Where will the 2019 Ashes series be won and lost? Nasser Hussain takes a look at some of the key battles to expect over the five-Test series…
Jimmy Anderson to Steve Smith
Anderson, as the leader of England’s attack, is the one they look to remove the opposition’s key batsman. Just like last year, when it was Anderson versus Virat Kohli.
Though India lost the series, Kohli put his ego away, top-scoring with 593 runs and not being dismissed by Anderson once. He sat on Jimmy for as long as possible, left the ball brilliantly, though he did have a little bit of luck.
England have had so many plans to Smith over the years. They’ve probed away outside off stump, they’ve gone straight to him, they’ve tried a leg gully.
I think they’re best to try and get him nicking off, like with Kohli last summer, but it will be a massive task – he is still one of the two best players in the Australia side and, after a year out, he has a point to prove.
He hasn’t quite hit the ground running since his return to the Australia set-up but, once he takes to the field on that first day at Edgbaston, he will be absolutely fine and right up for it.
He just loves hitting cricket balls – as much was evident when I did a feature with him in the nets ahead of the first Test – and so it has maybe just taken a bit of time to rediscover his rhythm after a year out.
As for Jimmy, he is fit and ready to go. I think he probably could, and should, have played in the Ireland game to get some overs under his belt.
He has said he still wants to play in another couple of Ashes series, which shows he is still very confident in his body.
It’s great to hear him say that, as I’m always wary of people who say, “this could be my last Ashes”, or “I’m going to retire at the end of the series”. I think that takes away your mental sharpness a little bit, when you start looking towards the end.
Joe Root’s return to No 3
I, like many people, have long been calling for Root’s return to No 3 in the order.
I would also have liked to see Jason Roy at No 4 instead of opening, but I can understand why England haven’t made too many changes to the order.
It’s best for the team, Root batting at three. It’s where your best player should bat and he is undoubtedly England’s best player.
Their strength over the last however many years has been their middle order, especially at home when the ball is moving around.
Again, look at the series against India last year – their middle order was blown away at times, while England’s constantly got them out of jail – how many times were they 150-5 and saved, by Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, whoever?
Australia will want to get into that middle order with the ball still doing a bit, but the earlier Root comes in, the more he can be that buffer.
He was coming in early anyway, at 20-2 often, so it’s better he comes in before a crisis than has to react to one.
The tempo of his game is outstanding. Often you look up at the scoreboard and he is quickly through to 30 or 40, striking that balance between defence and attack perfectly.
I don’t know if Mitchell Starc is going to play, but at times Joe has struggled against left-armers swinging it back in – vulnerable to the lbw.
I know white-ball and red-ball cricket are different but I would play Starc as, with these Dukes balls likely to move around, he could target his pads early on. He did him in the World Cup game at Lord’s in that manner. That could be a real battle.
David Warner’s wicket early
Warner, like Smith, is massive for Australia and one of the key wickets for England.
He is an exceptional player and looked in fine form in the World Cup – scoring 647 runs at an average of 71.88, only one run shy of Rohit Sharma as the leading run-scorer.
He showed that all the noise over his return to the team, the booing, doesn’t bother him one little bit. He will be massively up for this series, he always is.
England will have various plans to him – including that short ball that they bowl into his hip, which he occasionally gets in trouble with – but, even if the ball is moving around, he can counter and can destroy you inside a session.