by Michael Wicherek
The current Ashes series is one that pits two unsettled line-ups against each other in the fiercest of battles. Not many are giving England a sniff of retaining the Ashes, let alone winning the series outright. To be successful Down Under this time around, England will have to avoid repeating the mistakes of 2013-14 when they were whitewashed 5-0.
First, they must bat well. England’s inexperienced batting line-up have to stand up to the pressure that will be mounted on them. Australia have broadcast their intentions to go hard at England, Australian spin bowler Nathan Lyon causing controversy by saying he hopes the Australians can “end the careers” of some of the England squad.
Mark Stoneman, James Vince and Dawid Malan will be under the most scrutiny as they boast, at best, modest batting averages in their short test careers. It is vital that these three weigh in with big scores to aid experienced pair Alastair Cook and Joe Root in getting England up to the kind of totals they achieved in the successful 2010-11 series.
Over the last few years England have had a habit of losing wickets in clusters. In their last four tests alone the top order has registered scores of 63-5, 37-3, 39-2 and 72-4. Three of those came against a West Indian bowling attack much weaker than the one they will face against the Aussies. Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins will look to replicate the pace of Mitchell Johnson from the last series in Australia. Johnson claimed 37 wickets then.
Away from the batting, England’s bowling attack is much more settled. They have a lot to prove and a big part to play in putting pressure on Australia’s batsmen. England’s leading wicket taker James Anderson and new-ball partner Stuart Broad will need all their skills to extract something from the pitches Down Under.
The loss of Ben Stokes slightly unbalances the England side, with Jake Ball brought in as a 4th seamer and Moeen Ali moving up to bat at no 6. Stokes remains in the UK following his arrested in September on suspicion of actual bodily harm after an incident outside a Bristol nightclub. Ball and Chris Woakes will have a big part to play in supporting Anderson and Broad to maintain the pressure in the field.
There are also areas of weakness within the Australian team that England can look to exploit. Uncapped opener Cameron Bancroft is yet to score an international run and Shaun Marsh has been in and out of the side since his debut in 2011.
Tim Paine has only one first class century to his name and was a surprise call-up to many, having not been keeping wicket for his state side Tasmania.
Another area that could be a concern for Australia is the strength in depth of their bowling attack. First choice seam bowlers Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc have historically been prone to injury and if England can keep them bowling for long periods, they may not be able to play all five tests. Backup seamers Jackson Bird and Chadd Sayers are not of the same calibre and could provide England with some respite.