An outstanding issue for Australia is who partners David Warner: Chris Rogers or Shaun Marsh. I expect Rogers to get the nod because he is well versed in opening the innings in English conditions, where the ball tends to swing, after spells with Middlesex and Derbyshire. It could be vital having someone used to facing, and capable of getting the shine off, the new Dukes ball. Warner gives Australia an edge and is someone who will go hard early on in a bid to put the pressure back on the bowlers.
England’s openers are much more traditional, although Adam Lyth is likely to be more aggressive than Alastair Cook. It is a bright, new pairing and both scored centuries during the New Zealand series. But things are going to get harder for Lyth. The Aussies will try to give him a working over and he’ll be tested in ways he hasn’t been previously.
Verdict: Rogers and Warner. They proved a good partnership during the last two Ashes series.
England’s No3 and No4 batsmen Gary Ballance and Ian Bell have been struggling for form in Test cricket. Ballance has 77 runs from his last six innings, while Bell has scored 55 in eight. Both are under pressure but I think Bell will turn the tide.
After those two come the brilliant Joe Root and Ben Stokes, who are both at the top of their game. Root has been in devastating form in the last 12 months and will be the prize wicket for Australia.
England’s equivalent will be Steve Smith, who tops the Test batting rankings and averages more than 100 in the past year. Skipper Michael Clarke always does well against England, but it will be interesting to see how his body copes with five Tests in a short period. Former Middlesex captain Adam Voges only made his Test bow last month aged 35 but scored a century on debut and deserves to keep his place. I reckon Shane Watson will be selected over Mitchell Marsh as the all-rounder.
Verdict: The two are similar but Australia on current form.
Lancashire’s Jos Buttler is very dangerous. He plays with no fear and is more than capable of scoring at a run a ball. He maybe needs to work on his game outside off stump and Australia will want rid of him early. The downside is he hasn’t played any Ashes cricket before. Counterpart Brad Haddin is always a nuisance for England. He may be getting on but will attack what he sees as weak areas of the attack. At Trent Bridge in 2013 he targeted Steve Finn and started whacking him out the ground.
Verdict: Haddin edges it slightly, purely on Ashes experience.
If Mitchell Johnson bowls like he did in the last Ashes then England have absolutely no chance. But we just never know what to expect, especially in England. He really struggled in 2009 with the Dukes ball.
If he hits his straps he will be a handful, as will fellow left-armer Mitchell Starc. He was phenomenal with the white ball in the World Cup and has the potential to cause England massive problems.
I saw a fair bit of fast bowler Josh Hazlewood when I was over in Australia for the Big Bash. He has had a really good start to his Test career, with 24 wickets in five matches. He just nails areas and is very similar to Australia great Glenn McGrath in that respect.
England are a good bowling unit and while leading Test wicket-taker Jimmy Anderson may have lost a bit of pace he will rely on his skills and is likely to be the best bowler of all in English conditions. I’m a fan of Mark Wood but the big one for me is Stuart Broad. He took wickets against New Zealand but he looked down on pace. England need him hitting speeds of mid-80mph and with fire in his belly to put Australia on the back foot.
Verdict: Australia win on pace and aggression, but English conditions could level things up with the hosts’ skills at swing bowling. A tough one to call but Australia nick it again.
Australia off-spinner Nathan Lyon doesn’t set the world alight but he is a steady bowler. I believe England need to be more aggressive against the slow bowler, much more than during the last Ashes series certainly.
Yorkshire leg-spinner Adil Rashid performed will in the one-dayers against New Zealand but I reckon England will go down the Moeen Ali route, certainly to start with. If Moeen does not look threatening in the first Test, however, I can see Rashid coming into the side. There will be pressure on Moeen, while the option remains for Cook to play both of them in tandem.
Verdict: Another department which Australia win.
Clarke proved what a good captain he is when Australia whitewashed England in Australia. His tactics were way better than Cook’s and he has won a lot of matches as skipper. There is no doubt Clarke is a better captain, although Cook has improved a lot. I hope Alastair shows faith and backs his spinner this series. He has a tendency to return to the seamers too soon. Anderson was flogged during the 2013 Ashes.
Verdict: Michael Clarke
FIRST TEST PREDICTION
Draw. It’s a slow wicket at Cardiff. I believe it will be a high-scoring first innings for both teams and, although the pitch might start to take turn on the final few days, it will be hard for either side to take 20 wickets.
Australia win 3-0. I think the series will be a lot more competitive than people thought it may have been a while ago but despite the two teams being close in all departments, I believe Australia will have enough to edge the key moments and come out on top.
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