Who will strike the first blow in the 2015 Ashes series?
The agonising wait is almost over as England and Australia are set to come face-to-face in the first test of the 2015 Ashes series, which has the potential of being the closest fought in recent history, which starts on July 8th. Both teams have been talking a good game before the meeting in Cardiff, but all of that will amount to nothing if they do not deliver the goods when it matters on the outfield. England and Australia have both endured indifferent form since the last Ashes series in which the latter secured an emphatic 5-0 whitewash on home soil in the winter of 2013/2014, but Alistair Cook and his men will hope to enact sweet revenge in front of a partisan crowd who still fondly remember the 3-1 triumph earlier that summer. It may be difficult to pick a winner from two teams who are capable of turning on the style, but also have it in them to self-implode under pressure and hand the initiative to their opponents. Both teams have plenty of quality in their batting and bowling line-up to create a wonderful summer of cricket, and remind fans of how test cricket remains the most enjoyable form of the game towards the goal of lifting the famous urn.
Rashid included in 13-man squad
The arrival of Peter Bayliss may have come at the perfect time for England who already appear rejuvenated since the Australian walked through the door. Although England faltered in the disappointing two-test match series against New Zealand which ended 1-1, they bounced back in impressive style through a superb standard of one-day cricket that has surpassed anything they have achieved before. Bayliss has stated that he wants his team to play with freedom and create a pressure-free environment from which the players can thrive and perform to the best of their ability; this appears to be a sensible tactic, particularly with a number of the middle-order batsmen enduring difficult times behind the crease and failing to register decent scores.
Ian Bell, who is set to play in his seventh consecutive Ashes series, is certainly one player under the spotlight following disappointing performances against the West Indies and New Zealand, but Australia know that the 33-year-old usually saves his best for the Ashes and remains a dangerous player. Perhaps the biggest news to emerge from England’s 13-man squad announcement is the inclusion of Adil Rashid as one of five players who have not played in an Ashes series, but more importantly provides England with a spinner in excellent form. The 27-year-old was not part of England’s team-bonding trip to Spain, but he thoroughly deserves his place in the Ashes squad and could be the hero alongside James Anderson and Stuart Broad who will, once again, be key men in England’s bowling department.
Certain sections of the media may have written Australia off as having an average side full of journeymen and ageing players, but there is no doubt that Michael Clarke’s squad has the quality to prove them wrong and retain the Ashes. They will hope to follow in the footsteps of the women’s football team who reached the Quarter Finals of the Women’s World Cup – a run which included a 1-0 win against Brazil. Australia’s captain may continue to be hampered by a persistent back injury that has affected his form with the bat, but even if the 34-year-old is unable to recapture the magic that made him one of the best players on test cricket, then he has the likes of Steve Smith (seen as the heir to Clarke’s throne), David Warner and Shane Watson who can take the game away from England in an instant.
Australia also have the advantage of having two of the best fast bowlers in the world at their disposal in the form of Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Stark, although the latter will have to bowl a lot better in Cardiff than he did against Essex in their tour match; Starc struggled to find any consistency in his line and length as his bowling became erratic, while spinner Nathan Lyon was also smacked to all areas of the field at Chelmsford by conceding 110 runs in the 19 overs he bowled on the second day. The warm-up match did provide plenty of time in the middle for the batsmen who looked in good nick, and also allowed Peter Nevill and Josh Hazlewood the chance to impress and put their name forward for a start in the first Ashes test.