After the cricketing feast served up this summer – England’s dramatic World Cup win over New Zealand, which even the most imaginative of scriptwriters could not have envisaged – many would welcome a slight break from cricket.
Such is the nature of the sport, we are set to plunge into another six weeks of top-level action between 1 August and 16 September, as England host Australia in the 71st edition of the Ashes Test Match Series.
With England buoyant after not only winning their first Cricket World Cup on home soil, but also for crushing Australia by eight wickets in the semi-final en route to lifting the trophy; the host nation is the favourite to win its 33rd Ashes series, which would haul them level with their ultimate rival in terms of outright wins.
While it’s the same sport we witnessed during the Cricket World Cup, the Ashes is a completely different ball game, and we’re not just talking about the switch from the World Cup’s white Kookabura ball to the red Dukes version used in Test cricket. England’s topsy-turvy win over Ireland in its Ashes warm-up Test, which almost resulted in humiliation for the World Cup champions, proved just how different the two cricketing disciplines are.
Happy and Glorious, but is Test Cricket too laborious?
The England cricket team did not just win a World Cup, it also brought the sport back under the country’s spotlight and to the forefront of the entire nation’s minds for the first time in many a year.
The public clearly warmed to this England side well before the final, but the viewing figures from that champagne Super Sunday surpass any pre-tournament beliefs or imagination. Sky’s and Channel 4’s coverage of the final peaked at 8.3 million viewers, the highest TV audience for an England cricket match since the 2005 Ashes. Only an epic Wimbledon men’s singles final broadcast concurrently prevented the World Cup Final surpassing the viewing figures of the Lionesses’ Women’s World Cup semi-final defeat to the United States, which stood at 11.7 million – the most-watched TV event of the year so far.
While England were outstanding during the World Cup, their job is not over yet. With England Cricket currently at an all-time high, the steep and dramatic twists and turns of the World Cup is now replaced by the patient discipline demanded by Test Match cricket.
The England Cricket Team has been posed the challenge of keeping its new fans inspired with five editions of multiple-day contests, in an era when the shorter games are deemed the most popular.
The England and Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) latest innovation, ‘The Hundred’ series, gives the impression that the new generation of fan prefers quickly resolved bursts of limited-over cricket compared to the more traditional, long and drawn-out series that the Ashes brings. England need to make sure that the love for Test cricket in this country extends to their new following, or risk taking a step backwards after such an impeccable World Cup.
England’s three-day win over Ireland in the Ashes warm-up game, which saw batting orders demolished in single sessions with measly innings totals, such as 85 (England) and 38 (Ireland), has helped England’s cause slightly. While these brief Test tussles are rare, and despite it nearly leading to an embarrassing defeat to an Irish team playing in only its third Test encounter, it demonstrated how exciting multiple-day cricket formats can be.
Defeat Australia in the Ashes and England will confirm their status as the top cricket team in the world. But doing so convincingly, exquisitely and with strong degrees of passion and drama, would give them a long-term foundation to achieve a dominance that their Ashes counterparts have enjoyed since the turn of the century.
Aussies with a point to prove
Australia’s damning defeat to England in the World Cup semi-final would have certainly hurt, especially after their fierce cricketing rivals then went on to win the tournament.
The Aussies’ aim is to now ensure that the eight-wicket defeat at the start of July was nothing more than a blip, with their convincing group stage win over England at Lord’s a prime example of the damage this Australia side can do to any cricket team in the world.
There are certain individuals who have a lot to prove in this Ashes series. Batsmen Steve Smith and David Warner will be playing in their first Test series since the pair was given year-long bans for the ball-tempering incident against South Africa in March 2018.
Both Smith and Warner were lambasted by the English crowd during the World Cup and will face a similar hostile atmosphere in the Ashes series. Following Warner’s measly batting total of nine runs in the semi-final defeat, and Smith’s unfortunate dismissal at the hands of England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler’s pinpoint throw through the Australian’s legs; it’s fair to say the controversial duo would love nothing more than a series win against an English crowd, which will condemn everything they do.
While recent form and an English home advantage are against this Australian team, their preparations for the summer of cricket have been convenient. The Aussies have been in England since the end of May, meaning that they need little time to acclimatise to the Ashes environment.
Furthermore, the Aussies have continued their Ashes preparations in an impressive manner following their World Cup semi-final exit.
Opting not to play a practice Test ahead of the series, the Australians played an intra-squad match in Southampton to determine their Ashes squad for the opening encounter at Edgbaston.
And this ‘friendly’ contest led to the selection of opening batsman Cameron Bancroft, who was banned alongside Smith and Warner for his part in the cheating scandal. The 26-year old’s selection further incites a contest, which is already filled with contextual emotion and intensity.
The scene has been set. England is the team in form, but injuries could hamper their buoyant mood. Australia have lost their World Cup crown but have the incentives to bounce back and should never be written off despite their current dip in form.
Could you predict a winner? After the drama that cricket has already offered us this summer, you’d be a fool to try and guess anything in sport nowadays…