England are embarking on their first five match home Test series since the debacle of the World Cup this week and can win back the Ashes in a mid and late summer that will provide decent weather and potentially no interruptions. Australia are second in the world rankings and England are fifth but the home side can move up several places by beating the old enemy over the next six weeks.
England and Australia have contested 336 Tests of which the Aussies have won 138, England 105 and there have been 93 draws. Of those fixtures 161 have been played in England and the home side have won 48, the visitors 47 and there have been 66 draws. Since the start of the millennium the two nations have met in eight series which each side have won four. Australia have outscored England by 21 tests to 17 over this spell which has featured 7 stalemates.
The last group of five day matches took place in Australia from November 2013 to January 2014. In the previous series in Australia in 2011 England won an Ashes series away from home for the first time in 24 years. Australia fought back with vengeance by winning the 2013-14 series by 5 tests to nil. It was just the second 5-0 whitewash since 1921 and replicated the outcome of England’s matches in Australia at the end of 2006 and start of 2007. Both sides won at least two tests for the latest time in 1997.
Peter Moores lost his job as head coach after the England one day team were eliminated at the group stage of the World Cup. The Kevin Pietersen debate became more of a major distraction than a side show. The maverick batsmen made a public attack on a number of ex-teammates including Matt Prior. The wicket keeper had major ankle surgery last summer and had to retire after playing 79 Test matches during an era when England rose to number one in the rankings.
Moores was removed from his coaching job following the abandoned ODI against Ireland shortly after the World Cup. Andre Strauss was appointed Director of Cricket and one of his first jobs was to virtually end Pietersen’s England career in all formats of the game. Trevor Bayliss is the new coach and he has now announced his first squad with the names of the players who will be available to play against Australia.
In selecting the squad Bayliss is giving a clear indication that England will start against Australia in Cardiff on Wednesday with the eleven that drew the two match mini-series against New Zealand earlier this summer. However, the coach has hinted at playing two spinners at some stage over the five matches. With a heatwave affecting the temperatures two specialist slow bowlers in tandem could prove to be effective if the Cardiff pitch is unusually dry.
Mitchell Johnson took 37 wickets in the 2013-14 Ashes series in Australia which England lost 5-0. Even in alien conditions in Britain he can have significant impact again as the Australian coach Darren Lehmann suggested in saying last month: ‘I think he can be just as devastating in England, he’s bowling fast at the moment, that’s for sure and if I was batting against Michael Johnson, I would be scared!’
That comment may be more about hype than substance but technically Johnson is now a better bowler than when he arrived as a potential match winner for the Ashes series in England in 2009. His bowling broke down and the home crowd were unforgiving in their mocking songs. Allied to a better technique Johnson has worked on his mental approach in the last 18 months. His duel with Alistair Cook could define the series and be the key battle in determining the outcome of this year’s Ashes.
The England captain is now his country’s most prolific run scorer ever and aged 30 is at his peak. Some pundits still have reservations about his captaincy skills but if Cook can master Johnson and pile on the runs from the top of the order the Ashes urn could stay here. James Anderson is now the country’s most successful Test bowler and can be lethal if the ball swings. The settled weather could take draw out of the equation and England have some momentum and can win the series by the odd match in five.
Back next Tuesday.