In just one weeks, on the 1st of August, the first of five tests that comprise The Ashes will begin. This is the thing that we look forward the most in cricket, only coming around once every two years or so, and yet, somehow or other, this has been upset by the World Cup, and I am finding myself struggling to get ready for it.
Sure, they are different teams and it is a different format – tests compared to one day internationals – but it still has that air of familiarity about it. I feel like screaming out “it’s too soon!” We just had the most nail-biting of World Cup finals ever and now, two weeks later, we are expected to come back and enjoy The Ashes.
It’s not just that either. The Women’s Ashes have already been run and won, acting as a prelude to the men’s Ashes, or a hangover from The World Cup, depending on your perspective. Not only that, but the IPL only finished a few days before the World Cup began. It all just feels too rushed.
The Ashes, of course, is the pinnacle. That’s what most English and Australians care the most about. Even though England just won their first ever World Cup, they are on record saying that it’s the Ashes that matters the most.
The Ashes will see Warner and Smith for certain, after they showed that they are if anything in better form now than before the ban, and Australia’s selectors have some pleasant headaches. There is a chance even that Cameron Bancroft, the perpetrator in sandpapergate, will join them. How they will cope with that, given that Bancroft has publicly accused Warner of forcing him to tamper with the ball, is another question entirely. Starc managed to recover from his earlier position where he had said he would never play with Warner again, so perhaps Bancroft could too. The problem is that Warner and Smith may be a whole lot less forgiving.
Bancroft’s form probably isn’t good enough to break into the test team anyway, but it’s close to good enough. He is in better form than he was before the ban, when he was, technically at least, the incumbent in the opening position. While he was holding onto his position by a thread, he was still there, and he is better now.
The problem is that we aren’t quite sure who should miss out. Marcus Harris at the top has done more than enough to warrant playing, while Travis Head and Kurtis Patterson have done enough in the middle order to keep their spots, and even Marnus Labuschagne at the very least warrants keeping his spot in the squad, if not in the first XI.
The greater issue is how Australia deals with the disruption to the team by potentially having Bancroft there. Bancroft has made no public statements either retracting his earlier claims or finding some way to make amends. Nor have Warner or Smith, suggesting that, if they were to play together, it simply wouldn’t be worth it. Given a choice of the superstars Warner and Smith or the fringe player Bancroft, it’s not much of a choice, and that alone may seen Bancroft on the sidelines, at least for now.
It’s going to be a tough Ashes to win, as it always is in England. England will be buoyed from their first ever World Cup win and will be looking at slaughtering us. They seem destined to boo Australia as much as they can for the ball tampering scandal.
Australia also have an issue with wicket keepers. Tim Paine is the Test wicket keeper and captain but his ODI form was so poor that Alex Carey took his spot, and had an incredible World Cup so good that he was in most people’s team of the tournament and is now challenging Paine for his spot in the test team. Meanwhile, Matthew Wade is in some of the best batting form of anyone in the world, and it is becoming quite silly for him to not be a part of the side. We could potentially have all three in the squad, and possibly even all three in the same XI.
The snub felt by Josh Hazlewood, who missed out on the World Cup, may affect his performance in the tests too, though whether it makes him better or worse is something we don’t yet know. James Pattinson is coming back from injury too and seems destined to play. With Starc and Cummins certainties, along with Lyon, anyone else seems to be just a backup, and there are many options to look at. I’d like to pick Jackson Bird but there is merit to having someone like Siddle or even Jon Holland.
In many ways it doesn’t matter too much who we pick as surely England are going to win easily no matter what. But whether we want to really go the whole hog and pick Bancroft is perhaps the biggest talking point.