x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Why Australia will win the Ashes

A lot hinges on the captain who is also his team’s best batsman, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Apart from being an outstanding batsman, not many captains are blessed with the sort of intuition Michael Clarke has. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images
Apart from being an outstanding batsman, not many captains are blessed with the sort of intuition Michael Clarke has. Ryan Pierse / Getty Images

Michael Clarke

There are more successful captains around and Alastair Cook may end up with more wins to show in his career, but that should not be the only metric for captaincy.

Few leaders in world cricket are as intuitive as Clarke.

He has enviable game awareness, both of the most delicate moments of a Test and of those that have to be seized. He is flexible enough to switch plans midway through, proactive enough to implement new, unusual ones and patient enough to see some bear fruit. And he is an outstanding batsman.

It is a shame his team is not as good, but if Australia do come out on top, it will be because Clarke has had a blinder as captain (and with the bat).

Fragile England top

England’s top three was a mess during the Ashes this English summer. Australia’s fast bowlers had them in trouble in almost every innings through the middle of the series: 11 for two at Trent Bridge, 28 for three and 30 for three at Lords, 64 for three and 27 for three at Old Trafford and 49 for three in Durham.

Already it seems that Joe Root might not open. Which, given that he was widely seen as England’s next great opener just six months ago, is a victory already.

The problem then was that Ian Bell was in the form of his life and Kevin Pietersen was being Kevin Pietersen, but they will not rescue England every time.

The crowd

It is rare in modern cricket that teams come across a real hot cauldron of a venue anymore, where the crowd can be so intimidating and hostile that the game is half lost before players step out.

The ’70s and ’80s were littered with such venues in Australia, West Indies, India and Pakistan.

So Australia coach Darren Lehmann’s joking demand on the radio that the crowd get stuck into Stuart Broad might turn out to be a shrewd masterstroke. Already the games have started.

A tabloid has attacked Pietersen’s arrogance and he has responded with a jibe at Brisbane, venue of the first Test. He will hardly be applauded to the crease there. Though, admittedly, he thrives as much off it.

It is fair to imagine, however, that every ounce of England’s patience and equanimity will be tested at venues around Australia.

Wild-thing Mitch

Mitchell Johnson’s Ashes miseries are documented. He has taken wickets, but over nine Tests and nearly 300 overs, has conceded more than four runs per over. A lot of the time, he has looked awful.

But Australia are backing him again – as much out of compulsion as free will – and they will hope Johnson from the last Ashes Test at Perth turns up. The signs, if his ODI performances are anything to go by, are promising.

If that Johnson does turn up, he may well hold the key to an Australia victory.

Shane Warne

OK, so he is not going to put on his whites again, come in and bowl England out like he did in his playing days. But boy, does he still pack some punch from outside the field.

He has been taking pops at Cook’s captaincy for a while now, but cranked it up a couple of weeks back.

“Cook can be negative, boring, not very imaginative – and still win and be pretty happy,” Warne said. “But I think he needs to be more imaginative.

“If Australia play well and he continues to captain the way he does, I think England are going to lose the series.”

The thing about Warne is, when he wills something to happen bad enough, well, England know what usually happens.