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Key battles in the Ashes

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Ashes_England_Australia_key_battles_cricketThe highly anticipated Ashes series is just around the corner and excitement continues to build around Australia at the prospect of exacting some revenge on the old enemy. The Englishmen have now arrived in Australia and are preparing themselves for a hostile reception when the series gets underway at the Gabba on November 23. With both teams full of talent but also deeply flawed, it promises to be an intriguing contest.

Here are some of the key battles that could define the outcome:

Steve Smith v Joe Root

Starting with an obvious one is the battle between the opposing captains. Not only are Steve Smith and Joe Root the leaders of their sides, they are also two of the best batsmen in world cricket and key players in their own sides. With Usman Khawaja likely to bat at three for the home side, Smith will drop down to four, a role in which he has had plenty of success in home conditions.

Root will also likely bat at four, with James Vince the favourite to bat at three for England. Like all visiting captains, particularly English ones, Root is going to be targeted by the Australians. How he handles the pressure cooker atmosphere of an Ashes series in Australia, both as a batsman and a captain, will go a long way to determining the result of the series. If Root can pile on the runs and start the series well for his country, he will be able to deflect some of the pressure onto the home captain.

Jimmy Anderson v Australian conditions and the Kookaburra ball

England’s greatest ever wicket taker is the newest member of the 500 Test wickets club and could very well pass Glenn McGrath’s 563 victims, the record for fast bowlers, in the near future. For Anderson to surpass the great Australian, he will need to have a productive Ashes series Down Under, something he has struggled to do in the past.

The Lancastrian’s skill with a Dukes ball in swinging English conditions is indisputable, but his record away from home – particularly in Australia – is the one blight on his otherwise impeccable record. For England to stand any chance of retaining the treasured little urn, their spearhead needs to master the Kookaburra ball and the far from helpful Australian conditions he will encounter. If Anderson and partner in crime Stuart Broad can make early inroads into Australia’s top order they could expose the hosts’ weak underbelly.

The Aussie quicks v their own bodies

Much has been made of Australia’s intimidating pace attack heading into this highly anticipated Ashes series. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins are both capable of regularly bowling about 145kph while also swinging the ball. Josh Hazlewood, though not as quick as his teammates, is still sharp enough and metronomic with his accuracy.

However, all three fast men have had battles with injury over their careers, with Cummins in particular having spent more time on the physio table than on the park since his Test debut. With back up quicks James Pattinson and Nathan Coulter-Nile already ruled out of the series, a heavy workload will be thrust upon the incumbents.

Should any of the big three break down, Jackson Bird and Chadd Sayers are capable replacements, but they don’t strike the same fear into the opposition and lack the pace of Starc and Cummins. If Australia were to lose one or two of their leading quicks, then suddenly confidence will rise in the English camp.

Moeen Ali v the short ball

With superstar Ben Stokes unlikely to feature in the Ashes series due to the ongoing investigation into his nightclub incident, Moeen Ali’s importance to England grows ever more. Alongside Chris Woakes, Ali will be expected to help fill the gaping hole left by Stokes. While Ali’s role as the lead spinner will be important, and his battle against Nathan Lyon is certainly one to watch, it is expected he will move up to number seven in the batting order and it is here where he will need to contribute vital runs.

There is no doubt Australia will target the classy left hander with the short ball as he has found himself in awkward positions against it before. In the series build up he has revealed that he had worked very hard on this weakness using a variety of methods, but his real test will come against the fearsome pace of the Australian attack on the faster and bouncier Australian pitches.

And finally, on a lighter note…

The Barmy Army v the Australian sun

Wherever England travel to play cricket, they enjoy arguably the best travelling support in the world thanks to their loyal & loud band of supporters known as the Barmy Army. The Barmy Army’s vocal support and passion will be even more crucial in Australia, where the hostile local fans will make sure the visitors know they are not welcome.

However, anyone who has been to an Ashes match in Australia or seen the crowd shots on television knows the English don’t handle the heat and sun too well, with a lobster-red, beer bellied, singing Englishman being a common sight.

For the sake of the Barmy Army and the English team, we hope they take their sunblock, keep their shirts on, and sing loud and proud all day long for the duration of the series!

 

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Akash is a cricket writer based in Perth, Western Australia. Upon completing his journalism degree ...

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