THE WAIT IS OVER
Finally, the moment we’ve all being waiting for. Cricket’s oldest dual is back for its 69th edition – a decade after the legendary battle of 2005 where heroes were born and the mighty Australia team of the 1990s and early 2000s was brought to its knees.
England have renewed confidence, buoyed by their lively performance in their thrilling series against New Zealand – the shot in the arm they needed after a dismal World Cup. Australia sit at the top of the ICC Test rankings and have the world’s number one Test batsman in Steve Smith. But the Aussies also have an aging squad – just like they did in ‘05. Add home advantage into the equation and this could be a closer series than many are expecting.
The rich history of the Ashes is the envy of many cricketing and sporting events. But when you cross that boundary it’s all about the players of here and now. Here we take a look at the key Ashes duals and head to head clashes.
CLARKE VS. COOK
The battle of the skippers is more than just who will outwit the other with field placements, bowling changes and mind games. What is more interesting is who will score the most runs. Both players are men for a crisis, and having them on form will have a massive say on how their team’s fortunes. Cook is England’s all-time leading run-scorer, while Clarke is no stranger to the top of the ICC Test batting rankings.
Both have endured an unfortunate period during the last few years: Cook, through lack of form, and Clarke, through a potentially career-ending back injury. This is a gigantic series for both men. While many are suggesting this could well be the last series that Clarke captains, others believe he could even hang up his boots entirely. They will both be remembered as great players, but this series could elevate their star to even greater heights.
MARSH/WATSON VS. STOKES
The battle of the all-rounders will also be worth keeping an eye on. The form of Mitchell Marsh is putting a lot of pressure on stalwart Shane Watson, although voices in the Australian cricket media are suggesting Ryan Harris’ international retirement may have shifted the odds in Watto’s favour. Other quarters suggest Mitch Marsh plays and it’s then a straight fight between Watson and Adam Voges for number five. Being labelled ”the next Flintoff” or “the next Botham” is probably not doing the Durham lad any favours, but Beefy this week said Ben Stokes could potentially be the greatest England all-rounder since, yep, himself. How Stokes reacts to intense sledging – Marlon Samuel got under his skin in the West Indies – could also be a highlight. He won’t be shy to return a word or two.
JOE ROOT VS. STEVE SMITH
Steve Smith’s form in the last year or two has been, albeit over a much shorter period, Bradman-esque. Meanwhile, Joe Root has emerged as arguably England’s best batsman – and his recent appointment as vice-captain means that he is heir to the throne. He is England’s future but how the Yorkshire batsman copes with the added pressure of being the leading man in the biggest test of them all will be an intriguing watch. He is already a top-class international performer, but we will find out during this series just how good he really is as he takes on international cricket’s best side.
ANDERSON VS. JOHNSON
Things between these two got a bit feisty during the last series, and being their countries’ most experienced pacemen and arguably the biggest threats, the race to be the top wicket-takers at this year’s Ashes could well be a straight fight between the two, although the in-form Mitchell Starc may well have something to say about that. However, if you look at the bowling resources of both teams, England need Jimmy more than Australia need Johnson. England need to look after their talisman and resist over-bowling him in their quest for wickets or containment early on in the series.