Ashes to Ashes: The Australian summer of 21
The 2021 Ashes.
In a world where test cricket is starting to seem like one of the least important forms of the game, there’s one series that never fails to generate the white heat of excitement. Ever since the bails were ceremonially cremated in 1882 to mark the death of English cricket, the Ashes has been a contest like no other.
Over the years fortunes have swung in both directions but, taken series by series, it’s been a close run thing with Australia claiming victory 33 times to England’s 32, with six drawn series.
So when England venture to Australia in November 2021, they will be hoping to catch up with Australia, not to mention recording their first away win there for a decade. Admittedly, the Ashes betting odds are clearly favouring the team with home advantage, but nothing is ever 100% certain when the two teams meet.
As anyone who saw the 2019 home series will agree, neither team was at its absolute best despite some outstanding performances on each side with Ben Stokes and Steve Smith being the shining examples.
But it will be over two years since the teams last met when they confronted each other at the traditional starting point for Ashes series down under, Brisbane’s Gabba, in November 2021. A lot can change in this time so we can expect to see a very different England taking the field.
Here’s how different it could be:
There’s one thing that we can be reasonably sure about and that’s that Joe Root will still be test captain come November. But the hopes are that he will have managed to achieve a better balance between his responsibilities as skipper and his batting. There has been no doubt that the latter has suffered since he took on the role. But other changes to the side could mean that he’ll be able to retain his preferred position of No. 4 in the order instead of the No. 3 position he dislikes.
At number 5 we can expect to see lots more of one of the most exciting prospects to emerge for a long time, Ollie Pope. He made himself a regular fixture in the side over the summer and seems sure to be a big part of Chris Silverwood’s plans going forward.
Also fairly likely to be included in the middle order is Jos Buttler. From being a little in the wilderness, and with his wicket-keeping leaving something to be desired, he was almost written off. But a series of great knocks proved that he has a bright future with the bat, if not the gloves.
In terms of openers, the consistent form and impressive attitude of Dom Sibley also makes him a pretty certain pick for the squad. His grit and determination to dig in when it’s needed could come in very handy when facing what will undoubtedly be a hostile Australian attack.
Who partners Sibley?
Rory Burns is probably a bit less of a certainty – but performances between now and November could well swing things his way.
A more likely partner for Sibley will be Zak Crawley who, at the tender age of 22, has already shown he has the temperament for the big occasion. Such traits will be needed during the 2021 Ashes series, where there is likely to be attritional cricket. An area in which England struggled last tour in 2017/18.
The AUS $60 million question is whether that winning pairing responsible for over 1100 test wickets between them will be included. At 39 even the ever-youthful Jimmy Anderson must be a major doubt, especially remembering how he broke down so early in the last series. Stuart Broad, at 35, at least has a few years on Jimmy and proved what a match winner he can still be with five wicket hauls still coming easily to him when he’s in the zone.
One bowler who is certain to make the trip is Jofra Archer. For sheer pace, he is up there with the fastest in the world and he already has the psychological upper hand over many Australian batsmen thanks to his comprehensive roughing up of Steve Smith in 2019.
Another man heavily fancied for the squad is Mark Wood. His fast, skiddy style makes him enough of a handful on English pitches. But on the quick surfaces in Australia, he has the potential to be unplayable during the 2021 Ashes series.
Spin to win?
While spin doesn’t play such an important role in Australia – though Shane Warne and Nathan Lyon might disagree – it’s a good weapon to have in the armoury. So Dom Bess is pretty certain to find himself in the touring party, possibly accompanied by Jack Leach. After all, the latter has a certain totemic significance for the opposition after his Headingly heroics in 2019.
There’s really only really one name that most people will be thinking about when it comes to Botham-esque performances and that’s Ben Stokes. But let’s not forget that Sam Curran has also shown exceptional promise and is fast-maturing as a real threat with bat and ball. So, while he might not get to play in all five tests, his skills will almost certainly be called upon at some point.
This is a position very much up in the air. Johnny Bairstow would love the chance to re-establish himself in the side and Buttler might just be picked for his batting. Then again, a surprise selection could be on the cards.
There’s also scope for some left-field choices to go into the mix. And, after a year in which the season has been so disrupted, it could lead to some very unexpected names – we’ll just have to wait and see.
The 2021 Ashes lies ahead. As does a realistic chance of England competing Down Under.
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