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  • Sunday, 16 December 2018
Ashes Urn 171123

Return the Urn: your ultimate punting guide to the Ashes

Tagged: Cricket, Ashes

The Ashes: will the urn return to Aussie shores?

It’s that time of year again when the majority of sports fans arise from their slumber. Most sports punters haven't been seen since the final siren rang out over the October long weekend. But with the most enduring rivalry in world cricket, the Ashes, reigniting at the Gabba on Thursday, Aussie punters have awoken.

As we've become accustomed to in recent years, the lead up to the Ashes series has been smothered by selection bombshells, with selectors leaving fans and experts scratching their heads.

The English currently hold the urn having won the last series on home turf in 2015 and will be aiming to win their first ashes series down under since their historic triumph in 2010/11.  

It’s shaping up to be a gripping series and our analysts have picked out the key facts and statistics you need to know before having a punt on the first Test.

 

AUSTRALIA  

Recent Form

Australia are currently ranked 5th on the ICC Test rankings, winning three tests in 2017 from seven played - four in India, two in Bangladesh and one in Australia. But the heavy away schedule casts doubts on whether the ranking truly reflects the team’s ability.  

Team Overview

  • In what can only be described as a bizarre selection, Tim Paine has been called up to replace Matthew Wade as wicketkeeper even though he’s not the first-choice gloveman for his state. The Tasmanian last played a Test match in 2010 and has not hit a first-class century in 11 years.   
  • Matt Renshaw, who has had a promising start to his Test career, has been dropped and replaced by Cameron Bancroft at the top of the order. Bancroft has been seeing them like watermelons in this year’s Sheffield shield, averaging 110.5 from 4 innings.
  • The selectors have opted to go without an all-rounder opting to throw Shaun Marsh a life-line for a staggering eighth time in his career. The left-hander goes into this series with an underwhelming Test average of 36.

On Home Turf

  • The Aussies have a formidable home record, winning 8 of their past 12 Test matches on home soil with 2 draws and only 2 losses.
  • They have won 7 of their past 9 series at home, with both losses coming against South Africa.

Strengths

  • Australia’s bowling line-up is considered one of the most lethal attacks in the world. Both Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins will be looking to emulate the havoc caused by Mitchell Johnson in the 2013/14 series with both quicks reaching speeds of 145 clicks. Starc has a strike rate of 49.6 which is better than both Dennis Lillee (52) and Jeff Thompson (52.6), whilst fellow opener Josh Hazelwood is a model of consistency, averaging 25.7, placing him 6th on the ICC Test bowler rankings. The three pace men are complimented by spinner Nathan Lyon who has had a stellar year, taking 46 wickets at an average of 21.96, elevating him to a career high 7th in the ICC Test rankings.
  • From a batting perspective, one can’t look past skipper Steve Smith and his understudy David Warner, the prized wickets in the Aussie line-up. Both batsmen scored two tons when Australia hammered England 5-0 in the 2013/14 Ashes series, and have over 600 runs in their seven Tests this year. 

Weaknesses

  • England will look to exploit Australia’s middle order, which presents as the soft spot in the batting line-up. If the old enemy can remove Smith and Warner cheaply they will certainly have their tails up, with a shaky Shaun Marsh, and an inexperienced Peter Handscomb and Tim Paine to follow. Paine and Handscomb will be playing in their first Ashes Test whilst Marsh has only played against England once where he contributed two runs.  
  • Taking no all-rounder into the first match of the series will see Starc and Cummins bowling longer spells. Big work-rates from these bowlers should be a concern for Aussie fans given the pair's chequered injury history. If one of them goes lame, Smith will have to rely on a part-time bowler to fill the void.

 

ENGLAND  

Recent Form

England are currently ranked 3rd on the ICC Test rankings. Playing seven Test matches in 2017, they won five, all at home, against South Africa and West Indies.

Team Overview

  • All the talk in the lead up to the series has surrounded all-rounder Ben Stokes and whether he will be jumping on a plane to join the squad after being reprimanded by the ECB for his involvement in an assault earlier this year. It is appearing more likely that the player considered to be the best all-rounder in world cricket, will take part in the series at some stage.
  • England have selected four debutants in their 15-man touring squad with only the fourth seamer position undecided at this stage, with a cloud over Jake Ball’s fitness. Ball's omission would see the debut of promising pace bowler Craig Overton, which would make him the first English Test debutant at the Gabba since 1986 - which is the last time England won a Test at the ground.

