The Ashes – who is your money on?

Date: November 22, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

With the last Ashes series still fresh in the mind, another is set to begin and it does so with many Australian fans buoyant at the home side’s chances.

Over the next two months we will see just how much the Australian team has learned and whether improvement in its performance is noticeable.

But are the hosts a realistic chance of really taking it up to England?

On paper – not that that is where matches are actually played – there are stark differences between the two squads, with most of it noticeable with the batting.

Australia boasts just one tried and trusted Test batsman in skipper Michael Clarke, the only one to average north of 40.

The tourists have numerous – Kevin Pietersen (48.4), Alastair Cook (47.8), Jonathan Trott (47.4), Ian Bell (46.7) and Joe Root (40.1).

The ‘keeping front favours England with Matt Prior shading Brad Haddin with both gloves and bat although the Englishman is carrying a suspect leg and a batting average of 19 from the last Ashes into this series.

As for the bowling, the most stark difference is in the spinning ranks where Graeme Swann (248 wickets at 28.6) eclipses Nathan Lyon’s 85 scalps at 33.2.

The fast bowling ranks make for the most interesting comparison with averages and strike rates pretty much on par, although pure experience favours the visitors.

                                                              Tests     Wkts      Ave        S/R

James Anderson ENG                        87        329        30.1        58

Stuart Broad ENG                               62        217        30.6        60

Mitchell Johnson AUS                        51        205        30.9        55

Peter Siddle AUS                                46        167        29.1        59

Steven Finn ENG                                23          90         29.4        48

Ryan Harris AUS                                16           71        22.2         46

Shane Watson AUS                            46          64        31.9         69

Chris Tremlett ENG                            11          49        26.8         55

In essence, not too much separates the two principal attacks on raw performance numbers.

In fact, the stand-out performer is actually Harris.

With that sort of equality it may well be a matter of how each batting order stands up, and in recent times, that has been an issue for Australia.

With the exception of Bell (three centuries and an average of 62.4) the remainder of the England batting line-up was pretty much kept under wraps in the last series.

Despite scoring a century, Pietersen (38.8) and Root (37.7) were kept quiet while Cook (27.7) and Trott (29.3) were largely ineffective.

Australia’s prospects in the last series was cruelled by two atrocious batting collapses, effectively removing any chance of Australia reclaiming the Ashes – a problem that has been commonplace lately for Clarke’s side.

In the opening encounter at Trent Bridge, Australia lost by a mere 14 runs despite at one stage being 9-117 in its first innings.

At Chester-le-Street it was set 299 to win but having reached 0-109 imploded to be all out for 224.

The preceding series in India featured much of the same.

At Hyderabad the team lost its last five wickets for 28 in the first innings and 7-23 in the second.

In various stages at Delhi it had collapses of 5-30 and 5-53.

Two things provided the biggest contrast in the last Ashes series – Bell’s individual performance and Australia’s dual collapses.

Given the quality of England’s batting line-up it is likely that at least one will be a stand-out as Bell was last time around.

Australia has to hope that one of its top order – most notably Clarke – can do likewise and the remainder can have a solid series.

When it comes to the matter of collapses a lot of that can be put down to inexperience and that is where Australia is susceptible.

The likes of Clarke and Rogers – with his wealth of first-class experience – need to shepherd those around them and be intent on forming partnerships.

If Australia’s batting goes the way of the first and fourth Tests of the previous series it will likely be swept aside.

However, if it can stand up – and it is a significant ask – then the overall contest could be intriguing.

The outcome of the opening encounter at Brisbane will be pivotal to the outcome of the urn.

If Australia can get up – it has not lost there since 1988-89 – it will position itself nicely for a tilt at the trophy.

But, if England bucks history and goes one-up Clarke’s men will find it tough to regain the Ashes as it needs to record one more victory then the tourists by series’ end.

Let’s just hope that the weather doesn’t determine the outcome at the Gabba.

For mine, I find it hard to see Australia reclaiming the sport’s most famous trophy.

A drawn series is perhaps the best the hosts can achieve.

If its batting can stand up, I think a 2-all draw is a possibility.

It would not see the urn change hands but it would provide a substantial fillip for Australian cricket nonetheless.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 21 November 2013