The last Ashes series down under was a classic example of Australian dominance which had become synonymous with the fixtures for close to two decades. The 5-0 whitewash of the English had serious ramifications; Jonathan Trott took the flight back home after two tests, Graeme Swann retired and then the KP saga made it worse for the bruised England team on their return home.
All this was centered around the havoc inflicted on the touring side by Aussie pace spearhead Mitchell Johnson. As the focus shifts to the first test starting on Wednesday we would focus on the key battles that could decide the outcome of the series.
Alistair Cook vs. Michael Clarke
The Aussies believe in bringing down the opposition captain down with attacks on and off the field as it damages the morale of the opposition and last series was nothing different when Cook was in the pocket of pace duo Harris-Johnson and then the rest of the damage was done by the constant media hounding. This time around English fans would be hoping that Captain Cook remains his composed self as he was in early days of captaincy.
On the other hand Michael Clarke would be high on confidence after a world cup win and then a successful tour of the Caribbean. Clarke has been innovative in his captaincy and is extremely spot on with his strategies which put him a notch above his counterpart whose captaincy is shaped by the number of runs he scores. Ashes is at times decided by the measure of mental toughness of the side and the skipper who manages to soak the pressure better would be a step ahead in managing to get a hand on the urn.
Steve Smith vs. Joe Root
In the last calendar year Steve Smith has outshone every other batsmen in terms of runs and his Bradmanesque average of a little over 100 is evidence to the transformation in his batting style. He has been a nightmare for opposition captain; one must ask Kohli and Dhoni how tough it is to stem the run flow when Smith gets going. This time though he will be up against a quality England attack and will be interesting how he finds his way out in testing conditions.
Kevin Pietersen has termed Joe Root a better batsman than Steve Smith and this series would be significant in terms of the debate surrounding the two of them. Root is a player who is pleasing to the eye and has the correct technique to excel on the highest level and his run tally in the previous year seconds this notion. Both these players are tipped to be the next batting greats from their countries of this generation and the one who plays better will give a vital advantage to his side.
James Anderson vs. Mitchell Johnson
At present if anyone has to pick the top pacer in world cricket then these two would find mention on that list without a shadow of doubt. In the 2013/14 series Johnson overshadowed his rival Anderson and the duo got into an ugly exchange of words in the Gabba test. Also the picture of Johnson giving a sending off to Anderson in the Adelaide test with the classic fast bowler look will be fresh in memories of the fans. Johnson will have to step up once again as he would be without his partner in-crime from previous Ashes, Ryan Harris.
It will be interesting to watch how Johnson adjusts his game to English conditions where he won’t get hard surfaces like Australia. On the contrary Jimmy Anderson is a master when it comes to bowling at home and has been quite instrumental in England’s success over the last few years. The manner in which he makes the Duke Ball talk in overcast conditions is a treat for everyone except the opponent batsmen. A lot will rest upon the shoulders of these two and will be quite a tough guess on who gets the better of the other.
Moeen Ali vs. Nathan Lyon
As the weather has been quite sunny in the lead up to the series opener, the pitches might not be as conducive to pacers at a couple of venues and this would mean that the spinners may have a bit more of a role to play than just filling in to let pacers catch their breath. In the Warne-era Australians had an added advantage as the legendary leggie single handedly cleaned up the English batting and after that same could be said of Graeme Swann who with his orthodox off spinners gave a tough challenge to the Aussie batters.
Currently Nathan Lyon holds the record of the most successful Australian off spinner and has given a hard time to good players of spin and is a better bowler than Moeen Ali. Although Moeen Ali showed in the home series against India that he must be taken seriously else the effects could be similar to what the Indians faced.
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