Australia in Pole Position to Poke England’s Ashes Bear

Having delivered the World Test Championship before the storms arrived in South London, Australia are fully engaged with removing the only rain blot on their UK copybook in recent history. They haven’t won an Ashes series outright in England for 22 years.

Australia’s Test travels to the mother country in the 21st century have not been anywhere near as harrowing as England’s tours down under within the same time frame. Despite Stuart Broad’s best comic attempts to declare the latest 4-0 Ashes hammering as “void”, it’s very rare that the Poms even bother to get up off the floor for the rest of the series when they are hammered at Brisbane.

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England Look to Make Home Advantage Count at Edgbaston

However, England is a different country, a different set of rules, where the crowd can lay it on with a spoon of acerbic acid as Australian wickets fall. The pitches ask parochial questions. The ball wobbles and moves in mysterious ways. 60 all out at Trent Bridge isn’t a great memory for Steve Smith and company. Jimmy Anderson and Broad are unlikely to feature in all five matches but they are not ready for the after-dinner speaker circuit just yet. Ollie Robinson hasn’t been quiet either. Edgbaston has generally been a happy hunting ground for the hosts too.

A lot has changed in both attitude and mode of attack since Joe Root and Anderson were escorted from a (drinking) session with the opposition at the end of that 2021/22 tour. The lack of man management on that trip is long gone as Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have put their very hefty but humane stamp on the team since. Players are backed. Commitment to winning far outweighs any repercussions of failing. Kevin Pietersen used to say he wasn’t frightened of getting out. That’s what this feels like.

Is There a Plan B after Bazball?

The overriding impression is that Australia aims to squash the blitz from the outset. While Smith insists that McCullum’s New Model Army “haven’t come up against us yet”, the last skipper to win in England has also expressed concern about what the hosts might do if their modus operandi is messed up. Steve Waugh, captain of the victorious 2001 touring team, said: “They can’t chop and change. Have they got a backup plan? I’m not sure. That might find them out.”

A recent statistic brought up in commentary boxes during the win over Ireland was Ben Duckett’s propensity to play virtually every ball. Against an unrelenting attack of Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and the unerringly accurate Scott Boland, such a method appears unsustainable. Likewise, the greenhorn Harry Brook has had a wonderful time in Test cricket. It’s not supposed to be this smooth. He averages over 80 after seven matches. This will not be the case at the end of July.

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England Eye Warner and Khawaja for Early Inroads

Cummins is an inexperienced skipper and there are some weaknesses in the Australian line-up. David Warner must be worried about how he goes after the nightmare of 2019. He recorded eight single-figure scores in ten innings, succumbing to his nemesis Broad seven times. Usman Khawaja looked uncertain against the Indians and does not have a great record in England. Travis Head’s explosive form is impressive but he is susceptible to the short stuff. If Smith and Marnus Labuschagne settle in, it could be a very long summer for the seam attack stripped of full volume Stokes. Nathan Lyon’s spin trumps Moeen Ali’s SOS call any time.

When Michael Vaughan’s aggressive four-man pace attack took on the stellar Australian batting line-up of Hayden, Langer, Gilchrist, Martyn and company in 2005, the latter couldn’t handle it. The fear for England is that if the sparks do not fly from Crawley, Duckett, Brook and company, there isn’t a recovery room of a Trott or Cook. All or Nothing is a very precarious tightrope against world-class opposition.

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