The countdown is on to the most eagerly anticipated event of the cricketing calendar as the 2017/18 Ashes series begins in less than a month. Last time England visited Australia they were whitewashed and pessimism abounds among their fans right now. Australia are in a bullish mood going into the five-test series and will feel confident of regaining the Ashes as they will be spurred on by passionate home crowds. Here are five reasons why they can pull it off:
No Stokes, no Ashes
The tourists will be without talismanic all-rounder Ben Stokes, who has been suspended by the England and Wales Cricket Board. He is on police bail on suspicion of assaulting a fellow reveller outside a nightclub and will not travel to Australia for the tour. It is a devastating blow for England as he has emerged as their best player in recent times. Steve Smith rates him as one of the world’s greatest players and it is easy to see why he went for a world record fee in the last IPL auction.
England’s batting order looks lightweight without him and his absence will put too much pressure on bowlers Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. Steve Waugh has already said that England cannot win without him and that seems to be the prevailing mood among pundits.
England fans think they will lose
The English have been lumping on their team to be whitewashed in the wake of the news that Stokes will not be heading Down Under. Oddschecker reported that more than 90% of series correct score bets from punters in England have gone on a 5-0 win to Australia. That is a pretty damning trend and it will not exactly fill Joe Root’s team with confidence going into the series.
History is on Australia’s side
The home team has won the Ashes on seven of the last eight occasions. The one exception was England’s victory in Australia back in 2010/11, but the current crop is not at that level. Just four players remain from that famous tour, and the newcomers to the squad generally represent a downgrade on the former stars. England scraped a 3-2 win at home in 2015/16, when both teams were in poor form, and both go into this series with their own problems.
England blew hot and cold against South Africa this year and were unconvincing in their last series against the West Indies. Meanwhile, Australia have struggled against India and could only draw with Bangladesh in their last series, and they now find themselves two places below England in the ICC world rankings. There is not a great deal between them, so home advantage really could swing it in Australia’s favour.
As such, they are the $1.45 favourites to win the series in the latest cricket odds at Oddschecker, while England are $5.00 outsiders. The bookmakers are a pretty sharp bunch and they all overwhelmingly favour Australia.
England are inexperienced and Australia smell blood
England’s selection for the tour drew criticism across the board: veteran broadcaster Jim Maxwell called it one of their “worst ever batting line-ups” and said England would lose 5-0, Kevin Pietersen said it is horrendous and they may as well stay at home, and others accused Root of picking his mates. Some of those comments are a little harsh, but what is hard to overlook is the sheer inexperience of England’s batting line-up. Mark Stoneman, Dawid Malan and James Vince have just 15 caps between them and Smith said his bowlers will try to exploit their lack of familiarity with the fast and bouncy tracks Down Under.
Vice-captain David Warner – who infamously punched Root a couple of years ago – has ramped up the mind games with more fighting talk, saying the Ashes will be like a “war” and promising to build up the “hatred” with England. If they can channel that aggression into keeping Root and Alastair Cook quiet, they should regain the Ashes with ease.
Hosts can blunt Anderson
Anderson is England’s record wicket-taker and their most potent weapon, but he was kept largely quiet back in the whitewash of 2013/14. They had him bowling plenty of overs and he did not take many wickets as they scored a lot of runs, so they could well have his measure once again. Anderson is now 35, while Broad is 31, and they will struggle to play at their highest level for five tests. The absence of Stokes and the loss of Toby Roland-Jones to injury puts more impetus on them, but they cannot hope to do it all themselves and risk being burnt out – another trend Australia can exploit to their advantage.