After the end of the ICC Cricket World Cup, all the attention has shifted to the longest format of the game with the start of the ICC Test Championships. The brand new tournament began with the Ashes, featuring old foes England and Australia. who locked horns at Edgbaston.
This match was eagerly awaited for a variety of reasons:
1. How would the banned trio of David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and Steven Smith fare on their return To test cricket?
2. Would England carry forward their World Cup form to the Ashes?
3. Would this series capture the attention of the viewers and fans despite following so closely on the heels of the World Cup?
We pretty much got all the answers we were seeking and more. It was a cracker of a contest that saw grit, resolve and the willingness to fight against all odds, presented in a way that only Test cricket can provide.
England had the misfortune of losing James Anderson to injury. The maverick speedster was able to bowl only four overs in the match, and that considerably dented England's bowling attack.
But one mustn't take anything away from the complete team performance put in by Australia that was spearheaded by Steven Smith's magnificence to put the visitors 1-0 ahead in the series.
Here's detailing the reasons why Australia are favorites to win the second Test to be played at the home of cricket, Lords:
Steve Smith is back in form
Steven Smith was the captain when the 'Sandpaper' gate scandal shook the world of cricket. A lot of questions were raised about the integrity of the Australian cricket team post that incident. Smith, Bancroft and Warner were handed one-year bans.
This match was extra special and challenging for the banned trio as they were returning to the Test arena amidst boisterous English crowds who were not going to make their return easy. The challenges that Test match cricket of the highest quality provides, coupled with the mental pressure of the crowds, can break the best of men.
But Smith proved to the world what they were missing in the last one year. He put on an exemplary display of talent and grit; the way he went about his business in his usual style in both innings of the match was something special.
Australia were reeling at 122/8 and were staring down the barrel in the first innings. But that was when Smith showed why he is the best Test batsman in the world.
He was supported beautifully by Peter Siddle, and together they bailed Australia out.
Trailing by 90 runs in the second innings, Smith looked in imperious touch. Driving and pulling without being bothered by the opposition bowlers or crowds, he galloped his way to another century.
With a century in each innings, Smith truly redeemed himself.
The right-hander has been known to be a bit fidgety at the start of his innings against high quality fast bowling. That is where Jofra Archer, who will be making his debut in the second Test, can play a part. If he can hit the right lengths and get the ball to move and zip around at pace, England could get Smith early.
The hosts have also got in Jack Leach for the under-performing Moen Ali for the second Test. England are hoping that Smith's weakness against left-arm spinners can get him out early, as otherwise he looks practically invincible.
It remains to be seen if both the new inclusions i.e Archer and Leach can cause Smith trouble, but the odds are against them.
Australia's morale is very high after the first game
In any Ashes series, gaining the initial momentum is very critical. A long and tiring five-match series is a true test of a team's physical and mental strength, and getting the early advantage can be a big plus.
At Edgbaston, Australia won both the physical and the mental battle. They put in a complete team performance, coming back from a deficit of 90 runs to win the game convincingly.
Their batting unit clicked, with many batsmen putting in solid performances. Smith was the standout batsman but Matthew Wade's 110 in the second innings and the application showed by Travis Head and Usman Khawaja are also good signs for Australia.
Moreover, Nathan Lyon looks in scintillating form. If reports are to be believed, the pitch at Lord's is going to be flat and dry. That means England would need to counter the threat Lyon can cause, otherwise he can run away with the game like he did in the second innings at Edgbaston where he picked up a six wicket haul.
Finally, Australia didn't go in with their preferred choice of bowlers at Edgbaston. They went in with Peter Siddle and James Pattinson instead of Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc.
That didn't reflect in the bowling performance of the team. One can expect Starc or Hazlewood to return for the next game, which would add to England's woes.
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