Sports in Australia is an important part of their culture, which is perhaps why they are a real force in the world. In cricket, when we talk about the historical powerhouses, Australia’s name perhaps comes before all-else.
There was a time in the recent past, when the Ashes - the oldest rivalry in cricket between England and Australia - became so one-sided that the Kangaroos won eight series in a row between 1989 and 2003.
Australian team has enjoyed several dominant periods in Test history
However, in recent times, things have changed considerably. England are not the team they once were, and Australia are on an extended poor run, having won just one out of their last five series – a scenario which occurred for the first time in nearly three decades.
But going into the series in poor form should not be new for the likes of captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner, as they were the part of 2013 side which whitewashed Alastair Cook’s men after coming in on the back of two consecutive series defeats in India and England.
So does this mean the current Australian side has what it takes upset the odds and deliver the counter punch just like 2013? Well the answer in all likelihood is a big no and there are reasons to back this claim.
First of all, there are a lot of doubts regarding the future of Steve Smith as the leader of the pack, which was not the case in 2013. It’s been nearly three years since the 28-year-old has been leading the Baggy Greens, and even though his batting remains pivotal to his team’s cause, many believe his decision-making is still not up to the mark.
There are a lot of doubts regarding the future of Steve Smith as skipper
Back in 2013, Australia had probably one of the best captains in the world of cricket in Michael Clarke. But his successor is often regarded as one of the less inventive tactical minds amongst current captains.
Another reason for Australia’s form is an uncertain batting order. Apart from Smith and Warner, there are no assured places in the lineup.
Previously, the reliable Chris Rogers had been an invaluable foil to David Warner, Australia’s most prolific opening pair in the past decade. However, the position has been far less settled of late, with five different pairs tried over the last two years including three in the last seven tests.
The batting woes don’t end there. For any successful team in the longest format of the game, having a solid lower middle order is always fundamental. India and England both currently possess formidable lower order, much like Australia once had in the form of Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds and Clarke.
But for this Australian team, its young Hilton Cartwright, Glenn Maxwell and Mathew Wade - who fill the fifth, sixth and seventh spots in the batting lineup. While Cartwright is just too young to count on in a contest as big as the Ashes, Maxwell and Wade are a real concern for the team management. The duo have managed to score just one half-century between them in their last 10 innings combined, which is no way near the requirement of modern-day cricket. To make things worse, there are no real all-rounders in the mix who could’ve given Smith the luxury to increase his batting options.
Middle order will rely on Hilton Cartwright, Glenn Maxwell and Mathew Wade
On the bowling front, the home side have already dealt a huge blow as James Pattinson has been ruled out from the series with stress fracture, which means injury of the three pacers; Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, will create a huge problem for the team management.
James Pattinson has been ruled out from ashes with stress fracture
Thankfully for him, the English team are facing problems of their own. For starters, they will be without star all-rounder Ben Stokes.
Then their batting order lacks balance as well. Only Cook, captain Joe Root, all-rounder Moeen Ali and wicketkeeper-batsman Jonny Bairstow are the one’s who have truly established themselves in the five-day cricket, whereas others are either new in international cricket like David Malan and Mark Stoneman, or they have the burden to prove themselves like James Vince and Gary Balance.
Ben Stokes won't travel with the rest of the squad to Australia and may miss out altogether
On the bowling front, the visitors will be depending on veteran duo of Stuart Broad and James Anderson, and it will be interesting to see if they have what it takes to survive five-match Test series and deliver the goods for Root’s side.
Combining England’s problems with Australia impressive home numbers, where they won 10 of their last 16 Tests in their own backyard, should make them a strong favourite.
But half of those came last season against the lacklustre West indies and Pakistan, who haven’t even drawn a Test Down Under this century. Also, it is worth reminding that Australia made as many as five changes in the batting order after series defeat against South Africa recently, and most of those players are still trying to secure their own position.
All of this leads us to conclude that things, as they stand, are not in the favour of Australia, and no matter how former players claim that England stand no chance of retaining the title, Smith’s men will have to get to their best foot forward if they are to avoid any embarrassment this time around.