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Ashes 2021-22: Do England really have a chance of breaking the Oz hoodoo?

England captain Andrew Strauss returns with the Ashes back in 2011
England captain Andrew Strauss returns with the Ashes back in 2011
©Reuters
 

With England having won just two away Ashes series in their last 10 attempts, the hosts start firm favourites in Ashes 2021-22.


Bet365 has odds of 1.53 for Australia as opposed to England's 3.75. With Ashes 2019 ending in a draw for the first time since 1987-88, another drawn series is nowhere in sight, with odds of 6.50.

England win by an innings and 83 runs and take the series 3-1. There are celebrations all around. Michael Vaughan presents the crystal trophy and replica urn to England captain Andrew Strauss. The entire squad is cock-a-hoop. Alastair Cook receives the Player of the Match for his 189 in the game and 766 in the series. This is what champions look like. Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior scoring heaps of runs. James Anderson, Chris Tremlett, Graeme Swann and Steven Finn taking bucket loads of wickets. This is how you do it. This is how you beat Australia in Australia.

These are some of the most glorious memories of the England cricket fans as they trounced Australia at home by 3-1 in Ashes 2010-11 to snap the trend. But, there's a rider.

When celebrations are extreme, it often means that something extraordinary has been achieved. By the same token, the achievement evidently does not happen too often, which is why it is special.

 

2/10: not an inspiring strike rate

The last time England won an Ashes series in Australia prior to the 2010-11 triumph was way back in 1986-87. In other words, from 1986 onwards, England have managed to win just two Ashes series in Australia from 10 attempts.

And it is not as if a lot has changed. Neither the Australian team has suddenly become so weak that England will roll them over this Australian summer. Nor have England started to dominate test cricket. However, the recent Indian series victory in Australia - the second time in a row - did exploit some chinks in their armour.

At the same time, England have had an exceptional run in tests since the return of cricket post the COVID-19 break, notwithstanding their bludgeoning in India, which obviously has recency bias.

Beyond doubt, it is going to be a tough ask, but not an impossible one for England to reclaim the Ashes this time around. That said, the visitors will need a lot of things to go in their favour for them to recreate history.

 

Two Smiths to contend with

The first thing on the agenda will be to somehow stop Steve Smith who has turned out to be their nemesis of late in test cricket. Smith averages a mighty 65.12 in the 27 test matches against England, scoring 2800 runs with 11 centuries, 9 half centuries and the best of 239.

In Ashes 2019 itself, the former Australian captain plundered 774 runs from 7 innings at an average of 110.57 including 92 boundaries and 5 sixes.

Blame Jofra Archer for pinging Smith on the head but England now have another Smith to contend with: his carbon copy, Marnus Labuschagne. The batsman also struck 353 runs from 7 innings at an average of over 50 in Ashes 2019 and has put together a sensational record in his short 18-match test career with an average in excess of 60, five centuries, 10 half centuries and the best of 215.

But, which of the English bowlers will bell the cat? With the Kookaburra ball not expected to swing that much either, tearways will have to do the trick.

As New Zealand's Neil Wagner and the Indian bowlers recently showed, like most batsmen, Smith also has a vulnerability against short pitch bowling aimed at his body. If the likes of Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Olly Stone and even Stuart Broad can bowl in his ribs or pack the leg side field and bowl within the stumps, they have a good chance of netting the big fish.

 

Go big

Restricting Australia is one thing, out-scoring them is another. In recent times, England have found it tough to score over 300 runs against quality oppositions and in challenging batting conditions. For them to make a mark in the coming Ashes, they will have to score big.

Joe Root and Ben Stokes will have to be at the forefront for England. Despite the poor form of openers Rory Burns and Dom Sibley in the recently concluded test series against India, England have a lot of potential with young guns like Zak Crawley, Ollie Pope and Daniel Lawrence showing signs of what they are capable of. 

What they must do is to spend time at the crease and play proper test cricket rather than activating the T20 mode. That is best left to Jos Buttler when the chips are down and counter-attacking cricket is the need of the hour.

In a nutshell, beating Australia in Australia remains a herculean task but there is enough in it to suggest that a full-strength England (no rotation in the Ashes please!) can give a slightly diminished Australia a run for their money, if most things go their way.

© Cricket World 2021