Morne Morkel: I'll Get In Trouble For Saying This, But Here's Why Australia Will Win The Ashes
For the first Test, I feel like the two teams will feel each other out, like heavyweights in the first few rounds of a boxing match.
But overall, I think Australia has the upper hand and that they’re going to win The Ashes.
This is not easy for me to say. At the moment, I’m playing County Cricket in England and two of my teammates at Surrey -- Jason Roy and Rory Burns -- are going to open the batting for England, and I’m hoping those guys do really well.
I’m nervous. I’m worried they might terminate my contract for predicting an Australian victory!
But I don’t like to be a fence-sitter, and for me, there’s a couple of reasons why I think Australia is going to win it.
Firstly, I think Australia will be mentally fresher.
As we all know, England just won the World Cup. Being a home World Cup, there was so much pressure on them, not just during the tournament but in the lead-up to it. England players had to deal with huge ups and downs for eight or nine weeks.
A lot of those guys are backing up in The Ashes, and every cricketer has a breaking point. Are those guys mentally going to be able to handle the pressure for another six weeks? The media, the public expectation, their own expectations of themselves, the mental fatigue?
They’ll be riding the roller coaster all over again, and if Australia can chip away and find their breaking point, I think they can break through the wall.
I really think England will have a bit of a World Cup hangover, while to me, it feels like Australia is on a mission -- and that this series has been their main target all along.
I’ve seen the way the Aussies have trained and prepared in the past couple of weeks. The intra-squad practice match was brilliant. There are definitely a few guys with a bee in their bonnet who have something to prove.
Obviously the big factor for Australia is that this is the comeback Test for the Cape Town ball-tampering trio – Steve Smith, Davey Warner and Cameron Bancroft. I think Smith and Warner were exceptional in the World Cup, and I think they’ll all want to make a statement that they’re back.
It was a genius idea to use the English Dukes ball in the Sheffield Shield in Australia last summer to prepare for The Ashes so batsmen could get accustomed to it, and bowlers learn to wobble the seam like England’s bowlers. If they’ve mastered those skills, they’ll have what it takes to win in England.
This is going to be a bowler’s Ashes.
If Australia don’t get early wickets, England has got Stokes, Ali and Butler in the middle order and they can really take the game away from you.
But if Australia can get early wickets and put pressure on the middle order, England will be vulnerable. They don’t have a settled combination in their top three, which could be an advantage for Australia.
Joe Denly will bat at number four for England with Root at three. Denly has stacked up a lot of runs in County Cricket recently. After being dropped from the England team a couple of years ago, he went back and worked hard on his game. He’s a very good player of pace, especially short pitched bowling, and I think that’s one of the reasons they’ve backed him against the Aussies.
I’m actually a little surprised they are not batting Denly at number three. Perhaps it’s because he’s lacking experience. But it has been well documented this week that Root’s average is significantly higher batting at four than at number three.
Australia appears certain to pick James Pattinson in its bowling line-up for the first Test, and this is a great move as from all reports he’s bowling really well. He has been very successful playing for Nottinghamshire, and he knows how to go about bowling in the UK.
Mitchell Starc looks set to miss the first Test, and while this is controversial in the eyes of many, I can understand it. Is the ball really going to reverse swing? I don’t think so, and Starcy’s greatest strength is when it’s reversing.
For Australia, trying to squeeze Cummins, Pattinson, Siddle, Hazlewood and Starc into three spots is a fantastic problem to have. They’ll rotate their bowlers, and I’m sure each will play a vital role at some point in the series.
England’s bowlers? Never mind their age, at 33 and 37 respectively, Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson still have the power to win an Ashes, especially at home with the Duke ball where it moves a bit more.
Broady is still bowling really fast and really well, and they’ll both be fresh and ready to go because they didn’t play in the World Cup. The old foxes are still a dangerous combination and with this likely to be their final Ashes series on home soil, I’m pretty sure they’ll leave it all out there. As they say, you can’t buy experience at the supermarket.
I think Jofra Archer will play a huge role later in the series when he’s fully fit. He’s a genius with a red ball -- more so than with the white ball where he’s made his name of late -- because it swings more. He can be a real X-factor for England.
But on current form, the man who beat him to a spot -- Chris Woakes -- is England’s best bowler. He will be on a high after taking six wickets in the final innings to help England roll Ireland for 38 in the recent one-off Test at Lord’s. On his home ground at Edgbaston, he could be a real handful.
Obviously this is going to be a close series. But as I said, I think Australia might just have a point to prove and have a slight mental edge.
One thing for sure is that I’ll be watching. I’m just a cricket addict, and I almost feel part of the series when I watch the build-up and see ex-players banter on social media.
For me, when it’s Ashes time, I’m glued to the TV and as excited as anybody.