There’s going to be so many key players in this Ashes series. So many key sessions, key spells, key knocks, key moments.
So where will the series defining keys come from? I’ve done my best to rank the two nations.
Unseeded: Joe Denly, Marcus Harris, Peter Siddle, Sam Curran, Marnus Labuschagne
25. Jack Leach 🏴
Leach’s starring role against Ireland helped England avoid huge embarrassment but he’ll be left out of the opening Ashes XI. Australian batsmen have rarely looked comfortable against quality left arm spin over the previous few seasons, and his match-up against Steve Smith, should he play, will be fascinating.
24. Rory Burns 🏴
Regardless of who takes the new ball for Australia, they cannot allow Burns to get settled. The start to the Sussex opener’s Test career has been modest (seven Tests, average of 22) but he’s been prolific on the County scene. Because he’ll be partnering the aggressive Jason Roy at the top, his role will be to knuckle down, and stay there.
- Cameron Bancroft 🇦🇺
It appears he’s back in the XI, and he’s got a massive point to prove. His stint (as captain) for Durham has yielded 726 runs at an average of 45. Unlikely to be series defining but getting the Aussies solid starts would be highly valued.
- Jofra Archer 🏴
Surely Archer will feature at some point during the Ashes but how can you justify leaving out one of James Anderson, Stuart Broad or Chris Woakes?
- Travis Head 🇦🇺
Head’s winter head with Worcestershire didn’t set the world on fire 339 runs at 34, but the vice-captain has a big role to play at No.5. Got his maiden Test hundred in the most recent Test (161 against Sri Lanka in February) and could be called upon to bowl some off-spin too if the time is right.
- Usman Khawaja 🇦🇺
Number three is a critical position in any side so Australia will be sweating on the fitness of Khawaja, who injured his hamstring during the World Cup. His record in England is not good but he needs a big series if his side is to retain the Ashes.
- Josh Hazlewood 🇦🇺
Hazlewood has seemingly fallen out of favour recently after a lean Test summer and injuries that have limited his time on the pitch. His Test record overall and in England is very good and with his skills could prove to be a big mover in the series, provided he gets the nod for the first Test.
- Nathan Lyon 🇦🇺
Is it blasphemous to put ‘Garry’ down so low? But with England’s top six featuring only two left-handers, it’s likely Lyon will be for the most part deployed in a defensive manner, allowing the quicks to do damage at the other end. That’s not to say his head-to-head with Ben Stokes won’t be important, it will be crucial for Australia’s chances.
- Jos Buttler 🏴
My favourite English player Buttler is an unorthodox, powerful, outrageous excitement machine. Didn’t do so well when he played in the 2015 Ashes but he was a shadow of his current self in that series. If he gets off the chain there can be no stopping this guy.
- Jason Roy 🏴
Speaking of getting off the chain – watching Roy this series will be genuinely fascinating. The Australians would respect him in that he’s attacking, brash and doesn’t give a shit how the runs come or what anyone thinks of him.
- Mitch Starc 🇦🇺
Starc could miss the first Test but will still have a say in the series. His World Cup campaign showed his accuracy has returned, at least for short spells. If he gets it right he’s brilliant, but there have been lots of occasions in England where he hasn’t got it spot on.
- Moeen Ali 🏴
Moeen has look pedestrian when he’s been in Australia, but his record in England is really quite good. Centuries (although none since 2016), five-fors and a hat-trick. Nathan Lyon has him in his sights.
- Matthew Wade 🇦🇺
Wade piled on so many first class, one day and Twenty20 runs that he finally couldn’t be overlooked by the selectors. Number six isn’t generally the most crucial spot but it might be the perfect position to launch some gritty counter-attacks.
- James Anderson 🏴
The wily old veteran will still be keeping some Aussie batsmen up at night. Almost certainly his last Ashes campaign means he’ll be looking to send Australia packing empty handed once again. If there’s any swing to be had, he’ll find it, and I’m predicted a couple of unplayable spells or so.
- Joe Root 🏴
Has finally been shifted up to number three to add some solidarity to a rather feeble looking English top order. His average there is pretty good – he averages 40 there from 40 innings. Has the chance to put himself in the history books as a great English captain with a series win here.
- David Warner 🇦🇺
Experience, especially in Test cricket, is invaluable. He brings a bit of stability to a previously unsettled top order because, at the end of the day, he can seriously bat. Warner has 21 Test hundreds, but none in England. Mentally the English will try and rock him, as will the crowds, so his response promises to have a large say on the outcome of the Ashes.
- Tim Paine 🇦🇺
Australia will suffer a horrible collapse during the Ashes. Maybe twice. Maybe once per Test, or more. And for more than his leadership and glovework and sportsmanship, Paine will be vital for his calmness at the crease. He showed in the last Ashes, in South Africa and in the UAE against Pakistan that he can be a rock with the bat. Kid, we’re going to need more of the same, please.
- Jonny Bairstow 🏴
Everything about Bairstow screams anger. The way he clenches his teeth, the way he whacks the ball, the red hair and the attitude. He never looks pleased but that’s a good trait for a cricketer. He’s got some real mongrel and has proved tough to remove in the past – he only averages 28 with the bat in Ashes encounters but that will almost certainly improve after the five Tests.
- Stuart Broad 🏴
It’s normal to still have nightmares about 60 all out, right? If you have managed to wipe it from your memory, Broad took 8-15 that day, the type of figures that are generally reserved for the immortals of the game. But on that day in Nottingham, Broad was godly. Aussie fans will continue to underrate him, but he has a knack of doing incredible things at the best possible time.
- Steve Smith 🇦🇺
He’s still Australia’s best batsman, so he deserves a ranking this high. Has a phenomenal record against England but circumstances have changed. He’s no longer the captain but he’ll still be the most prized wicket for the English. Another big ton at Lord’s is on the cards.
- Pat Cummins 🇦🇺
What else needs to be said about Pat Cummins? He’ll play all five Tests and be important in all five with bat and ball. Hasn’t played much red ball cricket in England at all so a quick adjustment will be vital.
- Chris Woakes 🏴
I think he may have gone ahead of Anderson and Broad as England’s best bowler. I’ve gone on record in the past to say Woakes isn’t up to it, but a tsunami of water has gone under the bridge since then. He doesn’t have extreme pace, but he’s got control, wobble and the ability to move it both ways. Plus he’s handy enough with the bat.
- James Pattinson 🇦🇺
It’s going to be a massive series for James Pattinson. He’s bowled almost unencumbered since November in 2018 and has produced some incredible spells for Victoria and for Nottinghamshire. While his brother may have represented England, Pattinson will be the main obstacle in England’s way of regaining the Ashes.
- Ben Stokes 🏴
Just when you’ve survived the swing of Anderson, the strangle of Woakes and the awkwardness of Broad, in steams the tattooed all-rounder, Ben Stokes. The English vice-captain is the most important player in the series because of his ability to change the game in all three facets, much like Andrew Flintoff in his pomp. He’s in sensational form with the bat and we all saw what he’s capable of in the field at the World Cup. If Australia can negate Stokes’ influence in the series, they just may be able to hold onto the urn.