The upcoming Ashes series in Australia is expected to be tight given the evenness of both sides and yet-to-be-solved holes in each line-up. England’s hopes of retaining the urn will rely on some key figures to contribute to an inexperienced side. Here are the five key players that represent the most danger to Australia’s bid to recapture Test cricket’s greatest prize.
The current England captain is one of the ‘big four’ batsmen in world cricket, along with Australia’s Steve Smith, India’s Virat Kohli and New Zealand’s Kane Williamson. Since the 2013/14 Ashes series Down Under – when the youngster made just one half-century as Australia romped to a 5-0 triumph – Root has developed into one of the most consistent and elegant batsmen England has produced.
Root has enjoyed a purple patch since the away series in India last year, passing 50 runs on seven occasions in 12 innings, including a monstrous 190 against the might of South Africa’s pace bowlers Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel in July.
The 26-year-old skipper, who now has 13 Test tons and a muscular average of 53.76 to his name, is capable of keeping the runs ticking over when at the crease without appearing overly aggressive. He is expected to be England’s rock batting at four. And he will need to be, given the inexperienced batsmen around him.
Despite not living up to greater expectations after his 2010/11 Ashes series in Australia – in which he plundered 766 runs, the fifth-highest series tally in Ashes history – Cook remains a key figure of England’s batting line-up, which has seen many partners come and go during his time at the top of the order.
Since giving up the Test captaincy to Root almost a year ago, Cook has made a timely return to form, averaging 44 during the home summer in England. His best moment: scoring 243 against the West Indies, though that masked an otherwise disappointing series with the bat.
Cook’s main strength is his ability to play patiently at the crease, preferring to score through the off-side. He can be prone to nicking the ball on a good length just outside off-stump, but you will not see him have a brain explosion at the crease.
Cook traditionally does well in Brisbane – where he scored 235 not out in 2010 – and Perth, so look for him to score big on the quicker wickets. With 147 Tests and 31 centuries behind him, the 32-year-old needs to be a cornerstone of England’s campaign.
The one bowler who can comfortably say he has had the wood over the Australians in the last two Ashes series. While Broad did cop a rough time of it the last time he was in Australia, he was easily England’s best player in the 5-0 defeat, taking a team-high 21 wickets at 27.52.
And of course, there was that spell of 8/15 at Nottingham in 2015.
Despite slowing down a touch in terms of pace, Broad more than makes up it with his ability to be lethal with his line and length when swinging the ball away from right-handers. Given some of Australia’s best batsmen in Steve Smith and Peter Handscomb are right-handed, so Broad will be given full opportunity to test them out.
Broad is also capable of being dangerous swinging the ball away bowling around the wicket to left-handers – something not many pace bowlers can do. This will help Broad when battling against Australia’s top order early on.
With a century and 11 Test fifties to his credit – along with a respectable average of 21 – Broad’s lower-order hitting is also a handy asset for England’s cause, particularly as they’re likely to be without superstar all-rounder Ben Stokes.
The classy swing-bowler may be getting on at 35 years of age, but this hasn’t stopped him from being tight economically. Anderson recently passed 500 career Test wickets in the series against the West Indies amongst a career-best haul of 7/42, while he took 20 wickets in four matches against South Africa.
Being Broad’s partner in crime with the new ball, Anderson is most dangerous when he pitches the ball up on a full length. He did have success here with the Kookaburra ball in 2010/11 – taking 24 wickets at an average of 26 – and he will need to produce something like those numbers again for England to have success.
Anderson has traditionally had his biggest impact on the dry wicket in Melbourne, so expect Jimmy to be heavily relied upon in the Boxing Day Test.
Whether he is promoted up the order or not, there’s no doubt Ali’s importance to England’s Ashes campaign has increased with Ben Stokes’ likely absence – but an entire nation is on tenterhooks with a side strain putting Ali in serious doubt for the Gabba opener.
A genuine all-rounder, the 30-year-old boasts five centuries and 12 fifties in 44 Tests, along with four five-wicket hauls amongst 128 wickets with his tricky offbreaks.
Ali has been in good touch with the bat over the past 12 months, scoring two centuries in India and notching scores of 87 and 75* against South Africa, despite batting down at No.8. He also produced a stunning hat-trick to sink the Proteas at The Oval.
This will be his first trip to Australia in the whites, coming into the Test team after the disastrous 2013/14 tour, but he did make his mark in the 2015 Ashes victory on home soil with 293 runs at 37 and 11 wickets.
It could be a career-defining series for the exciting Ali.