The 2023 Ashes begins this Friday at Edgbaston, so we’ve previewed the series, as England look to regain the urn for the first time since 2015.

Eighteen months on from a capitulation down under, England are out for revenge as they host Australia in the latest instalment of the Ashes.

Australia did not quite manage a whitewash in the 2021-22 series, winning four of the Tests and drawing one. It was a dismal showing from England, and after another failure in the West Indies a few months later, the ECB decided change was needed.

Out went the old – with coach Chris Silverwood sacked and Joe Root stepping down as captain – and in came the new. Ben Stokes was named Test skipper, and Brendon McCullum came in as coach.

In the intervening year, England have won 11 of 13 Tests, and have done so in style. ‘Bazball’ has been an instant hit with fans, pundits and – most importantly – the players.

Stokes has a win percentage of 79% as a Test captain, the highest rate for any England skipper in the format (with a minimum of 10 games as captain).

Ben Stokes applauds while playing for England
Ben Stokes will captain England in the Ashes for the first time

But Bazball faces its biggest challenge as Australia – officially the number one ranked Test side in the world following their ICC World Test Championship win over India – look to retain the Ashes for a fourth series running.

It all begins at Edgbaston on Friday, before the series heads to Lord’s, Headingley, Old Trafford and finally The Oval. Can England finally regain the urn, or will the Aussies retain it once more?

Bazball Brilliance

The energy that McCullum and Stokes instilled into England’s Test team last year was a joy to behold.

Stokes has excelled despite the additional strain of leadership, and that has allowed Root to take a step back and focus solely on his batting.

Bar a slight dip in form last year, Root – who was England’s highest run scorer (322) in the 2021-22 Ashes series – has been superb, while newcomers Harry Brook and Ben Duckett have grasped chances to shine. Ollie Pope has found consistency, and hit 205 against Ireland earlier in June.

Duckett has plundered 800 runs in his first 19 Test innings (averaging 47.1) at a strike rate of 88.9, while Brook has been even better: 11 innings, 818 runs, an 81.8 average and 99 strike rate. The pair have six centuries between them (two for Duckett, four from Brook).

With the ball, James Anderson and Stuart Broad continue to be a crucial part of England’s attack. Indeed, in February, the pair overtook Australia greats Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne as the duo with the most Test wickets in matches in which they had lined up together (1,005).

Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson celebrate a wicket

“To go past heroes of mine, growing up, in McGrath and Warne, certainly we’re not in the category and quality of those two, they’re absolutely heroic in what they did for the game,” Broad said at the time.

“But to be up there and to have taken the amount of wickets with Jimmy – I feel very lucky and blessed to have been born in the same era as Jimmy, because certainly without him I wouldn’t have been able to be at the other end taking wickets in the partnership that we’ve had. I’ve learnt so much from him throughout my career and he’s probably the reason I’m still going at 36, in the way that he’s done it.”

Broad turns 37 on June 24, but is set to rekindle one of the all-time great rivalries between a batter and bowler this series. More on that to come later.

Stokes, meanwhile, is just six wickets away from becoming the second English player after Ian Botham (383 wickets, 5,200 runs) to log 5,000+ runs and take 200 wickets in the longest format.

Jack Leach’s absence could be felt, but Moeen Ali has come out of retirement to help plug the gap. Root and Dan Lawrence are the part-time spinners who might need to step up and fill the void, too, but England’s spin department will surely be an area of weakness that Australia can aim to exploit.

On Top of the World

Australia have won two of the last three Ashes series, with both of their victories coming via 4-0 scorelines. The last time England won the Ashes was 2015, on home turf.

Indeed, Australia – who have won six of their last 10 Tests – have not lost to England since September 2019, when they were beaten by 135 runs at The Oval.

Australia dismantled India by 209 runs in the ICC World Test Championship final last week, sealing their place at the top of the tree in the five-day format. They scored 469 in their first innings, with Steve Smith (121) and Travis Head (163) the stars with the bat.

