For the third time in just two years, England and Australia are set to do battle in one of the oldest contests across all professional sport. The two arch rivals last competed for the famous little urn in 2013/14 in Australia, where the hosts ran out 5-0 winners, with England triumphing 3-0 on home shores a matter of months earlier. While the Aussies are still led by former batsman Darren Lehmann, who masterminded his country’s whitewash of the “poms” 18 months ago, England have recently turned to an Australian as coach for the first time, and they’ll be hoping that the inside info Trevor Bayliss can provide will help them regain the Ashes over the coming six weeks. To find out which players you need to keep an eye on this summer in addition to a likely less than accurate prediction, just keep reading.
Key Batsman, England – Alistair Cook
Aside from 2010/11, when Cook averaged over 100 as he flayed the Australian attack to all parts, the England skipper has struggled with the bat during the Ashes throughout his career, beginning with the 2006/7 whitewash all the way through to another 5-0 reverse last time out. Cook appears to be nearing his best after a run of good scores both in the Caribbean and at home to New Zealand last month, and with his tormentor in chief Ryan Harris having retired due to his chronic knee injuries captain Cook will have the opportunity to lead from the front and give the three lions the chance to build commanding totals, something they were unable to do in Australia last year.
Key Batsman, Australia – David Warner
Steve Smith may be the number one batsman in world cricket, but it’s Warner who has the ability to take a test away from the opposition in a single session. At his best a hard-hitting force to be reckoned with, Warner made a name for himself in the last Ashes series by mercilessly targeting the England bowlers in the third and fourth innings of tests. Warner infamously swung for the golden boy of English cricket, Joe Root, the last time Australia toured the northern hemisphere, and his success at the top of the order could pave the way for the likes of Smith and Australia captain Michael Clarke to dominate from the middle of the batting line-up.
Key Bowler, England – Moeen Ali
Prior to his England test call-up Ali had always been a batsman who bowled, however that has all changed in the past twelve months as his country has asked him to shoulder the spin bowling load while batting from the lowly position of eight in the batting order. Ali remains a better batman than bowler, yet if England are to be successful they’ll need Ali to hold up an end at the very least while Cook rotates his seamers from the other end. Ali underwhelmed in the West Indies earlier this year – however he enjoyed his most success as a test bowler during the home series against India a year ago which could bode well for the man with one of cricket’s most recognisable beards.
Key Bowler, Australia – Mitchell Johnson
It couldn’t really be anyone else, could it? Fearsome Mitch troubled the England batsmen to such an extent in the previous series that he took 37 wickets, a stark contrast to his other two Ashes series when he struggled to locate his searing pace. While the wickets won’t be as fast in England as they were in Australia Johnson still has the heat to cause England serious problems, and it’ll be clear from his first prolonged spell whether or not scars remain from the 2013/14 whitewash.
Australia enter the series as clear favourites, yet they haven’t won in England since 2001 and home advantage may well be worth a test match or two to the hosts during this series. Both teams contain world class players, including Smith, Clarke and Johnson on the visiting side and Cook, Bell and Anderson for England. Yet Australia’s depth is where they stand out; the likes of Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc are top level players, while Mark Wood and Adam Lyth are comparative novices. For England to match their opponents they’ll need to perform to their absolute best – and even then it might not be enough. Australia 3, England 2