Who will score the most runs for Australia?
AH: It’s hard to look beyond David Warner. His ill advised comments going into the series enhance the view that nothing much goes on between his ears but his big bat will be thrashing around in this series. He’ll look to dominate from the front and his record in Australia is formidable.
MR: Steve Smith is the main man and I expect this series to be no different. He always finds a way of scoring runs and he’ll be keen to get back to his best having admitted that he was out of gas after the India series. Nothing rekindles the fire quite like an Ashes series.
AH: The easy answer is Joe Root and it’s hard to see him scoring less than 400 runs in the series unless something very untoward happens. However, after an impressive start to the tour, Mark Stoneman looks nicely set up for a big series.
MR: I agree, it’s hard to look beyond Root. Alastair Cook has had one phenomenal series in Australia and two very average ones. The signs suggest another average series for him, so it’s all pressure on Root. If he doesn’t lead the way, the series could be done by Christmas.
AH: Josh Hazelwood. Whilst not in the same class as Glenn McGrath he is the closest Australia have produced since the great man retired. With the control he’ll look to exert and the explosiveness of Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc their bowling line up looks strong. However, due to injury most of the noise about Cummins is based on speculation rather than history and Starc seems unlikely to last the rigorous five game series.
MR: I know his body is creaking, but Starc is the main man for Australia. He’s capable of bowling with guile and brute force, and if he stays fit then he will pose some serious questions of England’s batting, which hasn’t seen too much in the way of top quality left arm pace bowling.
AH: Stuart Broad needs a good series and as the senior member of the attack alongside James Anderson, who should both do well in the second test under lights at Adelaide, has to deliver. Having been here before and playing in the big bash he should adapt quickly and should be relishing bowling at Australia’s fragile top order.
MR: Yeah, I can’t look past Broad either. If he has one of his ‘on’ series, then he’s England’s main man and shouldn’t find the Kookaburra ball as detrimental to his game as Chris Woakes and James Anderson. As an aside, if Australia adopt the same approach towards Moeen Ali as they did in 2015, then he’ll be in the wickets, too.
Who is the weak link for Australia and England?
AH: Both have the same underlying issue and that’s a fragile top order. Both have issues at 2,3,5 & 6 and the series could swing on the contributions of 7 & 8 unless this trend can be reversed. Australia’s selection of Shaun Marsh for his ninth attempt at Test cricket is a throwback to England’s selection policy of the 90s but England’s current selectors are hardly in a position to cast judgement. Whoever fails in this series will be looking for a new selection panel early next year.
MR: At the moment it looks like the selection panels. Neither has a clear idea of who to pick and there’s been a certain element of Pin the Tail on the Donkey about both selection panels. Shaun Marsh is an obvious weak link for Australia in the same way that James Vince is for England. Having your weak link at three, like England, could be hugely damaging though. I expect Gary Ballance to be back in at first drop before the series is out.
Who will win?
AH: Head says Australia but heart says England. A month ago I thought Australia would win comfortably but having seen their squad I don’t think there’s much in it. If England can come away from Adelaide with a win then it’s anyone’s but they have to take this golden chance that’s been laid on. It remains a heavyweight clash in terms of the billing but this version is being played by middleweights. 3-2 Australia.
MR: Australia, although it won’t be another 5-0 demolition. Adelaide will be a shoot out for the bowlers and a shoot out England must win. Their record in Brisbane is poor and you can’t see them batting through for long periods to rescue a draw there like they did in 2010, so they have to win in Adelaide. If they do, then they also have the game to cause damage in Melbourne, where the weather can play into their hands. It would be something of a shock if they were to win in Brisbane or Perth, so those two Tests, in Adelaide and Melbourne, are England’s best opportunity of forcing a series decider in Sydney. It’s a bit too much of a long shot for me, so Australia rightly go off as favourites.