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Monday, June 22, 2015

Why England Are Favourites For the 2015 Ashes Series



Why England Are Favourites for the 2015 Ashes Series

It is just over two weeks until the Ashes series begins in England, for the third series in two years. It is an overkill to allow England the opportunity to prepare properly for the World Cup that took place earlier this year, without having to focus on An Ashes series before that tournament. as we have seen, that failed to help in any way their performance, and instead now has Australia defending the Ashes just 18 months after they reclaimed them from England, who had retained them just three months prior to that series in Australia. Still, much has changed since this time two years ago, when Australia arrived as a rabble after being thrashed by India in India and for the most part played like it, and England was ranked as the superior team and won as such without being able to assert complete dominance.

This time around though the tables have been turned just a fraction. England drew an entertaining two Test series against New Zealand, which probably asked more questions than it answered. Australia put the West Indies to the sword in their two Test series and arrive with options bulging for the 1st Test. Where two years ago Australia was forced to change their coach just before the Test series started and to suspend David Warner for his reckless behaviour, this time it is England who has changed its coach as well as still dealing with the Kevin Pietersen saga that has now stretched for over 12 months. Surely all of this points towards an Australian victory in the upcoming series.

Now, perhaps this will be seen as slightly controversial, or perhaps unpatriotic, but here are the reasons that England should be seen as favourites for this series, should all things be equal.

1. RECENT ASHES HISTORY IN ENGLAND

Australia won four straight Ashes series in England between 1989 and 2001, something quite unprecedented. But that was a team that was very special and England, while containing good players, at times appeared rudderless. Since then though, England has won the last three home Ashes series. In 2005 they broke Australia's 16 years Ashes stranglehold, though one wonders what may have happened had either Ricky Ponting chosen to bat first at Lords rather than bowl after Glenn McGrath was ruled out on the morning of the 2nd Test, or had Shane Warne caught Kevin Pietersen at first slip on the final morning of the 5th Test at The Oval when Australia pushed to bowl England out and give themselves a chase to draw the series. In 2009 Australia was unable to get the final wicket in the 1st Test to win that match, and having drawn level at Headingley went into The Oval dustbowl without a spinner, and suffered a series-losing defeat. In 2013 Australia was completely overwhelmed, and despite resistance in patches throughout, the 3-0 score line was a fair reflection on the series.

What this shows is that a status quo has been restored - England at home is now more formidable again than they necessarily are away from home. Beating them on their home turf is not a fait accompli.

2. THE SWINGING DUKE BALL

Australia's batsmen have shown weakness against a swinging ball before, and an impatience to see off the swing and build an innings beyond it. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad may well seem to be not on their game at the moment, but you can be sure the new Australian coach will be insisting they pitch the ball up and swing it away from their opponents. Warner, Clarke and Watson are especially vulnerable to this attack, while Steve Smith's technique should be scrutinised by it. With no Graham Swann to call on, and despite the potency of Australia's own seam attack, one can only assume that there will be some bowler friendly wickets produced. If England manage to jag the better of the conditions as they seemed to against New Zealand they will be in a prime position to put enormous pressure on the Australian batsmen.

3. AUSTRALIA'S UNUSUAL PREPARATION

Two years ago Australia came almost straight from the dusty slow spinning wickets of India to England, where they then played the Champions Trophy before playing. It wasn't a great way to ready themselves for an Ashes series. This time Australia have played two Tests in the West Indies on unresponsive wickets, before heading straight to England for two warm up matches before the series begins. Once again, the preparation appears to be off kilter, though dispatching an ordinary Windies outfit could arguably be better than being thrashed by India. On the other hand, England was pushed to the limit by an excellent New Zealand side in the Tests, while the ODI series was also fought out the way that would please the England hierarchy. England has now seen how their probable team can react under pressure. Australia may well be still underdone following their World Cup triumph.

4. SHANE WATSON

Let's face it. The Australian selectors are never going to drop this guy, no matter what he does. He has too many get-out clauses. If he fails with the bat, he is too valuable as an "all rounder". If he fails with the ball, it's his batting that is his strength. If he fails with both, it is his "experience" that is necessary for the team. So we can expect another series where he averages in the twenties with the bat, takes one or to wickets at a cost of 200 runs, perches himself at first slip, and takes up a spot in the team that could go to someone who is more likely to contribute more to the cause, just because he is Shane Watson. Adam Voges would score more runs and do a better job as a part timer with the ball. Shaun Marsh would surely score at least as many runs. Mitch Marsh would definitely do no worse with both bat and ball. Hell, Josh Hazelwood, Mitch Starc and Mitch Johnson are all better bets as an all rounder at the moment! All Watson's continued selection does is bottle up a spot that could be utilised better and more efficiently. The Poms will be devastated if he is dropped.

5. MITCHELL JOHNSON

Yes, it's a different Mitch Johnson than we saw in 2009 and 2010/11. This one has won an Ashes almost on his own back (along with Brad Haddin) and he knows his place in the scheme of things now. But he was very ordinary in 2009, and he didn't play in the Tests in 2013, so how he performs in this series is still an open question mark. He was the leader of the pack 18 months ago, though now with Ryan Harris, Hazelwood and Starc at his side it's a shared responsibility. Still, his intimidation was the sealer then, and if that is not apparent during this series, it may well be that England are able to traverse the waters with more security. No doubt the Barmy Army will be giving it to him again like they did in 2009, and his reactions will be interesting.

6. UNSCARRED YOUNG GUNS

It could go either way depending on the initial exchanges, but England have four keys who have either not been scarred by defeat by Australia, or have had little scarring because of it. New opening batsman Adam Lyth, wicket-keeper Jos Buttler and fast bowler Mark Wood haven't played a Test against Australia, while the fearless Ben Stokes and number three bat Gary Ballance have had minimal contact. All five have shown a bit in recent times, though Ballance's frailties against New Zealand will be troubling to both him and the team. While this is not a given success for the summer, the fact that they do not carry any baggage from England's last Ashes series will be seen as a benefit for them and the team as a whole.

7. AUSTRALIAN COACHING TO THE RESCUE

The shambles that has been the top level of English cricket for the last two years has, for the moment, been put to rest. The appointment of Andrew Strauss as cricket supremo is being hailed as a wonderful appointment. His first decision in ruling out any chance of Kevin Pietersen returning to the side was a complete ballsup. However, it is likely that there will be less panicking and more solidity at the top with Strauss in the job. More importantly, the appointment of Trevor Bayliss will no doubt be a success over time, but is immensely important immediately, with his knowledge of the Australian cricket set up and players, having been closely involved with them for some time. If there are any secrets to be known, he will know them, and this can only be of benefit to England in this series.

There are any number of reasons to refute the claims made above (1. History means nothing, 2. Aussies will swing ball just as much against just as fallible batsmen, 3. Australia won in Windies, England struggled to draw in Tests and barely won ODI's, 4. We've won with Watson in the team before, 5. Super Mitch is mentally tough now, Barmy Army are fat noisy idiots, 6. Those five haven't played against a decent team yet, 7. All the knowledge in the world won't help if they don't have plans and they don't execute them), but in the long run, home ground advantage and home crowds should bring these two sides a lot closer together than the last time they met. Thus England should be awarded favouritism for the series, and Australians should be wary.

(NB. Is this all a furphy, a way to try and trick the cricketing gods into believing this is what I think, and thus tip the glory Australia's way? Of course it is! And the fact I will also have $100 on England to win the series at the current $5.00 should be enough to ensure Australia passage to victory).

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