Joe Root, Pat Cummins, The Ashes
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The Ashes: Where will the Ashes be won or lost?

| 07.12.2021

A look ahead at what could decide the Ashes  

England are the underdogs for the Ashes as Joe Root looks to replicate what Andrew Strauss did 10 years ago and lift the famous urn aloft at the end of five hard-fought Test matches.  

The hosts are the holders of the Ashes and new skipper Pat Cummins will be hoping to make it three straight Ashes victories for Australia on home soil.

All of the Ashes action is live on BT Sport as we take a look at where the key battles lie and where the Ashes could be won or lost. 

Solid start is key

Both sides have struggled to find the right opening combination in recent years and whose openers fare best could decide the destination of the famous urn.

Although they might not need to be averaging 50+, protecting their respective star players in the middle order and seeing off the new ball looks vital.

Haseeb Hameed and Rory Burns look to be given first chance to stride out for the visitors in the first Test at the Gabba, a venue England have only won four times out of 21 Ashes Test matches.  

The duo have registered two century opening partnerships in three innings since Hameed was restored to the top of the order for the Headingley Test match versus India in the summer. 

Both will have their techniques severely tested, especially Hameed, whose tendency to play with low hands could be an issue on Australia’s bouncy wickets.  

However, Burns will take plenty of heart from the 390 runs he scored in the 2019 home Ashes series which included a tenacious century in the opening Test at Edgbaston.  

For Australia, it is David Warner and Marcus Harris who will face the new ball.

Warner’s days in an Australia shirt looked numbered heading into the recent T20 World Cup but he answered his critics in style by powering Australia to the trophy with 289 runs and scooping the player-of-the-tournament award.  

The flat Australian wickets, combined with the Kookaburra ball, could allow Warner to be at his domineering best and he is 3/1 to lead the Australia run charts at the end of the Ashes.

Although averaging just 23.77 in Test cricket, Harris will be hoping to replicate the form he showed for Leicestershire in the County Championship this summer where he hit 655 runs at 54.58.

The engine room  

There is little doubt that if England are to win the Ashes then their two world-class superstars, Joe Root and Ben Stokes, need to come to the party armed with a full box of treats.

Once confirming his availability for the Ashes, it was inevitable Stokes would be restored to the line-up and re-joining his great mate Root in the middle order.  

It is also no surprise to see Root as 5/6 favourite to be top England run-scorer on the back of a fine 2021.   

The England skipper is yet to score a Test match hundred Down Under but having racked up 1,455 runs at 66.13 in 2021, it would be no surprise to see the Yorkshireman amend that record this winter. 

Only Dawid Malan scored more than him in the 2017/18 Ashes and England’s leader has scored six 50’s at an average of 38 in all of his Tests on Australian soil.  

Joe Root, England, the Ashes

For all their talk about wanting to play against the best, the return of Stokes will definitely come as a blow for the hosts.  

The return of the world-class batting all-rounder could prove crucial to England’s overall balance and the fact Stokes feels fit enough to operate as the fourth seamer will allow the visitors to strengthen their batting line-up with a specialist at number six.  

Stokes has already got his name in Ashes history following his magnificent 135 to win the fourth Ashes Test in 2019 and it would be no surprise to see him grab the headlines once again.  

It is 5/4 for Root and Stokes to make a century in the Ashes while you can get 9/4 for Stokes to score a century and take a ‘five-for’ while in Australia.  

Stopping Smith

A persistent thorn in England’s side, Steve Smith and his metronomic run-making could steer the balance in Australia’s favour once again.

Smith hit 687 runs in 2017/18 and 774 runs in 2019 and the recently appointed vice-captain is 5/2 to be the leading overall run-scorer for a third straight Ashes series. 

The winner of the Compton-Border player of the series award in the past two Ashes, he is a player for the big occasion.

With his understudy Marnus Labuschagne joining him to make the most frustrating of three/four combinations, finding a solution to the Smith situation could be the biggest head scratcher for the England bowling unit during the Ashes.

The power of six 

England head coach Chris Silverwood has already said the number six position will be occupied by either Jonny Bairstow or Ollie Pope.  

The enigmatic Bairstow is the highly strung lost soul of the England dressing room, desperate to fulfil his potential and return to the lofty heights of 2016 when he scored 1,470 runs at 58.80 in an England shirt. 

If he were to replicate his recent white-ball heroics he could be a real asset to England’s middle order and the Three Lions could cling to his record in Australia, which includes a hundred in Perth when last touring Down Under.  

However, it looks likely to be Pope that gets first opportunity to express himself in the middle order.

This could be a baptism of fire for the Surrey starlet or the series that announces his talents to the world stage.  

A young protegee destined for the top, many have worn the future England captain tag but also struggled in their first tour to Australia in the past.  

Root was chewed up and spat out by Mitchell Johnson and co in 2013/14 and it would be no surprise if Pope gets a severe testing of his technique from Aussie skipper Cummins and Josh Hazlewood.  

Pope’s favoured off-stump guard makes him a prime LBW candidate and appears likely the Aussie quicks will be homing in on his pads early in his innings. 

