Riding high after their first World Cup win, England’s cricketers can complete the perfect summer if they regain the Ashes from Australia over the next month and a half. With the focus shifting to test matches, a few players from the victorious one-day side take their leave from the squad. Eoin Morgan, limited-overs captain, drops out – as do Liam Plunkett and the underperforming James Vince. However, there is still space for the run-accumulating machine that is Jos Buttler. Excitingly for England, there’s also a return for James Anderson. The world’s most prolific wicket-taker as a pace bowler, Anderson has a more than decent history against Australia.
The Baggy Greens, for their part, will be looking to win on English soil after a disappointing World Cup. Eliminated in an incredibly one-sided semi-final by their hosts, the Aussies will be hoping to create some good news against a side ranked just above them in the five-day form of the game. Extremely recent history is on their side – they won the previous series by a margin of 4-0. Having said that, winning in England is a very different matter to picking up a series win Down Under, so the hosts do enter this series as narrow favourites to regain the famous urn.
Player of the Series: Redemption is a great motivator
The last time these sides met across a test series, England didn’t get out of the blocks. They lost the first three matches and therefore the series, then picked up a largely cosmetic draw before also losing the fifth. At the time, much of the attention on the UK side was on the absence of Ben Stokes, dropped from the squad after his arrest for a violent public confrontation. Stokes has worked his way back into the good graces of the ECB, and was a pivotal performer during the World Cup. To make 2019 a truly memorable year, the Durham all-rounder is back in the Ashes squad and has lost time to make up for.
While his work with the ball is very much a secondary skill, Stokes is a canny run-gatherer and his performances in the field contributed to his country’s eventual success last month. He’s also one of the most versatile players in this series, able to switch from limited overs to test cricket without missing a beat. 888 have him as a 10/1 chance to take the Player of the Series award; that makes him fourth-favourite, but his all-round game might make him a better choice than shorter-odds options like Jimmy Anderson or Mitchell Starc, who fare better when bowling.
Openers looking to bounce back
While history will record that England started the World Cup as favourites and went on to win it, histories of the 2019 competition will take note of the fact that they made something of a meal of things and ended up needing a huge slice of luck to force the Super Over that eventually saw them win. Frequently, their vaunted opening batsmen simply didn’t put on as many runs for the first-wicket partnership as they would have hoped. While that can be finessed in the one-day game – a fine innings lower down the order can enable a defendable score – test cricket is a different animal and England will need their top order to be in form to win the series.
Much of the attention will fall on Joe Root to make this a reality. He finished the competition as England’s highest-scoring batsman and averaged 61.77 – but he was out swishing all too often, when a decent accumulation might have seen England finish higher than third in the opening league stage. The Yorkshireman is one of the most reliable scorers at Test level, however, and with odds of 7/4 to be England’s top scorer courtesy of Ladbrokes, is certainly worth a dabble in his preferred form of the game.
Super-charged crowd should see England home
It’s England against Australia, so the crowds will be noisy. England just won the World Cup, so you can sling on a few extra decibels for that. And then there’s the Warner/Smith factor. Australia’s David Warner and Steve Smith are back in the test side after being found guilty of ball-tampering in a series against South Africa – something which happened after their Ashes whitewash of England last time out. Naturally, the suspicion is that they weren’t novices to the world of cheating, and the pair are marked men, having already received pelters from English crowds during the World Cup. This will make for a febrile atmosphere across the series.
Unless the Australian top order can find a way to silence the jeers of the home crowd – and evidence so far has suggested they’ll find that tricky – then they could be in for a very long series. England come into the series with odds of ⅘ to regain the Ashes at Betway, and between their superiority in the world rankings, the current struggles of the visiting batsmen, and the considerable home advantage, they merit some backing. The series may be close – or it may be as one-sided as it was two years ago – but the home side are definite favourites to win the series.