced batsman than he once was, and with 150 first-class games under his belt, knows what it takes to win matches.

Indeed, his power and self-assured gusto at the crease could prove vital for England. Neither side has a strong batting line-up, so handy contributions and momentum-changing fifties will prove important. In Malan – who has proved his form with a pair of fifties in England’s warm-up games – the visitors have a player capable of doing just that.