Away from home

  • In their past 11 Test matches outside of the UK, England have lost 6, won 3 and drawn 2 playing against India, Bangladesh and South Africa. Two of the 3 wins came against Bangladesh, which suggests the Poms struggle as visitors against quality opponents.
  • The tourists have played three warm up games leading into the first Test, beating a youthful WA XI side and then bagging a win and a draw against the Cricket Australia XI. Opener Mark Stoneman and middle order batsman David Malan were impressive with the bat making centuries, whilst Jimmy Anderson and Chris Woakes were standouts with the ball.   

Strengths

  • Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson are the most experienced bowling partnership in world Cricket having played 238 Tests between them. Broad’s figures of 8/15 at Trent Bridge in the last Ashes series will go down in folklore and there's no doubt Aussie fans will resume their fiery relationship with him throughout the summer. At the age of 35, Jimmy Anderson is the highest ranked bowler in the world as he heads to his fourth Ashes tour on Australian soil.       
  • Joe Root and Alistair Cook are the key wickets in the English team. Twenty-six year-old Root will captain his first Ashes tour after taking over the skipper role earlier this year. Much will be expected from the 2nd best batsman in the world who averages 53 from 60 Tests. Cook may have had an unflattering tour as captain four years ago but his performance with the bat in 2010/11 will be long remembered, making 766 runs at an astonishing average of 127.66.

Weaknesses

  • The 'three lions' will be most concerned about the stability of their top order heading into this series. Alistair Cook has seen a dozen opening partners come-and-go since Andrew Strauss retired in 2012 and the first Test of this series will see England experiment with their fourth different top three combination in 2017.
  • Despite the English team boasting the likes of Cook, Broad, Anderson and Root, there is a sea of inexperience beyond this foursome. Seven members of the 15-man squad have played less than seven Tests including four who are yet to make their debut. This is not the tour you want to pick for blooding new players which the Aussies will look to capitalise on.

 

AT THE GABBA

The Gabba is considered to be the truest pitch in Australia, offering healthy bounce and carry for the quicks and consistent bounce for stroke-makers. Both sides will be desperate to get onto the front-foot in the first Test of the series however history does not bode well for the tourists.

Here are the key team performance statistics at the Gabba:

  • Australia have been undefeated at the Gabba since 1988, which is the longest running win streak at any venue in Test cricket.
  • Over the last five Ashes Tests at the Brisbane ground, Australia have won three and there have been two draws with England not having won in 31 years.
  • The Aussies won the last Ashes test played at the Gabba in 2013 by 381 runs. 

Here are the key player performance statistics at the Gabba:

Australian Best Bowlers

  • Nathan Lyon - taking 26 wickets in 6 matches. (4.3 per game)
  • Mitchell Starc - 17 wickets in 4 matches (4.25 per game)
  • Josh Hazlewood - 13 wickets in 3 matches (4.3 per game)

Australian Best Batsman

  • Usman Khawaja -  6 Innings, Average 74.75
  • David Warner - 11 innings, average 55.00
  • Steve Smith - 8 innings, average 54.25

England Best Bowlers

  • Stuart Broad - 9 wickets in 2 matches (4.5 per game)
  • James Anderson - 5 wickets in 3 matches (1.6 per game)

England Best Batsman

  • Alistair Cook - 6 innings, Average 86.80
  • Joe Root - 2 innings, Average 14.00

 

OUR VERDICT FOR THE FIRST TEST

A typical Gabba pitch has been prepared with something in it for the bowlers on the first day, with the pitch expected to flatten out as the Test draws on. The forecast is for light showers in Brisbane on day one and day four, but it isn't expected to impact play.   

Best bet: Australia to win paying $1.73 with Ladbrokes. 

The writing is on the wall for the 'three lions' in the first Test. Expect the Aussies to be aggressive in the first session and make an early statement. Without star all-rounder Ben Stokes, expect England to struggle with the bouncy wicket, causing headaches for their batsman yet again. 

Best value bet: Usman Kawaja to be Australia's highest run scorer in the first innings paying $5.50 with Ladbrokes. 

Kawaja loves playing at the Gabba, which is no surprise given he is the Queensland captain. He averaged 74.75 from six Test innings at the ground and has been in good form of late, averaging 86.75 from 6 innings in this year's Sheffield Shield. Definitely worth a dabble. 

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