Can England retain the Ashes again after a 3-0 victory over Australia in the summer? It will certainly be tougher than in 2011/2012 when England were at the peak of their powers, writes Christopher Clark
Despite not losing a test this calendar year, England go into the Ashes with a number of question marks over the make-up of their side. They have not managed to find someone they are comfortable with batting at number 6: Joe Root started the year batting six, after doing very well in his first tour in India. However he was promoted to open due to Nick Compton's failures in the series against New Zealand.
Jon Bairstow was then given the opportunity at 6 during the Ashes summer, but failed to impress, and certain aspects of his batting technique were found wanting at the highest level, especially against the bowling of Ryan Harris.
Therefore England, it would appear, are prepared to give the Hampshire batsman Michael Carberry an opportunity to open the batting, and push Joe Root back down to 6 again. Carberry appears a very adept one day batsman, whether he has the temperament to bat at test level remains to be seen.
The third seamer slot appears to be open to three players, Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin. All three have their qualities: they are tall bowlers, who will extract more bounce on the hard Australian pitches, but they also have their problems. Tremlett, who bowled excellently two years ago in Australia, has not played much due to injury, and when he has played his pace appears slower. Finn, whilst he has the potential to be one of the top bowlers in the world, appears to have confidence and technique issues, which plague him from game to game. The outsider is Boyd Rankin who again is tall and powerful, but is untried at this level, I would be surprised if he is given the nod in the first test.
Australia, on the other hand, go into this series high on confidence and the questions around their side centre on whether can they keep their best players fit. Captain Michael Clarke has struggled throughout his career with a persistent back injury, but I would expect him to play all this series. Shane Watson the allrounder, will not be able to bowl in the opening test, due to a hamstring injury, but after a magnificent 160 not out in the final test of the Ashes summer, he will bat at number 3. Ryan Harris who was the best bowler of the summer on both sides, is very injury prone, and whilst he will play in the first test there are doubts if he will play in all 5 matches.
I anticipate both sides, barring injuries to line up as follows on November 21st at the Gabba.
Looking at the two sides above, I would anticipate a closely fought series, and predict a 2-2 drawn series with England retaining the Ashes. However any injuries to key players for England, Pietersen, Swann, Anderson and Australia, Clarke, Watson and Harris will tip the balance in the other team's favour. Roll on the 21st November!