By Chris Stocks
We look at some of the key battles that could decide the location of the urn.
Alastair Cook v Michael Clarke
It is widely accepted Cook is tactically inferior to Clarke. However, the opener is at his best when leading from the front and he is now back in form following recent centuries against West Indies and New Zealand. As Clarke will know from England’s victorious 2010-11 Ashes tour of Australia, when England’s record run-scorer is in form his team invariably win matches and series.
Clarke, who averages 33 in Tests over the past year and whose long-term back problem could flare up at any time, is going to be vulnerable in this series but he does have the superior bowling attack. It will be up to Cook to try to blunt them.
Stuart Broad v Steve Smith
Smith is the world’s No.1-ranked Test batsman after a spectacular year that has seen him average 102. Broad is a bowler who in the past has saved his best for home Ashes series. Both the summers of 2009 and 2013 might have turned out differently had Broad not ran through the Aussies at The Oval and Durham respectively. Now he has targeted Smith, insisting the Australian will be vulnerable to the moving Dukes ball batting at three in English conditions. Smith was promoted up the order for Australia’s recent series in the West Indies and scored 199 in his last Test in Jamaica. Broad will be desperate to keep him quiet this summer but has only dismissed him three times in ten Tests.
Trevor Bayliss v Darren Lehmann
The Aussies know each other well, Bayliss having filled in for Lehmann as Australia’s t20 coach last year. He knows the opposition well, having coached nine of Australia’s touring party at NSW before moving to England.
Whether that knowledge will play a key role in the series remains to be seen but the battle of wits should be fascinating. One advantage for Lehmann is he has been in the job for two years since taking over just before the Ashes. Australia lost 3-0 but they haven’t looked back since. Bayliss is in the same position with England and it’s probably too much to expect instant success.
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper on Friday July 3, 2015.