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November 22nd, 2017


There is always plenty of excitement around the build-up to The Ashes and this week has been no different.

It is one of the most intriguing series between Australia and England I can remember, simply because there are so many unanswered questions on both sides.

Over in England we have been focussed on our own shortcomings and the uncertainty over the batting line-up.

They are valid concerns so it’s understandable but, when I look at the squad Australia have named, I see very similar issues.

The selection of Tim Paine seven years after his last Test is an interesting decision, as is calling up the uncapped Cameron Bancroft and leaving out Matt Renshaw.

It’s a much-changed line-up from Australia’s last Test and hints that they have plenty of question marks going into the series which can only be good for England.

For me, both batting line-ups are very similar. There are two very strong and experienced campaigners in both top sixes – Joe Root and Alastair Cook for England and David Warner and Steve Smith for Australia – on whom much will depend.

Away from that quartet, both countries have a collection of players who are looking to make a name for themselves in this series.

The whole outcome could come down to the players who have yet to fully prove themselves at Test level. It’s time for them to stand up and be counted, and let’s hope from England’s point of view it’s players like Dawid Malan and James Vince who do just that.

The big Australian strength will be their fast bowlers with Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood all posing a major threat.

If England can deal with the pace, they will go a long way towards bringing the Ashes back.

It was great to see our very own Chris Woakes take six wickets in the first innings of England’s final warm-up match last week.

Everyone at Edgbaston is very proud of Chris and those wickets, coupled with some useful runs in the games in Australia so far with the bat, will provide all the confidence he needs heading into the first Test.

It’s a really big series for him, particularly with Ben Stokes currently unavailable, and I’m sure he will rise to the challenge.

Talking of challenges, playing the first Test in Brisbane will be a real baptism of fire for England. It’s an absolute cauldron and there will be plenty of flak flying towards Root and his team.

If England can come through these five days unscathed, they will have a fantastic chance this winter.

I hate giving predictions but, if I’m pushed, I would say Australia – given home advantage – start the series as very slight favourites.

But the margins in this series are so fine. England have got a real chance of bringing the urn back with them and I’m sure everyone will join me in wishing Joe and the boys all the best.

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