Smith (8,947) is 53 runs away from becoming just the fourth Australian batter and 17th overall to get to 9,000 runs in men’s Test cricket. He averages 59.7 against England – only against West Indies (150.4) and India (65.9) does he have a better rate in the format.

Most runs scored in Ashes history

Australia’s batting line-up is complemented by a brilliant bowling attack, spearheaded by skipper Pat Cummins, who has taken 73 of his 221 Test wickets against England, with 33 of those having come on English soil. His economy of 2.83 against England, however, ranks second-worst out of all the teams he has faced – only against India has the 30-year-old allowed more runs per over.

Scott Boland, meanwhile, has had a brilliant start to life on the international stage, having come in for the injured Josh Hazlewood, who has taken 222 wickets in 111 innings. In his 15 innings so far, Boland has taken 33-481, including one five-wicket haul, with an economy of 2.3 – the best in Australia’s Ashes squad.

Mitchell Starc brings more potency to the attack, with his 13 five-fors in Test cricket trailing only spinner Nathan Lyon (23) in the tourists’ travelling party, while Cameron Green, Mitchell Marsh and even Marnus Labuschagne can all chip in.

Key Battle: Broad vs Warner

Warner has faced Broad in 45 Test innings, for a total of 708 deliveries. The Australian has been dismissed 14 times and scored 389 runs, with an average strike rate of 54.9.

Broad only managed to dismiss Warner twice in the 2021-22 series, but conceded just 30 runs. In 2019, the England paceman took 7-35 against Warner.

Stuart Broad celebrates taking the wicket of David Warner

It is a rivalry that’s sure to ignite once again, and former Australia bowler Jason Gillespie is relishing it.

He told Opta Analyst: “I think it’s fantastic. Broad, let’s face it, he’s seen as the pantomime villain, there’s always a bit of niggle in the press – he says something and someone from the Australian camp will respond. I think the latest one he referenced was that he didn’t count the Ashes over here because it was in quarantine during Covid.

“I just wonder if Broad just likes stirring the pot and having a bit of fun and it just creates some more interest in the series. He’s 36 years of age and still running in and bowling fast, he has a genuine love for the game, has a fierce determination and massive competitiveness.

“He’s one of the greats. This little rivalry between him and Warner. Interesting to see how it goes. I think David will come out and play quite aggressively. So, we’ll see what happens.”

Quick Singles

  • The opening Test in Birmingham will be the 16th between England and Australia at Edgbaston. England have won six of those matches, with Australia winning four and the other five drawn. However, the Baggy Greens won the most recent Ashes meeting at Edgbaston by 251 runs in August 2019.
  • England have won 54% of Tests played at Edgbaston. It is their highest win rate at a home ground where they have played at least 10 Tests.
  • Of James Anderson’s 685 Test wickets, 112 have come against Australia. Only against India (139) has the 40-year-old claimed more dismissals.
  • Australia opener David Warner has clocked up 8,302 runs in Tests, including 25 hundreds. Only three of those centuries have come against England, but against no team has the 36-year-old scored more runs in the format (1,888).
  • Should Broad feature in all five Tests, he will surely fancy his chances of overtaking Ian Botham (148) as the English bowler with the most Ashes wickets. Broad heads into the series on 131, which is sixth on the all-time list. The overall chart is topped by the late Warne (195).
  • While Donald Broadman’s 5,028 Ashes runs seems an unassailable figure, Smith (3,044) will this series be looking to overtake the likes of Steve Waugh (3,200), David Gower (3,269), Allan Border (3,548) and potentially Jack Hobbs (3,636).
  • Jonny Bairstow is back in the fold for England after recovering from a leg injury suffered on the golf course last year, which halted the Yorkshireman when he was in fine form. Bairstow (199) is one dismissal way from registering his 200th as a wicketkeeper in Tests. He would become the fifth England wicketkeeper, and 19th overall, to hit the milestone.

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