Key Ashes battles: The crucial match-ups

Rob Key

Cricket Expert

It’s captain vs captain, No 1 Test bowler vs No 1 Test batter, as Pat Cummins and Joe Root prepare to face off, can Stuart Broad maintain his hold over David Warner and can exciting young all-rounder Cameron Green match-up to Ben Stokes? Rob Key looks at the big Ashes battles….

Last Updated: 06/12/21 4:35pm

The battle between the two captains could be crucial to determining who wins The Ashes this winter

Ahead of the start of The Ashes this week, Sky Sports pundit Rob Key looks at some of the potentially decisive head-to-head battles…

Pat Cummins vs Joe Root

This is the match-up. Joe Root has been in the form of his life. From Sri Lanka just after last Christmas onwards, he’s been in phenomenal form. The last frontier for him as a player is Australia, it’s the last piece of the jigsaw for him. Forget the captaincy for a moment, the last place he needs to conquer as a batsman is Australia.

Joe Root has scored six Test centuries already in 2021

Pat Cummins the bowler is the person who stands in his way. The added pace and bounce, it’s a completely different test to what Root’s had over the last year where it’s either been spinning pitches or seaming pitches and he hasn’t got a hundred in Australia yet.

Then you have the captaincy side of it. Both teams now, with the exception of Jofra Archer, are pretty much at full strength. This is what England have been building to and Archer is a big, big miss but Ben Stokes is now back, and this is what it has all been about. We can all say ‘don’t just think about The Ashes’ but this is what it is all about for Joe Root, and the same for Pat Cummins.

I actually think the whole Tim Paine thing, which has been farcical, has meant Australia have got a better wicketkeeper-batsman in Alex Carey. It means both captains have very nearly got a full arsenal.

Pat Cummins will lead the Australians and is the No 1 ranked bowler in Test cricket

I don’t think the captaincy will affect Cummins’ performance with the ball because he’s got such a potent attack. With Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon as well, it’s a very good attack. Lyon can do a lot of the donkey work if needed which is also a bonus for a captain.

David Warner vs Stuart Broad

This will be an interesting one because Broad, at the moment, has the upper hand. Warner will think that in Australia it will be different to in English conditions. Broad got the better of him last time but this will be a different challenge, especially when England’s bowlers are so under-cooked.

David Warner will hope to take his impressive form from the T20 World Cup into The Ashes

It’s for Warner to sort out his game against Broad, not for Broad to sort his game out against Warner. What Broad worked on and the little tactical changes he made to Warner last time, worked brilliantly so he’s not going to change anything. He’s going to do the same thing so it is up to Warner to try to counter.

I know there has been talk that Broad and Jimmy Anderson might not play every Test but I have got absolutely no interest in hearing about rest and rotation for The Ashes. You pick your best team and England have enough resource with Ollie Robinson, Chris Woakes and people like that so let’s get out of trying to second guess where people are at and just pick your best team.

Stuart Broad enjoyed great success against Warner during the 2019 Ashes series

If Anderson and Broad are fit, then they play. If there are tiring to the point that you don’t think they’ll do as well as someone else, then they don’t play. All this rest and rotation stuff, this is what they’ve been resting and rotating them for. Just pick your most potent attack for the conditions.

Cameron Green vs Ben Stokes

Ben Stokes will be straight back into the fight. As a cricketer, if your last proper game was during the summer, it makes no difference to your body and you’re in no better place because you played at the end of the summer rather than halfway through the summer. They are all going to be under-cooked and Stokes is in no different a position.

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Root is pleased to see Ben Stokes back in the England fold, with the all-rounder set to play in the first Ashes Test in Brisbane

Root is pleased to see Ben Stokes back in the England fold, with the all-rounder set to play in the first Ashes Test in Brisbane

He’s probably more rested but in terms of form, rhythm, match awareness, match fitness, they’re all in the same boat as far as I’m concerned. Finishing at the end of the summer is still a long time ago.

I’ve seen a little bit of Cameron Green and good players stand out to you very quickly, he looks like he’s going to be a fantastic player.

Australia have high hopes for all-rounder Cameron Green

On the trip to Australia I went on as a player, Michael Vaughan was part of a new generation that were going to take it to that great Australian team. All his practice was about how to pull Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie off their length as opposed to ‘how do I survive against these guys?’ I think that both Green and Stokes are those types of cricketers that will come back at the bowlers.

The mindset in Australia has to be, ‘if they miss their line and length then I’m scoring’. They’ve got to look to punish every single thing that is slightly off line and let the bowlers know that they are under pressure.

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Green and Stokes – as well as Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow – are those types of cricketers and I think that is absolutely vital. Australia give you nothing so you’ve got to be prepared to jump on every single thing they give you.

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