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Cricket-Australia braced for England storm with Ashes on the line


By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) – England’s barnstorming version of test cricket has shredded the textbook of the sport’s longest format but so-called ‘Bazball’ faces its biggest examination yet as they seek to regain the Ashes against world champions Australia starting on Friday.

Conventional cricketing wisdom has been turned upside down by England coach Brendon ‘Baz’ McCullum and captain Ben Stokes in a scintillating run of 11 victories from 13 tests.

Scoring at a head-spinning average of almost five runs an over under McCullum, England’s risk-takers have re-imagined the approach to test cricket and transformed the country’s fortunes after a run of only one win from 17 tests previously.

It has bamboozled India, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan. England made a first-day record 506 runs in 75 overs in the first test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi.

And against New Zealand at home last year, they made daunting fourth innings victory targets of 277, 299 and 297 look as demanding as a walk in park.

The big question, however, as the opening test looms at Edgbaston on Friday is whether England will play with the same almost reckless abandon against an Australia side possessing arguably the best pace attack in the world.

Stokes and McCullum have given no hint at reeling it in during the build-up to the most eagerly-awaited series since the classic 2005 edition won by England.

Whether Australia, who reclaimed the Ashes in 2018 with a 4-0 home win, retained them with a 2-2 draw in England in 2019 before another 4-0 home rout in 2021, try to fight fire with fire is another matter.

Pat Cummins’ side are not exactly shrinking violets and will begin quest for a first series win in England since 2001 full of confidence after convincingly beating India in London to win the World Test Championship.

Steve Smith, so often a thorn in England’s side, scored a century in the first innings against India and along with Marnus Labuschagne will form the bedrock of Australia’s batting while Travis Head will be a handful for England’s bowlers.

But how their bowling unit of Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood react when faced with ‘Bazball’ for the first time could be the key to the outcome.

“Every Ashes series gets the juices flowing but there’s added excitement this time around,” former England skipper Nasser Hussain told The Metro.

“That’s because of the brand and style of cricket this England side are playing. There’s that question we all have: can they turn up and do to Australia what they have done to every other side they’ve come up against?”

England warmed up with a predictable thrashing of Ireland at Lord’s, with bowler Stuart Broad pushing his case for selection with five wickets in the first innings while Ollie Pope scored a run-a-ball double century to cement his place.

Broad is battling for a starting spot along with old strike partner James Anderson, Ollie Robinson and Mark Wood while Moeen Ali, back in the test fold after England’s go-to spin Jack Leach suffered a back injury, is likely to start despite having not appeared in a test since 2021.

Moeen, a proven match-winner on his day, said answering Stokes’ call was an easy decision.

“To be part of it is amazing. It’s such a big series and the guys have been playing exciting cricket,” he said.

With the weather set fair, the opening skirmish promises fireworks as both sides seek to seize the momentum.

“I think England are marginal favourites just because Australia haven’t won over here for such a long time but it’s very hard to call. All I know is there won’t be too many draws,” former England captain Michael Atherton said.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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