England's quest to regain the Ashes starts at Edgbaston.
After England secured perhaps the least convincing 143-run victory in the history of Test cricket against Ireland, attention swiftly turns to the Ashes, where both the hosts and Australia have burning questions to answer.
I address the nitty-gritty of the series in my ante-post preview, but in this one I’ll focus primarily on the 1st Test at Edgbaston – starting Thursday.
Australia haven’t won an Ashes series in England since 2001, which was also the last time Australia won a game of cricket at Edgbaston. That’s a long drought in both respects, and while I believe this is a fantastic opportunity for the Aussies to retain the Ashes on enemy soil, this opening match belongs to England.
Cast your minds back to the World Cup semi-final; England had been demolished by Australia at Lord’s in the group stage, and many were predicting a similar result at Edgbaston. Instead, England put Australia to the sword and romped to the final.
Yes, I’m talking about a different format, and yes, England are a bit of a mess as far as Test matches are concerned, but my point is that Edgbaston is a fortress, and once a hoodoo like this develops, it’s incredibly hard to shake it off – just look at England’s results at the WACA.
Evens is perhaps a little skinny for an England side whose batting is, to put it bluntly, fragile, but the hosts have lost just one of their last 14 Tests at Edgbaston—a run stretching 18 years—and I don’t see that changing this week.
Though I give England the edge at Edgbaston, their batting is a big concern, particularly at the top of the order. For that reason, I’m backing the Aussies to register the highest first innings opening partnership.
It’s looking like David Warner and Cameron Bancroft will open for the visitors—both playing their first test since sandpaper-gate—but in Warner’s case in particular (as he showed during the World Cup) class doesn’t disappear overnight (or in his case a year).
As for England, their primary worry is the form of Rory Burns. 14 innings for England, with just two half-centuries to show for it, doesn’t look too clever, and his performance against the Ireland attack last week—which was horrendous—doesn’t fill me with confident about his chances against Pat Cummins or Josh Hazlewood with the new ball.
Jason Roy, though a little more assured than Burns, is still undeniably vulnerable against the moving ball, which is why I’d like to see him bat in the middle order with the uninspiring-but-more-expendable Joe Denly moving up.
England are no strangers to being reduced to 30-3 in Tests, and for that reason a stronger Aussie opening stand looks a significant likelihood.
At a slightly bigger price, I’ve gone for Ben Stokes to be Man of the Match.
14/1 seems very long for an x-factor player to perform with either bat or ball and win England a game at their fortress – particularly considering his superb World Cup.
No England batsman in 2019 who has played more than once averages higher than Stokes’ 37.20, while a haul of 10 wickets in his thee Tests—coming at 22.80-a-piece—is also incredibly handy.
Put bluntly, Stokes is a match-winner, and with so many England players misfiring with the red ball, it seems written in the starts that the 28-year-old comes into the side and transforms them for this Ashes opener.
Well worth a punt.