Back in May, England batsman Johnny Bairstow said he would rather win the ICC Cricket World Cup than The Ashes Series against Australia. Starting Thursday, he’ll get the chance to win both. Just three weeks after England’s eight-wicket thumping of Australia in the World Cup semifinals, these two cricketing rivals renew their acquaintances for one of the oldest— and smallest— trophies in sports. For the next month and a half, England (EVEN) will hope to pull off a double, stripping the Aussies (13-8) of their World Cup and Ashes trophies in a five-match test series, also in England.
For their first test, England and Australia will return to the scene of the crime, Edgbaston in Birmingham. Despite their World Cup dreams ending there in disaster— and Australia not having won a match there in 18 years— their skipper, Tim Paine, insists he’s not superstitious, or intimidated. In his final presser before the series, Paine claimed he could name fifteen cricket grounds more intimidating than Edgbaston. England’s Barmy Army of supporters will ensure he’s mistaken. “We believe it’s going to go up a notch,” Paine said, of when the trio of Cameron Bancroft, David Warner and Steve Smith, of Sandpapergate infamy, take to the crease.
Much of the attention in England has been on the decision to move top-order batsman, Joe Root, back to third in the order. The captain led his side in runs during last month’s World Cup, but has made no secret of his preference to bat fourth. Still, Root insists the decision to move back was completely his. “I’ve always thought the best thing for the team is for me to score runs. And for a long time my record at No.4 would suggest that would be the best thing. But, where we are as a team currently and where I’m at as a captain, I’m a good enough player to be able to make the same returns at No.3.”
The difference between One Day International cricket, seen last month during the World Cup, and test cricket will be on full display this month. While England and Australia boast the last two ODI world champions, their test sides, by contrast, are downright mediocre. Since peaking about a decade ago, both sides have regressed to the mean. In England particularly, batsmen who excelled in the ODI format have struggled to carry over their performances in tests. The upside, however, is that these two profoundly average squads will be very evenly-matched.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a real rivalry without some banter, and The Ashes series is famous for it. “You tried to interact with the crowd and turn it around and have a bit of fun,” former Australian bowler Glenn McGrath said of the series’ sledging. “If an opposition crowd is giving you a hard time it’s because they respect you. If they didn’t’ care about you they wouldn’t even worry about it.” In one particularly infamous exchange, during the 1981 series, Australia’s Rod Marsh asked English batsman Ian Botham, “so how’s your wife and my kids?” You can read Botham’s response for yourself.