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Even contest of battered and ball will make Ashes worthy of the name

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31.07.2019

England will be favoured to win the Ashes because home-country advantage is worth an extra bowler. Or, for these teams, an extra three batsmen.

Rain in Birmingham has given the first Test match its best prospect of running to five days. If it is not raining, humid and mild weather can be expected to give the bowlers an advantage they don’t really need. The batters – the battered? – appear so up against it that the spectator is in the unusual position of hoping for conditions to give them a fighting chance.

Steve Smith returns to a different breed of Test cricket after a year on the sideline.Credit:PA

The switch to red-ball cricket in the past 10 days has been revelatory. In the World Cup, England’s batting presented a wall of threat from one to eight. Where did they all go? There is a personnel overlap, but in the Test arena, facing Ireland, England’s batting order merited their lowly world ranking. The standard of batting at Lord’s was sometimes tragi-comic, England providing the comic, Ireland the tragic.

Not that Australia had anything to smirk about. For a low price put on wickets, the England-Ireland Test match was almost out-cheapened by Australia’s intra-squad hit-out, where Marnus Labuschagne played his way into the squad with a 40 and Joe Burns almost made the cut with a sturdy 16. Australia might take solace in the zero-sum game argument – their batsmen were only as good as their bowlers let them be, so somebody........

© The Age