England and Australia are set to tussle in the traditional five-Test match series to seek the precious urn, that is placed at the idyllic Marylebone Cricket Club at the Lord’s Cricket Ground. If you are wondering about the etymology of the series' name, 'The Ashes' then let's turn the clock back to the long-gone era when The Sporting Times published a mock obituary in August 1882 after England got hammered by Australia in their backyard and the satirical reference got viral right away.
Ivo Bligh was confident in reclaiming the Ashes on England's maiden tour of Australia in 1882-83. Leading up to the tour, he mentioned the ‘ashes’ on multiple occasions and Australian media was quick to pick up on that. After winning the series, he was presented with a terracotta urn that many believe had ashes of bail or a stump. However, the term 'Ashes' disappeared from the scenes for two decades but it reappeared in 1903 when Pelham Warner took his team to Australia and vowed to reclaim the Ashes. The media in Australia showed keen interest again and from thereon, the name always pops up come the series between Australia and England.
The intensity of the battle can be ascertained by the fact that England has won 33 Ashes series and Australia are just one short of them on 32. Currently, Australia hold the urn. They were clinical against England in 2017/18 series routing them by 4-0.
England, recently crowned ODI World Cup winners, are oozing with confidence and itching to give a fitting riposte to the thrashing they received in their last meeting. They will have the services of red-ball specialists Stuart Broad and James Anderson; the two stalwarts of the game to further strengthen their dynamic pace attack.
Both teams will have to come out of the World Cup hangover and adjust to the demands of the longer format. Also, factor in the use of the Dukes ball that retains its shine for longer periods as opposed to the Kookaburra that starts to fade away after 20 overs. Fast bowlers enjoy bowling with the dukes but spinners aren't a big fan of it. Thus, Moeen Ali and Nathan Lyon will try to focus on accuracy than too much experimentation.
The solitary Test match between England and Ireland showed hosts' vulnerability as Tim Murtagh bagged a five-fer exposing England's frailty against the new ball. England's performance oscillated wildly prompting their coach Trevor Bayliss to intervene with a scathing briefing about their roles. They were bundled out for 85 in the first innings which will encourage Australian quicks comprising of Mitchell Starc, who is at the pinnacle of his career, deck hitting enforcer Pat Cummins, and disciplined Josh Hazlewood to go with an all-out attack. Peter Siddle, the aging pacer, has been active in English county and managed to convince the selectors to give him one last crack in the momentous series, and Siddle's good nick could be the icing on the cake for the Aussies. Also, Usman Khawaja has recovered from his hamstring injury which is certainly going to make Australia's middle order stronger as he has been the mainstay of Kangaroos over the last few years.
Moreover, Australia won't be needing extra time to get accustomed to English conditions because they were here for the long round-robin featuring World Cup and ended their campaign as semifinalists. Also, their A team has been practising in the UK with the dukes balls presented to them by ECB so the home advantage factor might be minimal. Players such as James Pattinson won't be rusty as they have already warmed up to the task playing against the county sides over the last few months.
Threat looms over England's hero Jofra Archer who claimed that he played with a side strain for the latter part of the World Cup. The anomaly in their pace arsenal is surely an automatic selection as he came through with flying colours at the end of his maiden world cup experience taking 20 scalps, and is determined to make inroads in the longer format. It is the ideal time for him to make a transition.
The menacing pair in the World Cup for England was Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow and if they get going in the white clothing, England will sit in a very comfortable position throughout the Ashes. They stack up against David Warner and Steve Smith who would like to wipe out any traces of memory pertaining to Sandpapergate scandal and fully integrate into the international circuit. Ben Stokes, the newly promoted vice-captain, is a player that you don't want to miss watching in action. He will rise in the crunch moments as usual and give Australia run for their money. He will be complemented with Jos Buttler who is in a sizzling touch. This time around, there will be an extra reason for both teams to push harder because the ICC Test Championship kicks off from this series. All in all, it is shaping up to be one of the most fiercely competed Ashes series beginning tomorrow at Edgbaston where we expect a packed house to witness this epic contest.
Joe Root (C), Ben Stokes, Jason Roy, Joe Denly, Jonny Bairstow, Joe Denly, Rory Burns, Moeen Ali, Olly Stone, Jos Buttler, Jofra Archer, Chris Woakes, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Sam Curran
Tim Paine (C), Cameron Bancroft, Patrick Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner