Australia play its best cricket when the team is purposefully aggressive. This policy worked spectacularly in the last Ashes series and over the long haul has proved superior to England’s more conservative methods
While this Ashes series will see yet another five hard-fought Tests, they are crammed into just six weeks with an unusual July finish. This is physically and mentally demanding for all players, especially the faster bowlers.
As the bulk of England’s genuine pace bowlers are suffering an injury this is a scheduling calamity that favours Australia.
The other great conundrum is England’s style of play. If, as expected, they bat ultra-aggressively, the question is whether England will continue to play in this manner if they experience failure. This is a fascinating proposition as England will face pace bowlers who are difficult to attack if Australia are able to select its best trio.
A fully fit Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are accustomed to opposition batsmen wanting to attack. Their vast experience will place a lot of pressure on an English batting line-up that can be fragile, especially at the top of the order. If England collapse early, will they have the nerve to maintain their attacking philosophy?
Equally, if the English theory pays dividends and they win convincingly, will Australia be tempted to retaliate?
If England were to win convincingly it would present skipper Cummins with a big decision. However, it’s unlikely Cummins will be stampeded into a drastic change of tactics, but that possibility makes for an interesting encounter.
Australia play its best cricket when the team is purposefully aggressive. This policy worked spectacularly in the last Ashes series and over the long haul has proved superior to England’s more conservative methods.
However Ben Stokes’s attacking captaincy and England’s drastic change of batting tactics adds drama to an already spicy series.
If Australia hold their nerve then they have fewer questions to answer than the English squad.
England’s openers Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett tend to be either brilliant or brittle. Facing a strong Australian pace attack, their production is in danger of producing the latter result and this would place enormous pressure on Joe Root.
Ollie Pope is a good player but if he’s in early that will benefit Australia.
Then there’s Harry Brook. So far, Brook has excelled in Test cricket but Australia could challenge his supremacy with some accurate short-pitched deliveries. The inclusion of Jonny Bairstow ahead of Ben Foakes as ‘keeper is an indirect admission that England prefer an aggressor in the middle-order.
The concerns over skipper Stokes’s bowling is a major worry for England in view of the devastating loss of Jofra Archer’s pace and skill. Without Archer, England will rely heavily on the fitness and pace of a willing but injury-prone Mark Wood and possibly the inexperienced Josh Tongue.
An attack of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ollie Robinson is viable in English conditions. However, age issues and a similarity of style will encourage Australia to plan on playing a lengthy first innings against such an attack.
The Australian batting line-up has a more settled look, but still relies on Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne to amass big scores. Travis Head and to a lesser extent Usman Khawaja have to establish their English credentials while Cameron Green faces a tough test in the conditions.
Warner can be dangerous
The big unknown and the player who, if he succeeds, could tip the balance in Australia’s favour is David Warner.
Warner, despite his previous struggles in England, is a dangerous batsman because of his quick-scoring tendencies. If he succeeds, Australia will be boosted. But if Broad continues his mastery over Warner then the series is wide open.
Nathan Lyon is a superior spin bowler to Jack Leach and if England are unable to dominate the off-spinner then he’ll provide excellent variety to Australia’s powerful pace attack.
In normal circumstances the odds slightly favour an Australian series victory. However this is not a normal Ashes and Test cramming plus England’s desire to bat dynamically make this a tantalising series.