A long-awaited Ashes series will begin on the 23rd of November in Brisbane, just under 4 weeks from now. There is just under a month for Australian fans to get their hopes up through 4 rounds of domestic first-class cricket, and just under a month for 30,000 travelling English fans to finalise their arrangements. Here are the 3 most important questions that the Ashes will answer
The England Batting Line-up, Is it Good?
This is the first Ashes series I can remember where the England team isn’t effectively set in stone, sure there has always been the odd question mark over one maybe two players, but this series sees at least 5 spots up for grabs in the English XI.
Gone are the old English stalwarts of Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior.
Will the indifferent form of Ballance, Stoneman and Milan be enough for the tourists? And if so can they take the pressure of Root and Cook?
Gary Ballance is a graceful Left handed bat that will likely occupy the No:3 sport for the first Ashes test. At his best, Ballance is a more than capable first-class cricketer. He has been in and out of the England team since last Ashes tour averaging 37.45 through 23 tests. Of the 3 batsmen mentioned above, Ballance is under the most pressure. He must provide a solid anchor and protect his captain from being exposed to the Australian new ball. He knows what to expect, having played in the 5th and final test of the 2013/14 Ashes slaughtering, he will be better for it.
Mark Stoneman will be playing just his 4th test in Brisbane. A left-handed opening bat, he replaced Keaton Jennings as Alastair Cook’s partner in crime halfway through the recent English summer. He is a vastly experienced First class cricketer but unproven at test level. Will he be able to handle the 100mph deliveries that Starc and Cummins will send his way on bouncy wickets? Time will tell
And then there is Dawid Milan who has scored two 50s in his 5 tests so far and has looked good at times. He will not be in the limelight as much as Ballance and Stoneman, but his job is no less important. If England collapse, Milan might be the last line of defence. For such an inexperienced player this is a big ask, but I believe he will surprise us all this summer.
Will Ben Stokes be missed?
The Answer is yes.
Who will replace one of the best if not the best all-rounder in the world in Ben Stokes? (Assuming he is rightfully suspended from the tour)
As an Australian fan, this is a question that I am relishing not having to deal with. The fact is Ben Stokes is Irreplaceable, nobody in world cricket can turn a game on its head as he can.
Is the state of Australian Cricket really as bad as they say?
Australia has been the butt of many jokes in world cricketing circles over the past 2 years. But is it really that bad?
As an Australian, I’ll be the first to admit that our beloved heroes have not been up to scratch of late. Apart from a thumping of Pakistan on home soil last summer that followed a dogged and brave performance in India, Australian cricket fans have not had a lot to crow about, indeed anything to crow about for a long time.
However, the selection questions that face the home team are far more pleasant from a coach’s point of view than those the England team has to face. Does Usman Khawaja come back into the number 3 spot where he has thrived over the past 2 home seasons? Do you play Pat Cummins? Or Chad Sayers? Cummins being arguably the 2nd scariest bowler in the world behind Mitchell Starc. Sayers being an adept and refined swing bowler that has more than thrived over the past 3 domestic seasons. Who bats at Number 6? Hilton Cartwright, who averages over 50 in first-class cricket or Glenn Maxwell who has proved in the past to be the very definition of x-factor (and will get bums in seats if nothing else).
In fact, the only unpleasant question Australians must consider is who is going to keep wickets?
Mathew Wade has been exceptionally poor in recent times but provides a moral value that can not be quantified. It would be a risky move to continue to play him despite this. Peter Neville is a consummate professional and has an outstanding FC record with the bat. He is also no doubt the finest gloveman in the world.
Putting my opinion forth, Peter Neville please, he may not have performed well with the bat for his country previously, but has he been given a proper chance? Having to arrest collapse after collapse will only highlight your failings. After all, his keeping has never once let the Australian team down.
There are many things to be excited and optimistic about in Australian cricket right now, not least of which is the best batsman in the world, Steve Smith, about to embark on another home summer boasting an average of 59.64 that will only grow. Young opener Matt Renshaw looks to be one of the most promising prospects in the world, dogged and disciplined opening bat that will grow into the perfect partner for David Warner over the Summer.
And then there is our bowling attack, speed and bounce, speed and Bounce and more speed and bounce. If England get there batting lineup even slightly wrong, they will be ruthlessly exposed on Australia’s plump hard wickets and painful recollections of Mitchell Johnson tearing them limb from limb will be brought back. Only this time the left-armed Mitchell hurling thunderbolts from 22 yards will be taller, faster and even more determined to embarrass the motherland.
The beautiful thing about test cricket and the Ashes, in particular, is that I may be horribly wrong, but I won’t know unit it is too late.