My Two Hundred Dinars: The Ashes 2013/14

Posted on November 13, 2013

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Four in a row?

A week today, a mightily important event will take place. No, it’s not my 28th birthday (well, it is, but that isn’t my point), but the start of the next instalment of the greatest two team series in all of sport, The Ashes. I say it’s the greatest two team series, but save for two series in the last 20 year it’s been a bit of a one sided washout really. This summer saw an example of this lop-sided match, as England had the whole thing wrapped up merely two weeks after it all began. Australia were in a bit of disarray, England were steady as she goes.

All of this changed in the last test at The Oval. England made changes for the sake of making changes, something which has been the antithesis of the settled consistency of the Andy Flower era. Simon Kerrigan made his début and got flayed. Chris Woakes made his début and everyone has forgotten that already. Shane Watson smashed 176 as he finally found his spot in the batting line-up,simultaneously solving the number three conundrum. Steve Smith finished off a consistent series with an unbeaten century and all of a sudden the Australian side was easily selected. The game ended in a draw, but the momentum had begun to shift.

Enter the winter series. Australia named their squad this week, and it is the sort of announcement that can only be made by a side that knows exactly what they are doing. 12 players were named, as opposed to 17 the last time England came down under for the first test. Only one uncapped player has been named, and instead of an untried rookie the man in question is Australia’s limited overs captain, George Bailey. Only Virat Kholi can claim to have been in better form in the short game this year, and his selection has seemed almost inevitable for a while now. Mitchell Johnson also returns, half because of performance and half because of injuries to the barrage of pace bowlers in Australia’s youth ranks. Nathan Lyon is retained as the spinner, and you can practically name the first XI. James Faulkner will be unlucky to carry the drinks, but as far as first replacements go he isn’t a bad choice.

Contrast that with England right now. Will Carberry open and Joe Root move down the order? Risk Matt Prior of go with Johnny Bairstow as the keeper? And which of the three extra seamers plays? Consistency of Tremlett, fire of Rankin or Steve Finn? I could hazard a decent guess at the first XI, but there are still questions. The warm-up games have been disrupted by the weather as well, meaning England enter the game undercooked and short of match practice. This should lead to the sort of Ashes series we want, not one that is over within two weeks.

Of course, this is all on paper. If you take a closer look at the paper you’ll see that George Bailey hasn’t performed well in long-form cricket in a few years. 256 first class runs at 18.28 do not a test batsman make. You’ll also see that Mitchell Johnson has a history of taking a few wickets and then getting dispatched to all parts of the park. There aren’t many more infuriating bowlers in the international game. You’ll see that Shane Watson has had a huge workload over the last 12 months, and history suggest another injury may be around the corner. Dave Warner still isn’t convincing as a test match opener. Chris Rogers gives off the impression of being a place holder, and all of this without mentioning Michael Clarke’s back, which could go at any time.

Still, I am convinced this series will be a lot closer than the last two have been. And that’s surely what everyone wants. When test cricket is tight and tense, there aren’t many better sports in my view. This should be a fascinating, fascinating series.

(My prediction? England 5-0).

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