The Ashes 2017: A Preview

The biggest cricket series in the world is almost here. It has been more than two years since the oldest rivalry in cricket had its last installment. The 2017 Ashes series will have an added dimension – two of the best batsmen in Test cricket, Joe Root and Steve Smith, are the first-time Ashes captains of their respective teams.

Ashes 2017 Tour Fixtures:

England will take on archrivals Australia in five Test matches between November 23, 2017, and January 8, 2018. England’s tour of Australia will then extend to five ODI matches between January 14 and January 28, before the tour concludes with two T20 matches in the second week of February. England are already down under, playing their warm-up games currently – one two-day practice game against Western Australia (drawn) and two four-day games against Cricket Australia XI. England’s batting clicked against WA XI but they scored less than 300 in each innings against CA XI.

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2017 Record:

England are clearly the better test team coming into the Ashes, despite playing overseas. The Joe Root-led outfit has won both their test series this year – both at home – against South Africa (3-1) and West Indies (2-1). This will be their first overseas series in more than a year.

Australia have had a horrific time in the subcontinent; this series will be their first at home all year. They lost a close-fought series to India 2-1, before losing their first ever Test match against Bangladesh and only drawing 1-1. They will be glad to be on home ground; they are the second-best Home Test team in the world after India. England had a worse 2016 than Australia’s 2017 in a similar stretch in the subcontinent – given that they were demolished 4-0 by India in India and drew 1-1 in the Test series with Bangladesh.

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Flashback To Ashes 2015:

The captains were still Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook. England won 3-2 at home – but the stage was set for the two best batsmen and top scorers of the series, Smith and Root (Player of the Series), to take over the mantle soon. Clarke retired from Test cricket after this loss, as did opening batsman Chris Rogers, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin. England took a 3-1 lead after 4 Test matches, but lost the final match at The Oval by an innings, with Smith scoring his third century of the series.

The most memorable moment of the 2015 Ashes Series was when Stuart Broad ripped through the Australian batting order in the fourth Test at Nottingham when the series was at 2-1. He took 8 wickets as Australia was bowled out for a pathetic 60 in the first innings – the shortest ever innings in Test History (111 balls). It was also the first the ‘Extras’ (14) outscored every other batsman in the team. Australia managed 253 in the second innings, but still lost by an innings as Ben Stokes took six wickets.

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Ashes 2017 Talking Points:

  • Stokes, by far the most promising all-rounder amongst both sides this year, might not be playing the Ashes after getting into a late-night brawl a few months ago. With the investigation still pending, he wasn’t part of the squad that has travelled to Australia, but the English management will be hoping he is cleared so that he can hope onto a flight soon and salvage England the first few Tests – given that they have already been hit with injury concerns. Bowler Steven Finn has been ruled out with injuries, Jake Ball and Moeen Ali are injured too, but expected to be fit for the first Test. England might have made an error by not choosing Liam Plunkett as a replacement for Finn.
  • The England squad has many first-time Ashes players: James Vince, Mark Stoneman, Craig Overton, David Malan, George Garton, wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, Mason Crane and Jonny Bairstow. Out of them, only Malan, Foakes and Bairstow could be regular team members for the five Tests. The bowling is a little thin, given that they still depend on Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali will look to fill in the huge gap left by Ben Stokes.
  • Mitchell Starc is hoping to emulate Mitchell Johnson’s legendary 2013 Ashes series. Starc warmed up for New South Wales by destroying WA XI with two hat-tricks in two innings – a historical achievement in the history of domestic bowling. Starc looks dangerous and fit, and he will combine with Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins to form the more potent bowling line-up out of the two teams. The English batsmen won’t have it easy.
  • Alastair Cook will play as Ashes non-captain for England for the first time since 2009. He is the highest contemporary scorer between both teams, with 2117 runs at an average of almost 40.

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Ashes Series History:

  • This will be the 70th Ashes series to be contested between the two teams. It will be momentous, given that both teams are locked at 32 series victories a piece, with only 5 series draws. Australia has won more Test matches though, 130 compared to England’s 105.
  • Since 2005, when England won probably the best ever Ashes Series 2-1 against Australia, England has won 5 of the 7 Ashes Series played, including one in Australia in 2011. Cook scored with a record-breaking season. Yet, the two Ashes that England has lost – both in Australia – have been by 5-0 whitewash margins. Hence, Australia has won 15 matches as compared to England’s 13 since 2005, and yet they have lost five series.
  • England has won 14 out of the 34 Ashes series played in Australia. Similarly, Australia has won 14 out of the 35 Ashes series played in England.
  • Shane Warne is the highest wicket taker in Ashes history, with 195 wickets over an astounding 36 matches. Among the current lot, James Anderson has 87 and Stuart Broad has 84. Mitchell Johnson too ended on 87 Ashes scalps. Peter Siddle has 73.
  • Out of the current lot, Steve Smith has five Ashes centuries in 18 matches. Clarke had 7, while Ponting had 8. Interestingly, none of them have averaged over 45 against their rivals. Michael Hussey averaged almost 60 against England.
  • The highest score among the current batsmen for both teams is Cook’s marathon 235 in Brisbane back in 2010. The second is Smith’s 215 at Lord’s in 2015. Along with Kevin Pieterson and Mark Taylor, they remain the only modern-day Ashes batsman with double centuries to their name.