Some tournaments and series spark discussions the moment their dates are announced - World Cup, World T20, India vs Pakistan to name a few. However, there is one series that precedes all of these, and is nearly a century-and-a-half old – the Ashes, between England and Australia. The moment a particular Ashes series ends, the focus of both teams shifts towards the next one. Such is the enigma and the stature of the oldest rivalry cricket has known. Do not blame your friend, husband, wife, colleague, boss or whoever you know who is a massive cricket fan if they ignore you or don’t answer your call. Get ready for an earful of excuses for not completing a task they were responsible for, on time. If you live under the same roof, be prepared to find a running tap or an open door. All this, just because their minds will be occupied by the Ashes for the next month and a half, and it doesn’t get any bigger than this in Test cricket. Australia and England will be clawing at each other, trying to slam each other down, session by session; day by day. The first Test begins on 1st August at Edgbaston. The venue, coincidentally, is the one that saw the two sides battle it out during the World Cup semi-final. England beat Australia pretty comfortably and went on to lift the trophy as well. While they will be running high on confidence, Test cricket can be a completely different ball game. England have had a very aggressive approach in one day cricket, but they may not go by the same mantra in Tests. They got over a near-scare against Ireland at Lord’s, but then, many of their Test regulars weren’t in the playing XI during that Test. For Australia though, this will be their first appearance after their loss to England in the semi-final. Both Australia and England will have players who weren’t part of the World Cup squads. England will see the likes of Anderson, Broad and Curran in the bowling attack, while the Aussies will have captain, Tim Paine, Travis Head and Josh Hazlewood back in the mix. A Royal Battle promises to take centre-stage during the series. Four Rajasthan Royals players will be involved during the Ashes – Steve Smith, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer. After being fast-tracked to England’s national setup, Jofra Archer has received his maiden call-up to the Test squad. He was in top form during the World Cup with four three-wicket hauls to his name. It will be great fun to watch him bowl in tandem with Anderson and Broad. Ben Stokes was re-named vice-captain of the English Test team after his consistent all-round performance during the World Cup. He happens to take over fellow Rajasthan Royals star, Jos Buttler, Stokesy is proud to win back the vice-captaincy post and is looking forward to working with Joe Root during the Ashes. “I love having that responsibility and it is something I thoroughly enjoy doing. I take pride in being vice-captain. Being part of that think-tank is pretty cool.” Stokes had made his Test debut for England in the 2013-14 Ashes, Down Under. He instantly attracted eye-balls with a 120 at Perth, in just his second Test. In the final game of that series, Stokes showed what he can do with the ball as well, with a 6-wicket haul. Steve Smith has been the mainstay in Australia’s batting line-up during the last two Ashes series. He top-scored in the 2017-18 Ashes in Australia and the 2015 series in England as well. Smith scored nearly one-fourth of Australia’s total runs during the last Ashes. He scored 3 centuries, one of them being his highest Test score, 239. Smith’s overall Ashes record is whopping. He has over 2000 runs with 8 hundreds and 6 half-centuries. In 23 Ashes Tests, Smudge averages a little over 56.27. Smith will be making his Test return, and he will be hungry to continue where he left off in the format last year. Jos Buttler will be looking to make a mark in the Ashes. He hasn’t really created an impact in the sole Ashes series he was a part of, in 2015. Buttler had then lost his place in the Test squad, but a string of good performances got him back into the mix last year, after a successful stint at the Vivo IPL for Rajasthan Royals. Buttler is a player who can turn the game, coming in at number 6 or 7. Australia had Adam Gilchrist during their invincible days playing a similar role, and Buttler is quite similar with his approach. The final Rajasthan Royals man to be a part of the Ashes is Jofra Archer. Whatever he has touched in international cricket so far, has turned to gold. Archer has the pace and swing to trouble the best at the international level. He has ample experience with the Duke’s ball, having played County cricket for Sussex. A good break post the World Cup triumph will only re-energize Archer to go after the Aussie batsmen. He may not be completely fit for the first Test, but come game 2, he will be a force England cannot ignore. The World Test Championship begins with the first match of the series. Test cricket will have a new meaning once the format kicks in. There’s no better series to get this fresh outlook underway, than the Ashes. Australia and England have some prolific batsmen and bowlers in their line-ups. History suggests that the home team should win. England and Australia have won their last two Ashes at home. The Royals have been grabbing headlines in the recent past, and with four of them featuring in the Ashes, the trend could continue. Let everything else take a back seat and enjoy what could be high quality cricket for the next month and a half.
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