The most anticipated Ashes since 2005?


England @ 7/5
Draw @ 10/3
Australia @ 13/10
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  • Anderson and Broad to take three or more wickets each in the first innings @ 4/1
  • Boland and Robinson to take five or more wickets combined in the first innings @ 9/2
  • Brook and Head to get a half-century in the first innings @ 6/1

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In the last 12 months England have rejuvenated Test cricket and relaunched a love for a format which, for many, was seen as dying. The emergence of ‘Bazball’ has led to England winning 11 out of their last 14 Tests in a fashion which has resulted in this Ashes being one of the most highly anticipated series since the epic of 2005. The battle of England vs Australia is one rooted in history and this next chapter shouldn’t disappoint.

Last week’s thrashing of India by the Australians lay down a benchmark to a confident England fan base. Will this preparation against some of the world’s best prove pivotal versus England’s warm up against a sub-par Ireland? There are some big questions which remain on the eve of the biggest series in the cricket calendar.

“He just messaged me with one word and a question mark – ‘Ashes?”

Will Ben Stokes bowl?

A lot has been made about the fitness and health of England’s leading man. With his heroics in 2019 hard to forget, for many Stokes is seen as the deciding factor in whether England can reclaim the Ashes. In the lead up to this series Stokes is yet to bowl more than 12 deliveries in training and his last competitive delivery came back in April in the IPL. Noises from the England camp suggest that he is pushing hard to fulfil his role as the all-rounder in the side, but with only hours until the first Test, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to overcome the chronic left knee tendinitis that has been restricting him for the majority of 2023.

Stokes has had his say and insisted he will fulfil his role as an all-rounder, even if at times he has to rely on adrenaline to get him through. Having watched him hobble around at Lords, wincing and limping after he took a fairly regulation catch, one has to think, is he a man capable of fulfilling a role as an enforcer bowling consistently in the mid 80’s? But then it is of course Ben Stokes we are talking about. Has this man let us down in recent years, almost never, and as he told the BBC, “I am definitely on course to bowl in the first Test,” so why should we doubt him!

Is Moeen Ali’s return a masterstroke or a panic reaction?

“He just messaged me with one word and a question mark – ‘Ashes?”

Moeen Ali revealed just how his recall back into the England red ball set up earlier this week occurred, with the relaxed nature of this process epitomising the new era under Stokes and McCullum. A simple text message from the captain of the side is all it took to bring a previous England stalwart out of retirement, only a few months after he insisted that he was done with this format for good.

The news that Jack Leach, who has enjoyed his best year in an England shirt to date, has been ruled out for the entire summer, could have caused a major panic among the ranks, and some have called this decision to recall Moeen just that. Can a man who struggled so dearly two years ago, come into this side and fulfil the role as a front-line spinner?

Despite a wealth of exciting talents pushing for a call up, Mooen is the man to whom Stokes turned in his moment of need. The fact is, England know what they’re getting. They have a man with a wealth of experience and who fits the ‘Bazball’ DNA seamlessly. Not only does he offer a genuine threat with the ball, but he adds to an already strong batting line-up. With Bairstow and Stokes down to bat at six and seven, Moeen can slot in at eight, and with that line-up, the amount of runs which could be scored is unthinkable.

Bairstow instead of Foakes? Brave or Reckless?

Towards the end of last summer it appeared England had finally found their best XI. Bairstow at five, and Foakes at seven with the gloves. All seemed well before Harry Brook staked his claim for a starting berth. When he finally got his opportunity due to Bairstow’s injury, what followed can only be described as emphatic. Seven matches and eleven innings later, Brook averages just shy of 89 with four Test centuries and 818 runs to his name. On this form he is quite simply undroppable and has made that no.5 spot his own.

Ahead of the Ashes, this left selectors with a decision to make. Keep the reliable Ben Foakes in the side or bring back Jonny Bairstow, who before his freak accident had been enjoying the summer of his career? Foakes meanwhile has been dubbed one of the greatest keepers in the world cricket today, and his batting steady and consistent to go alongside it. While this is undoubtedly pleasant headache for Stokes and co., only one can play.

In the end it is Bairstow who has got the nod. McCullum has said that he was never in doubt. Is it harsh on Foakes? Yes. That doesn’t mean its not the right decision. At least we won’t have to wait long to find out. This won’t be the end of the road for Ben Foakes though, with a tour to the sub-continent on the horizon, he will certainly have a key role to play.

The verdict

After the 4-0 thrashing Down Under two winters ago, England are out for revenge and a first Ashes win since 2015. Australia, meanwhile, as newly crowned Test champions, are looking for a first series win on English soil since 2001. This will be the toughest exam yet for England’s new era, and the Aussies would love to be the side to bring them back down to earth. With so much on the line, and seven weeks of high-class sport, drama and entertainment are guaranteed.

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