The Betting Maestro wonders if we’re watching the worst Ashes players of the past two decades in action right now…

Sometimes we don’t really appreciate how good something is till it’s gone. Or till an inferior version comes about. Or till we compare it with something that’s meant to be like-for-like and ends up being light years better than it.

The next match starts at Headingley on Thursday and after Australia battling to save the draw, Ben Stokes’ brilliant century, the menace of Jofra Archer and the possible absence of Steve Smith, it’s England who are favourites at a best price of 1.88 with Royal Panda to win the Third Test.

 

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Australia’s class of 2005 were superstars…and lost.  

Consider this: in the 2005 Ashes Series, Australia’s team for most of the matches was as follows:

Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Damien Martyn, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne, Brett Lee, Jason Gillespie, Glenn McGrath.

We could be wax lyrical about this XI for page after page. Instead, let’s just highlight a few things that catch our eye about these players:

  • Shane Warne is the second highest Test wicket-taker of all time with 708; Glenn McGrath the fifth with 563.
  • Hayden and Langer are the fourth most successful Test partnership of all time and the most successful ever among opening partnerships.
  • Adam Gilchrist is generally regarded as the best batsman-wicketkeeper of all time, averaging 47 from number 7.
  • Ricky Ponting is the second-highest runscorer in Test match history with 13,378 and ranks third for most Test centuries.
  • Michael Clarke averaged 49 and was one of a select group of players to have a triple Test century to his name.

Now consider this: that 2005 side lost that Series. Admittedly, in dramatic circumstances and it was an unusually good side for one who lost an Ashes series. But still. Those players lost an Ashes series.

Now, which of the class of 2019 would get into that side?

 

Australia- Worst Ashes players in a long time

Steve Smith, definitely. His average of 63 is obscene and he’d walk into that 2005 side at 4, 5 or 6. Fine.

And beyond that? You could just about make a case for Pat Cummins instead of Jason Gillespie in terms of pure ability but with just 21 Tests under his belt at age 26, Cummins is hardly a Test great and if he gets a recurrence of those injury problems, he may never be.

To be fair to David Warner, who by the way is having a stinker of a Series, his average (46.9) is similar to that of Langer (45) or Hayden (50.73) but he’s still got some way to go to get the sheer number of Test runs they did. At 32 it’s not like he’s got all the time in the world. And that’s about it.

 

England’s no better….

But before we’re too critical of this Australian side, who are still 1-0 up by the way, let’s do the same exercise but this time looking at England.

How many of their current players would get into the England side who played that same 2005 series? How many would get into the 2010 side who won in Australia? To put it in simpler terms: how many of them would even make the cut as ‘excellent Test match players”?

 

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James Anderson, absolutely. Stuart Broad, definitely.  Joe Root’s numbers stack up nicely. Ben Stokes gets better and better and is probably only behind Ian Botham as England’s leading post-War all-rounder and certainly miles ahead of Andrew Flintoff. The century in the Second Test that won him man-of-the-match was a counter-attacking effort of pure class.

Jofra Archer looks an absolute beast of a fast bowler but hey, he’s only ever played one Test match.

All well and good but there are plenty of names who if we’re harsh, probably shouldn’t be Test players at all, let alone particularly good ones: Jason Roy, Rory Burns, Joe Denly. Jack Leach….tough one.

 

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As an aside, Anderson has so far featured for about half an hour of the Series and Smith missed the last day of the Second Test and is pretty likely to miss the Third Test due to his concussion issues. Not either of their faults of course but the Series could potentially be deprived of the two best players on show for at least the Third Test, further diluting the quality.

On the one hand, it means world-class players have been at a premium. On the other hand, it hasn’t necessarily made for any less interesting a spectacle because of it.

It was the genius of Smith and his two hundreds plus excellent bowling from Nathan Lyon and Cummins who set up that first Test win. In the Second Test, had Australia’s top order had the technique, discipline and patience to deal with Jofra Archer’s raw pace and Stuart Broad’s excellent lengths in both innings, the draw would have been a certainty a long time ago rather than England having a sniff of victory.

 

Worst Ashes players but…so what?

In many ways, we have to be a little careful about what we wish for. In tennis for the last 10 years or so we’ve all been so complimentary about Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and to a lesser extent Andy Murray. It’s a ridiculous scenario whereby the first three in that list (who all played at the same time) would all feature in a Top 6 or 7 of the greatest tennis players of all time in the Open era.

Great. We live in an era with three great champions. But when you can vividly remember the few Grand Slams that weren’t won by one of those three and there’s surely something (negative) to be said for the predictability of it all.

Had the likes of Hayden, Langer and Ponting had first digs on a belter of a wicket and you could immediately say they were never going to lose that match. If Warne had last use of a fifth-day pitch then good luck to the batsmen having to pay him on that. If a Jonathan Trott or Ian Bell or Alastair Cook had to bat for two sessions to save a Test, they’d almost certainly pull it off.

So in a perverse way, the failings and shortcomings of this current crop of players actually makes for a good spectacle because we never know what they’re going to do next. If anything, the poor shots that the likes of Roy, Bancroft or Denly are playing are what’s creating the drama. It also means that it’s anyone’s guess as to who might win the little urn. And that, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

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