The much-awaited 2021-22 Ashes series between
England and Australia is all set to get underway at the Gabba, Brisbane from Wednesday.
The build-up to the series was beset with off-field controversies with the England
Cricket Board (ECB) under fire for former Yorkshire all-rounder Azeem Rafiq’s
allegations of institutional racism at the club.
On the other hand, Australian skipper Tim
Paine stepped down from the role over a ‘sexting’ scandal, with Pat Cummins becoming
the first-ever fast bowler to be appointed Australian Test captain.
Australia retained the urn when they toured
England in 2019 on the back of Steve Smith’s record-breaking performances. But coming
into an event such as the Ashes rattled the way they have been, Australia might
find retaining the urn for a second consecutive series is not as easy.
Here are five players that can be
match-winners for both England and Australia:
1. Steve Smith
The fidgety right-handed batsman stamped
his claim as one of Test cricket’s all-time greatest with a scintillating 2019
Ashes batting performance. Smith scored 774 runs from seven innings at an
average of 110.57, including three centuries and as many fifties.
Smith missed one match due to concussion
and did not perform in just one innings, but with a high score of 211, Smith
helped Australia retain the Ashes 2-2. Now, ranked third in the world –behind Joe
Root and Kane Williamson – Smith will be looking to make his mark once again.
2. Joe Root
The English captain has enjoyed a spectacular
2021, scoring 1,455 runs from 21 innings and is 333 short of Pakistan great Mohammed
Yousuf’s calendar year record. The Yorkshire batsman has six innings to surpass
the feat, and England will be massively relying on his success.
Root also has to anchor a flaky top order
and shoulder the responsibility of turning around England’s fortunes in
Australia, where they have lost nine of the last 10 Tests, drawing one.
3. Pat Cummins
Test cricket’s top-rated bowler and now newly-appointed
Australian captain, Cummins will come into the Ashes with a lot of
expectations. Cummins was key to Australia retaining the Ashes in 2019, taking
29 wickets at 19.62.
Along with Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell
Starc, Cummins forms a deadly pace attack and his pace and bounce will be a
major threat to the English batsmen.
4. Ben Stokes
The mercurial all-rounder may not boast the
best stats but has an X-factor not seen in recent years since Ian Botham – the ability
to win a match on his own. Stokes showcased that quality in 2019, when his
unbeaten 135 single-handedly won England, who were chasing an improbable 359 to
win after being skittled for 67 in the first innings, to win the Headingley
Stokes was a late addition to the England
squad after taking a “mental health” break in July.
5. Cameron Green
The 22-year-old all-rounder brings balance
to the Australia squad as the fifth bowler. He has been likened to Andrew
Flintoff and has been rated as the greatest batting talent since Ricky Ponting,
Green has a lot of expectations to live up to.