VENUE: SOPHIA GARDENS, CARDIFF
TIME: 11:00 LOCAL TIME (10:00 GMT)
Exhilarating, riveting and mesmerizing are probably the adjectives to describe the oldest and the most traditional rivalry in cricket – The Ashes. The Ashes is back and as always, it promises to be a thrilling affair between two highly contrasting sides. While Australia have been led by the charismatic Michael Clarke, England are led by a person, whose captaincy depends entirely on his own form. Alastair Cook seems utterly out of sorts as the skipper when he himself is failing with the bat. But there is some positivity for England as Cook, in recent times, has notched up impressive numbers. His ton at Lord’s against the Blackcaps was simply reassuring.
Australia have had a great 2015 so far. A tri series win at home was followed by a World Cup win. Then the Kangaroos simply massacred the West Indians in the Caribbean. The rampaging Australians are now on their way to the Sophia Gardens in Cardiff. The Aussies are merely desperate to get the overweight monkey off their back by winning an Ashes series in England. It has been 14 years, since they last won a test series in this part of the world. Michael Clarke himself has endured defeat thrice in England. In all likelihood, this would be Clarke’s last tour to England, and he would want to accomplish it with a series victory.
Sophia Gardens also hosted the first Test of the 2009 Ashes. Back then, England fought out of their skins and managed to save the Test match. Incidentally, the predecessor of that Ashes series too had England being whitewashed in Australia. The English can seek some motivation from that and inflict some wounds on the Australians. But against this Australian side, beaming with confidence, it might just be a tad too much.
RECENT FORM (LAST 5 TESTS):
Against New Zealand: L, W
Against West Indies: L, W, D
Against West Indies: W, W
Against India: D, D, W
Cook’s form is highly integral to the fortunes of England. With Ian Bell looking out of sorts, the onus will be on the skipper to lead from the front and by example. It is a well known theory which states that when Alastair Cook scores well, England as a unit excels. Apart from Cook, it’s Joe Root who will have to do the bulk of the scoring. But Cook’s starts at the top will determine the way England counter the Australians. If Cook manages to negate that shiny new red Duke’s ball, then the English middle order will have an easier task.
Hailed by many as the next Andrew Flintoff, it’s only up to Stokes now to prove them right. Stokes has made a sensational comeback to the national side. The all rounder was brilliant against the New Zealanders and his twin knocks at Lord’s were notifications of his devastating abilities. Apart from the physical aspect of the game, Stokes will have to keep his mind calm as well. The Australians will surely do everything to get under his skin.
Smith is that binding force which holds the Australian batting lineup together. His 199 against West Indies while batting at number 3 reiterated the fact that he is good enough to bat there. Stuart Broad already has commented that Smith batting at 3, is a blessing in disguise for England. With the other batsmen still having some issues, it will be Smith who will have to lead the charge. If England manage to outplay Smith early, then they would have done themselves a great favour.
Starc was simply phenomenal in the warmup game against Essex. He got a well deserved five for and on current form, he is bowling much better than Mitchell Johnson. His swing is too difficult to negate and with the new ball, it will be his job to dismantle the English top order. Starc also has an ability to knock off the tail with ease. Thus, the lower order batsmen of England should find it profusely difficult to survive against Starc.
PITCH AND CONDITIONS:
Almost 1100 runs were scored in all after the first two innings of the 2009 Ashes test in Cardiff. Said that, it is a great batting wicket if the batsmen see off the new ball. After settling in, the batsmen can amass runs at ease as the pitch eases up. In the later stages, it assists the spinners as well. That would be well noted by Nathan Lyon. Spells of rainfall are forecasted for the first and last day. That would play on the minds of the captains.
1. A. Lyth 2. A. Cook 3. G. Ballance 4. I. Bell 5. J. Root 6. B. Stokes 7. J. Buttler 8. M. Ali 9. S. Broad 10. J. Anderson 11. Mark Wood
1. C. Rogers 2. D. Warner 3. S. Smith 4. M. Clarke 5. S. Watson 6. Adam Voges 7. B. Haddin 8. M. Johnson 9. M. Starc 10. J. Hazlewood 11. N. Lyon