The Ashes: England's need to score big, David Warner's form, rest and rotation - pundits assess where the urn will be won and lost
Which Australia batter holds the key for the hosts? How can England best attack Australia in their own conditions? Should the tourists be planning to rotate their bowlers? Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain and Rob Key discuss the key issues ahead of the start of The Ashes
Last Updated: 04/12/21 10:52am
“There is Test cricket. Then there is Ashes cricket.”
It is that time again. The Ashes is almost upon us and those words from Joe Root can be added to a long list of quotes that tell us that when England take on Australia, there is just something extra special about it.
For an England Test cricketer, an Ashes series in Australia is seen as the greatest challenge you can face.
- Ben Stokes impresses on last day of Ashes warm-up match
- Marnus Labuschagne focused on runs after captaincy snub
Sky Sports pundits Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain and Rob Key know all about that having taken on the great Aussie side containing the likes of Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath on their own patch during their playing days.
In the Sky Cricket Ashes preview podcast, the trio look ahead to another eagerly anticipated series and highlight some of the areas where the urn could be won and lost…
Mike Atherton - Warner the key to Australia's batting
I think David Warner is so important. If I look at their team, the axis of their batting is Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne and I'd say they're both kind of bankers for getting runs and having good series. Of course, you never know, there is uncertainty in the game and you never quite know but they're top, top players.
Warner has been a top player, and has just had an excellent T20 World Cup, but he had that issue with Broad in England - very different conditions, obviously. [The] Kookaburra [ball], Australian pitches are very different from [the UK] but he's been on the wane a little bit.
I think he holds such an important position because if he struggles early on and you can get into Labuschagne and Smith early, then Australia's batting doesn't look fantastic if Warner has an iffy time of it.
If, suddenly, he comes good and shows that he's still a world class player in Test cricket and you put that alongside Smith and Labuschagne, it starts to look a very different Australia team.
I do think that mouth-watering battle between Warner and Stuart Broad, if he plays at the start, is going to be significant. All the talk of who opens with Warner, I know they've made their decision now, but they're kind of banking on Warner to get back to his best.
At the start of the series, England will be desperate to just unpick a few uncertainties that might be there from the last series that he had against them. If they do then Australia's batting doesn't look absolutely fantastic. They've got some top-class players in there, but I think Warner is key.
Nasser Hussain - Big first-innings runs imperative for England
We all know Broady well, he's worked with us, and we always go on about Australia: the bowling attack, the Kookaburra ball and having a point of difference, playing Mark Wood and having that extra pace, and Broad always says 'yeah, that's a good point, excellent but, actually, you need runs.'
You need big, big first-innings runs. I always go back to when I woke up on the first morning at Brisbane on the last tour out there - and England were going really well, they were 145-2, James Vince was batting beautifully, Ian Chappell was waxing lyrical about him, and then Vince is run out and England are bowled out for 300. England lose and they go on to lose the series heavily.
In England, if you get 300 in your first innings, against the Dukes ball, you will win most of your games with Broad, Anderson, Woakes, Robinson and the conditions we have seen in the last decade. Now there is a weather pattern going on in Australia, but, in your normal Australian conditions, if you get 300 in your first innings, you will lose more games than you win because the opposition will go on and get 400 or 450 and then you're chasing it. Then it starts to spin and get a little bit uneven.
The way to attack Australia is big first-innings runs and you go back to 2010-11 and the likes of Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell and Prior, they got massive runs in the first innings and then you've got a bowling attack that can compete.
That, for me, is the mindset of big runs and it cannot just be Joe Root. You don't get 450-500 with just Root.
Rob Key - Ashes are no time for rest and rotation
The last thing I want to hear about after last winter and the summer is rest and rotation. For this Ashes series, surely you don't want to try and be too clever and think already 'we're not going to play Jimmy Anderson in the third Test'. Do it as you go.
So, if you turn up to the next Test and, say, Stuart Broad feels that he's struggling a bit then you leave them out. You don't have this pre-emptive plan to rest and rotate players. You just turn up to every Ashes Test match and say 'what is our best team? What is our best attack for the conditions to win this game of cricket?'
Forget about that stuff we had all last winter. I know we're not going to be flying people home and giving them a Test match off. This is The Ashes, surely, we don't want to be hearing about rest and rotation?