The article that began the rivalryWikimedia Commons

June in England brings out two things in people: complaints about the weather, and endless speculation about the Ashes. It’s high time that I added my own two pennies to the mix. England completed a thumping victory over Ireland on a flat Lord’s pitch at the start of the month, and as I write this Australia are facing India in the World Test Championship final at the Oval on a dreary morning. Both teams are in the final throes of preparation for what remains the highlight of the cricketing calendar, so let’s take a look back at how they’ve got here.

England’s reinvention under coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes in 2022 has (up to this point) been one of the most successful in recent history. They’ve won 12 out of their 17 matches under new leadership, after being whitewashed in their previous three series against New Zealand, the Windies, and crucially Australia. This has been helped by a radical new approach to Test cricket characterised by a constant attacking mindset, record-breaking scoring rates and an attitude which has been touted as one that is “bringing the excitement back” to the longest format of the game. Some will argue that they have been fortunate. Flat pitches, an unusually lifeless crop of Dukes balls, lucky umpiring decisions, and weakened opponents have all been credited as contributing to England’s remarkable success. While it may be true that the series in Pakistan (where England’s batting lineup broke all sorts of records) was characterised by an incredibly fast pitch and an opposition missing their most senior and incisive fast bowlers, any sports team can only do the job in front of them.

England have had their fair share of selection headaches too, though. Jonny Bairstow, one of the most influential figures in this new approach, returned to Test cricket after an eight-month injury at the start of June. Incidentally, this freak golfing injury – which left Bairstow contemplating whether he’d ever walk again – also meant that he missed out on the T20 World Cup. This is something which few in previous England Test squads would have been concerned about, and which reveals the attacking nature of this Test team.

More recently, Jack Leach, England’s frontline spinner who has undergone somewhat of a renaissance in the last two years, announced that he would be missing the Ashes series with a stress fracture in his back. Spin is arguably where England were already at their weakest, and this is a blow which could prove costly against Australia, who are the other form team in the world. Questions over who will replace Leach, therefore, are incredibly interesting. Moeen Ali has recently been announced as joining the squad so it is reasonable to expect that he and Dan Lawrence will take most of the spinner’s duties, being called upon (as Leach was) to bowl when Ben Stokes – whose fitness has been patchy – is unable to.


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Australia seem a more settled squad. Many of their players have been playing IPL franchise cricket in the runup to the Ashes alongside their British counterparts. However, key batsmen Steve Smith, Marnus Labuschagne (the current No 1 batsman in the world) and Marcus Harris have had their practice on English pitches in the county championship, making some eye-catching scores on green pitches. David Warner, who has an abysmal record against the English opening bowlers, faces questions about his ability and whether he is past his best. The last time there was an Ashes series in England he had no answer to Stuart Broad’s tight opening spells; he cumulatively averages just over 26 runs per innings in England, compared to over 50 in home Ashes series.

In my opinion, this Ashes will be decided not by selection, but rather by whether or not the English strategy of Bazball can withstand the withering pace, accuracy and consistency of the Australian bowling attack. It is a unique challenge in contemporary cricket, and one that has proven almost unbeatable in the last 18 months. England have spoken in recent months about the importance of a winning mindset, and the necessity of keeping their game aggressive and active. This is where the two teams are most similar – Australia simply don’t know how to lose. They’ve lost just three series in their last twelve, and two of those against India, and if they beat them in the WTC final, they’ll be bolstered by the confidence that they can win in England. Nevertheless, if England can keep their nerve and their confidence alive throughout the series, there’s every chance that the urn could be making a return to England for the first time since 2015.