Cameron Green gets first use of the Australian number six position and it will be interesting to see how the 22-year-old Western Australian fares in his biggest assignment to date.

He played four Test matches against India last season, scoring 236 runs at an average of 33.71, and he is likely to have to boost those numbers if he is to retain possession of the jersey throughout the series.

Paine-less Australia

Much has been made of the illicit texts which resulted in Tim Paine’s untimely resignation as Australia captain but does this actually strengthen the hosts’ chances of winning the Ashes?

Although Paine was a popular member of the Australia squad and the most trusted lieutenant for coach Justin Langer, his Test record was far from inspiring and some would question how a wicket-keeper/batsman can play 32 Test matches without a hundred in the modern era.

Taking over the gloves is Alex Carey, who has been the long-time ‘next cab off the rank’.

Carey has survived the clamour from a plethora of Australian legends for Yorkshireman Josh Inglis to get the nod and will be looking to replicate his smart white-ball form in the green and gold which has seen him score 1,203 runs at 36.45.

Captain Cummins

Another consequence of the Paine sexting scandal is Australia turning to their front-line bowler Cummins to lead them into battle.

Although vice-captain for some time, it does seem a risk to burden one of the world’s finest bowlers with the pressures of captaincy ahead of the biggest series in Test cricket.

Cummins was the leading wicket-taker in the 2019 Ashes, claiming 29 England scalps, and with the injury problems that once plagued him consigned to history, he looks set to terrorise the visitors for all five Test matches.

If Cummins does succumb to the weight of being the first Australian bowler to be named skipper since the 1950s, then there will be more emphasis on Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc to step up.

Hazlewood has 57 wickets at an average of 24.43 against England and claimed 20 wickets in 2019. He could represent the value in the Australian top bowler market at 3/1.

Five into three doesn’t go  

One of the biggest selection dilemmas facing Root and Silverwood during the Ashes will be which of their battalion of seam bowlers to let lose and when.   

England’s most decorated bowler James Anderson is 11/4 to be his side’s leading wicket-taker in the Ashes and he’ll be desperate to get back to full fitness for the pink ball Test matches having suffered an agonising injury on the eve of the first Test.  

That could open the door for Chris Woakes if England chose a like-for-like replacement but his oversees record of 25 wickets at 51.68 is in stark contrast to his impressive home figures of 94 wickets at 22.63.

Ollie Robinson burst onto the scene this summer and the Sussex seamer is joint favourite to be England’s leading wicket-taker.  

He will be brimming with confidence following a prolific first season of international cricket, which has seen him take 29 wickets in five matches at an average of 19.60.

Robinson has already claimed some key scalps of the likes of Kane Williamson and Virat Kohli and England will be hoping his wicket-taking knack continues when facing off against some of the Aussie big guns. 

Mark Wood’s pace makes him an asset to Root but his injury record and a packed Ashes schedule means he will will have to be handled with care and England will have to chose wisely which Test matches will suit his skills best. 

The Durham man can often be expensive and with everything hinting towards England adopting a containing strategy, similar to what worked so well for the Three Lions’ successful 2010-11 Ashes campaign, he could find himself carrying the drinks more often than not. 

Paceman Steven Finn was dropped after three Tests of that tour for the slower but more accurate Tim Bresnan and England could make a similar selection here and give stalwart Stuart Broad one last opportunity to influence an Ashes series.

It is hard to ignore Broad’s 118 Ashes wickets and having dismissed Warner seven times in 2019, could be unleashed on his resurgent old nemesis once again.  

You can get 4/1 for Broad to get Warner out five or more times this time around as a #YourCall special.  

Think Pink

The Covid-19 situation in Perth has thrown open the Ashes with a second day/night Test match set to be added as a replacement fifth Test with the venue yet to be decided.

Australia will be supremely confident if so as they have played more floodlit Test cricket than any other nation and boast a 100% record from their eight matches.

England, by contrast, have won just once in four attempts. Even so, there is belief that conditions would be more favourable to swing bowlers like Anderson, Broad and Woakes than traditional Australia fare.

Spin to win 

It may not be the wickets the spinners take that decide the series but they do have a crucial role to play for their respective sides.

The return of Stokes opens the door for Jack Leach to play a central role in the Ashes and with 62 Test wickets in 18 matches at an average of just under 30, there is few arguments against him being the best slow bowler in England.  

Although he may not be as much of a wicket-taking proposition against Australia’s plethora of left-handers, he is a much more consistent bowler than Dominic Bess.

He will also be able to play the containing role that is often crucial for visiting teams to Australia. Leach is 7/1 to be England’s leading Ashes wicket-taker.

For Australia, Nathan Lyon has often held the key to their chances both home and abroad.

Only Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath have more wickets for Australia in Test cricket and Lyon is certain to pass 400 Test wickets during this winter’s series.

The off-spinner has caused plenty of left-handers trouble over the years and he could be licking his lips at the chance to get stuck into an England top five featuring three southpaws.

He took 20 wickets in 2019 to go with the 21 he snaffled in 2017/18 and Australia’s Mr Consistent is 3/1 to be his side’s leading wicket-taker.

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Adam Morgan