If many pundits are to be believed, England may as well pack up and head home right now to avoid another Ashes pummelling in Australia.
Joe Root’s side may currently be holders of the famous little urn but their record Down Under combined with a disastrous build-up to the series has not generated overwhelming optimism they can beat Australia in their own back yard. If they do, it will be only the second time the feat has been achieved in the past 30 years.
The absence of arguably their best player, Ben Stokes, has been compounded by an injury list which has seen Steven Finn fly home and left concerns over the fitness of Moeen Ali and Jake Ball.
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Sir Viv Richards claims England resemble “kittens” without Stokes and there is a long list of former greats of the game who have expressed similar opinions.
Finding those who believe the tourists can upset the odds is not so straight-forward but it is not all doom and gloom.
While the focus has been on England’s travails in the build up to the first Test in Brisbane it has largely been forgotten that Australia’s form has not been much to write home about.
A 2-1 series defeat in India was followed by an embarrassing defeat by Bangladesh in August with former Australia fast bowler Mitchell Johnson – who tormented England on their last tour Down Under four years ago – telling the BBC he expects a closer series than many others do, even if Stokes does not play any part.
“I think England can win without him. I think at a contest at that high level, anyone can win. If you’re Australia, you don’t want to be thinking they can’t win because Stokes isn’t there - that can bite you in the backside pretty quickly.
“I’m still confident that Australia can win the series, but the performances recently haven’t been great from both sides.”
Geoffrey Boycott is not usually known for sitting on the fence so the fact the former England batsman finds it difficult to pick a winner could be seen as a vote of confidence in Root’s men.
Boycott told The Metro that England’s hopes of success could depend on whether key bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad stay fit.
“Recently, teams have not been winning away from home – going abroad has been testing, so that is why I give the home side the edge. Both sides have been wobbling in their batting, but the key will be whether the quick bowlers can stay fit. It will be five tests in seven weeks – it is hard grind and tough on the body.”
The absence of Stokes, who is under police investigation following a fight outside a Bristol nightclub in September, has been portrayed as a knockout blow to England’s hopes by some.
But former England coach David Lloyd told Sky Sports that it paves the way for someone like Somerset youngster Craig Overton to make a name for himself instead.
“It [Stokes’ absence] is a massive loss but I’d look at it the other way. It’s an opportunity for somebody else and it gives Overton, who might have been thinking he was just going out to carry some drinks and get some experience, a great opportunity.”
James Anderson has been confirmed as Root’s vice-captain in place of Stokes and The Independent says the 35-year-old has offered enough evidence in the warm-up game against a Cricket Australia XI to prove he could be England’s trump card as they bid to pull off a shock
“England may be outsiders for the upcoming Ashes series but they will believe they have every chance of springing a surprise on Australia if James Anderson continues to bowl like he did here. Anderson’s ability to make the Kookaburra ball talk was a positive sign ahead of the far tougher challenges ahead.”
Meanwhile, England Women fought back with the ball on the second day of their Ashes Test against Australia at North Sydney Oval as they reduced the hosts to 177-5 in reply to their first innings total of 280 all out.
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