Over the years there have been some truly amazing and career-defining Ashes series – from Botham’s Ashes at the start of the ‘80s to England’s first win Down Under for 24 years, England v Australia is a rivalry that sets a precedent for world cricket. However, I think that the 2013 series over here may just eclipse that, and here are the 4 reasons why I think this.
Beating the Aussies is one thing, defeating them on their own turf another, but publically humiliating them in their own backyard… That’s just crossing the line! The Australian public were so outraged at their team’s shambolic display two years ago that they even went so far as to praise England (I know, I couldn’t believe it either!). Add to that the fact that they have lost 3 of the previous 4 Ashes contests and the boys from Down Under are going to be fully pumped up to atone for this next summer. Expect fire, tantrums, gamesmanship and a display of Bush Culture never seen before on these shores from the wounded beast in order to regain what they feel is rightfully theirs.
2. The battle of the quickies
Earlier this summer, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander proved that you don’t have to hurt batsmen in order to get wickets on our shores and, with these two rivals boasting some of the greatest seamers in the world at the time of speaking, I feel that success is going to be all down to can bowl the most consistently. For England, James Anderson has proved that he should be recognised amongst the greats, including Steyn himself, after some masterful performances with the ball both in and out of his favoured conditions. In Australia, where the ball isn’t supposed to swing much, he was by far the best bowler in the series with 24 wickets, 7 ahead of anyone else, while in the recent tour of India he bagged 12 wickets, 8 more than any other seam bowler. He leads the attack with authority and skill and should be feared by all Aussies.
England boasts a fantastic stock of seamers to play alongside Anderson but there is one fundamental problem – they all have horrible injury records. Stuart Broad has been hampered by niggles over the last 2/3 years and this has caused him to drastically lose form, while Tim Bresnan has been nowhere near the bowler he was since his elbow operation a few months back. Steve Finn is looking every inch a top-class international seamer but his body is also starting to fail him, while both Chris Tremlett and Graham Onions both have serious back injuries to thank for stalling promising England careers. For England to win the series at least two of these bowlers have to be fighting fit and near, if not at, the top of their game.
Meanwhile, Australia’s quota of fast bowlers has risen from not enough to far too many since the end of that horror show 2 years ago. Alongside the veterans of Peter Siddle, Mitch Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus are the wily John Hastings and youngsters Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Mitch Starc, Trent Copeland and Jackson Bird, who impressed on debut against Sri Lanka just the other day. Like England, they are also struggling with the battle to stay fit but any one of these bowlers can turn a game on its head. Personally, I think Starc is the one to watch – he had a successful period over here last summer with Yorkshire so will know the conditions well and destroyed the South Africans with his pace and tenacity just a couple of months ago. Provided he can stay off the physio table long enough, he may just be the breakthrough act of 2013.
3. ‘My gloves are nicer than yours…’
With wicketkeeper-batsmen coming back into fashion I think the battle between Matt Prior and Matthew Wade will be a fascinating one come next summer. Prior has firmly established himself as one of the greatest ‘keeper-batsmen of the modern era, not far behind the legendary Kumar Sangakkara, after a slightly shaky start to his England career. He has undoubtedly been the country’s most consistent performer on the sub-continent in the last 2 years, shining against Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India, and his ability behind the stumps is unrivalled by anyone else. He has the ability to take amazing one-handed diving catches, score at a run-a-ball and even stick it out and play the long game if necessary and he has been vital to England’s success in recent years.
Wade, however, is a relative newcomer to international cricket. Having played just 8 tests at the time of speaking he has much to learn in international cricket but his statistics firmly show that he is a talented man. A batting average of 36.27 with two fifties and a maiden Test hundred coming against a tough South African attack is a solid foundation to build on, while he has also snared 25 catches and 2 stumpings with the gloves. But it is his inconsistency that means he is not guaranteed a place on the tour here next year. With the bat he will either get out for under 15 or over 65, while with behind the stumps he sometimes misses regulation chances yet can then follow that up with the most spectacular diving catches, including the one-handed special to dismiss Sangakkara during the Boxing Day Test. If he can use the rest of the Sri Lankan series to cement his place in the Test side then expect a strong fight from the small Tasmanian next summer.
4. Captains Marvellous
They have reinvented themselves as players after periods of horrific form during which they were almost dropped and are now two of the greatest batsmen in the world, as well as captains of their countries. In fact, the stories for both Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke are highly similar. Both burst onto the Test scene at a young age before their faults were discovered and exploited by ruthless opposition bowlers. Cook, however, is a man who has kept himself to himself over the years, grafting away at his game silently while certain other players take the headlines. He is loved by the entire nation for his hard work and dedication, but Clarke has a slightly different image in his homeland. He was a bit of a lad, if you see what I mean, and liked to party and get in the news. He had a model girlfriend and numerous spats with teammates and the Aussie cricket board. He was a talented troublemaker (remind you of someone else?) who almost became the pantomime villain of Australian cricket. The decision to appoint him as Ricky Ponting’s successor was not initially taken well by the public, but those feelings of resentment are long gone.
A whitewash of India started the year nicely for Clarke before a resounding 2-0 win against the West Indies followed. The 3-match Test series against was full of astonishing and exciting cricket, with Australia narrowly losing 1-0, before two obliterations of Sri Lanka in the last few weeks. Couple that with 4 double centuries in 2012, including 2 against South Africa, and becoming his country’s highest run scorer in a calendar year with 1595 runs in just 18 innings and, helped by a change in personality, he is now absolutely adored by the nation.
These are the men who will make the key differences next summer. They are the ones who are going to have to lead from the front, use what they have at their disposal to the best affect and create plans to get each other out. One thing is for certain – the 2013 Ashes series is going to be enthralling!