It’s nearly time! The Ashes gets under way in Cardiff next Wednesday, and I hope you’re all set for what should be a fascinating summer.
The biggest news to come of the naming of England’s squad was the inclusion of the leg-spinner Adil Rashid, but I think it was somewhat inevitable.
Adil got some great press coverage for the way he bowled in the One Day series against New Zealand when he was really impressive, but despite that I don’t think it would be right to give him his Test debut in the first match of an Ashes series.
It all comes down to how bold Trevor Bayliss wants to be, obviously, but in the ODIs England were able to keep men back for Rashid which they couldn’t do here.
He should have played in the Test series in the West Indies because at least then we’d know what he’s about – and he would know a bit more about himself, too – but we shouldn’t get carried away with him and should let him develop at his own pace.
I think Bayliss will name the same XI we saw for the New Zealand Tests, meaning that the other player from the 13-man squad I’d expect to miss out is Steven Finn, but it’s still great to see him back in an England Test squad.
He bowled well in the ODIs, and whilst he’s still not back to his absolute best he is definitely on the right path.
I really hope Finny gets back there soon and can make an impact in the series, as he’s one of the nicest guys in world cricket and would deserve his success.
Ramping Up The Pressure
In my Ashes experience, it’s around about now that we start seeing various reports in the news about what certain players are going to do and what they think of the opposition.
It gets dressed up as ‘a war of words’ but the reporters go fishing for anything they can find to ramp up the pressure.
They’ll ask a direct question such as ‘what will you do when you get sledged?’ and then when you give a direct answer such as ‘I won’t back down’ it becomes a big story. It’s an element of the Ashes I didn’t really enjoy, but it comes with the territory.
That might be something which is often the same, but the way players prepare for an Ashes series can be very different.
I was never really one for studying videos of the opposition batsmen and analysing their game, as for me it was all about the feeling I got when I faced them and trying to get in their head and work them out, but others swear by the videos.
They’ll be looking at form, stats, strengths and weaknesses whilst others will relax and take it easy. It’s all about what’s the best for their preparation and for that of the team though, as there’s more than one way to skin a cat and create a winning dressing room.
England’s Welsh Wizards
With regard to the first Test itself, I’m going to back some of England’s stalwarts to impress in Cardiff.
Alastair Cook got back to his very best against New Zealand – he was always too good not to – and he looks to be thriving under the leadership of Andrew Strauss.
He’s obviously got the backing of Bayliss too, and given that Cardiff is a good place to bat and a place which rewards a steady, patient game, then I think the captain could well show his class here. He’s 4.50 to be England’s top batsman in their first innings, and 8.00 to be the top batsman across the first innings of both sides.
Bowling-wise you can’t look beyond the brilliant James Anderson and of course Stuart Broad, who always does it for England in the big matches.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Broady grabbed a few poles here, and he’s 3.75 to take the most wickets for England in the first innings and 6.50 to take the most across both teams.
As for the Aussies, I wouldn’t be too surprised if some of their unheralded talents really came to the fore this summer – starting with here in Cardiff.
If he plays, Chris Rogers is going to be very difficult to get out as he’s a very good player with great experience of the English conditions.
I know that there is talk about Shaun Marsh, but Rogers has been there and done it against England before – three of his four Test centuries are against us – so he could very well be one to watch again. Check if he’s playing first, but if so he’s 6.00 to top score for Australia in the first innings and 9.50 to be the top first innings runscorer in the match.
Amongst the bowlers, I really think Josh Hazlewood is one to look out for.
He looks certain to play in Cardiff after Ryan Harris's unfortunate retirement, and whilst I’ve been saying all along that Mitchell Starc really is going to be very dangerous all summer, Hazlewood can be unerringly accurate, nibbles it around a bit and would seem to suit Cardiff very well.
He’s 4.00 to take the most wickets for the Aussies in the first innings, and 7.00 to be the top first innings bowler in the match.
Nailing My Colours To The Mast
When it comes to predicting the match and series outcome though, I’ve got to go for England.
I think we can win the first match in Cardiff at a price of 4.00, and go on to clinch the series – which we’re at 4.50 to do.
In fact, I’ll go even further and predict a 2-0 series win for England at a huge 41.00 – although this is definitely my heart talking rather than my head!
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