After going through the emotional high of winning the Cricket World Cup, England's cricket fraternity now turn their focus to what they regard as an equally big quest – winning the Ashes. In the last Ashes series, played in Australia, the hosts pummelled Joe Root's side 4-0. But prior to that, in the last contest between these two teams in England, it was the Poms who triumphed 3-2.
So, the challenge for England is to regain the Ashes and prove their worth as a Test side also. For the Aussies, the return of David Warner and Steve Smith would provide the much-needed boost of strength for their batting. Without these two, the team has suffered immensely and even lost a home series to India.
When and where to watch
The first Test will be played at Edgbaston, Birmingham and begins at 11 AM local time, 10 AM GMT and 3:30 PM IST. The match would be telecasted live on Sony Six and Sony Six HD. For online viewers, the game would be streamed live on Sony LIV.
The domination of home side in the Ashes series since the 2010/11 rubber in Australia has continued unabated. Will this series break the trend? For that to happen, the Australian batting will have to see a big rise in its performance. Without Smith and Warner, the Australians looked brittle against quality opposition. But even the return of these two won't guarantee success. In the previous Ashes encounter on the English shores, in 2015, Smith did have some success but that was largely on pitches which were flat and conditions not swing-friendly.
The English are still not convinced that Smith is as good in swing-friendly conditions as he is in other environments. Warner also has questions regarding his ability to score on English pitches. If these two batsmen are able to fire, they will lift the entire batting line-up of Australia and give their quality bowling attack a chance to succeed.
But they would be up against a bowler with legendary status in English conditions – James Anderson. He would have with him another man who has been extremely prolific at home – Stuart Broad. The main question is: who will be the third seamer? Will England trust Chris Woakes with that responsibility?
The fact is that Woakes is similar to Anderson and Broad in terms of pace and the style of bowling. On a pitch like Edgbaston, which is usually flat and dry, the hosts may opt for the extra pace of Jofra Archer. Whatever be the composition of the attack, it would be a tough challenge for the Aussies.
Moeen Ali is very likely to play as he has proven to be a very capable spinner in the last year for the English team. Apart from his useful spin bowling, the all-rounder can also provide useful runs in the lower order.
But what would give Australians hope is the fact that they too have potent weapons in their arsenal when it comes to bowling. The trio of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins proved to be devastating in the 2017/18 series. But things have changed a little bit since then. Starc lost his form in 2018 and questions were raised as to whether his previous success was due to Australia's peculiar sandpaper-based ball handling. He recovered his form in the Test series against Sri Lanka earlier this year and was brilliant in the World Cup. Can he transfer his form from the World Cup to Tests?
It could well be Hazlewood who proves the key for the visitors. His bowling style may be more suited to English conditions than others. Cummins has been the best bowler for Australia since the ball-tampering scandal in Tests. So, he too has major expectations to live up to.
The trump card for Australia may well turn out to be their highly efficient spinner Nathan Lyon. He has gone from being regarded as a mere appendage of the fast bowling line-up to becoming one of the most reliable wicket-takers. On the dry pitch of Birmingham, he may have a big role to play.
The Australians will also fancy their chances due to the vulnerability that the English batting line-up has shown over the last couple of years. The top order collapses of England have become a regular feature. They have repeatedly been bailed out by the likes of Sam Curran and Ben Foakes but in West Indies, their luck ran out. With an opening pair still not established and a middle order yet to be fully settled, the Australians would look to cause series damage at the begining of the innings, as Ireland recently did.
So, it promises to be an interesting contest. The English season of 2018 produced great compelling cricket. Hopefully, the same would be the case this year.
Global TV listings
- England: Sky Cricket
- Australia: Channel Nine
- Indian sub-continent: Sony Sports network
- USA: Willow TV
- New Zealand: Sky New Zealand
- South Africa: Super Sport 2