Australia and England prepare to ring changes

With less than a year to go before Australia prepare to set off for England in the hope of retaining the Ashes, both sides are beginning to plan for next year’s intriguing series.

2015 is set to be a big year, and betting companies such as Betfair, bet365 and the other big ones should expect to be busy with so many sporting events on next year’s calendar.

The Background
After surrendering the famous urn without so much as a fight at the end of 2013, that England team was all but dismantled in the wake of some embarrassing in-fighting and poor results.

Australia, meanwhile, have been able to build on their impressive destruction of England by putting together of run of series wins and climbed back up to second in the ICC Test Rankings, albeit with a number of players who might not still be in the team come next summer.

While we’re sure to be in for an interesting series between the two old enemies, there could be a host of new players making their first appearance in an Ashes series.

It’s almost guaranteed that Australia next year will have a much different spine from the team that played in the two Ashes series of 2013. While the young players stole many of the headlines as Australia whitewashed England Down Under last year, it was three players in their mid-thirties that at-times held them together – Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin and Ryan Harris – all of whom face a tough battle to maintain their place in the side in 2015 due to their age.

While it would be foolish to write either player out at this early point, Australia will be looking at younger alternatives.

It’s been all change for England, however, most notably with the very public falling out between Kevin Pietersen and the England management and playing staff. Pietersen hasn’t been the only high profile England player now out of the picture will be Graeme Swann. The spin bowler has been a huge thorn in Australian batsmen’s sides over the past five years, and his disappointing performance in Australia last year played a big role in England’s dismal display.

The Preperation
Australia will kick off their new season with a one-day tri-series in Zimbabwe along with South Africa. On the back of that series, the Aussies head to the UAE to take on Pakistan over two Tests and another ODI series before flying back to Australia to welcome South Africa for a one-day series.

Following the ODI series against the Proteas, Australia will return to the five-day game after a triangular series against India and England to take on Indian over Christmas in a four-Test series. With the World Cup coming up quickly at the start of the year, Australia will then have a couple of months to rest up before heading to England.

One main difference by the next Ashes series is that England will be knackered, whereas Australia will be refreshed. The Australians will be schedule will reach its climax of the World Cup in late March and the squad will then have two months off – except those heading to the IPL, as very few will. England, while the Australians rest, will be playing Tests in the West Indies and at home to New Zealand.

While Australia will feel they have the perfect run-up to next year’s Ashes, England will be rightly aggrieved to have seen their schedule over the next 10 months. Alastair Cook and his men are currently preparing to jet out to the sub-continent for a remarkable and unnecessary seven-game ODI series against Sri Lanka before the triangular series against Australia and India.

Right after the World Cup, England then have to set off for the West Indies for three Tests before kicking off the English summer with a pair of Tests and seven one-day games against New Zealand. A tired England squad will then only have a matter of weeks to get ready for the arrival of Australia and the first Ashes Test of the summer in early July in Cardiff.

The Changes
While England have been forced to make a host of changes in the wake of their humiliating Ashes defeat last year, the Aussies are only just coming round to the idea of losing some of those experienced players that have been so crucial to the team’s return to form over the past couple of years.

Rodgers, Haddin and Harris were all thought to have seen their best days before returning to the international stage in recent years and playing instrumental roles in Australia coming back from a string of embarrassing series defeats to reclaim the Ashes in such drastic fashion. All three will be hoping to experience one more home Ashes series, but there are still doubts over whether the trio will be in the mix next year.

Opening batsman Rogers is coming the back off another steady season for Middlesex in which he averaged over 50, and the veteran should be a guaranteed part of the side that heads to the Gulf to take on Pakistan before Christmas.

Australia will also be keen on keeping Rogers at the top of the order for the series against India, knowing the batsman could score some serious runs against the likes of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Pankaj Singh. Rogers proved many doubters wrong in the 2013 Ashes series by finishing as Australia’s leading run-scorer, but the batsman will turn 38-years old next year and some feel too old to open the batting for his country.

David Warner could have a different opening partner next year, with Phil Hughes tipped to replace Rogers in time for next summer’s Ashes. While the left-hander struggled in England early in his international career, Hughes has slowly worked his way back into the mix courtesy of some impressive performances, not least a magnificent innings of 243 against South Africa A.

While other veterans have walked away from ODI cricket in order to extend their career, Brad Haddin is still a key member of Australia’s 50-over team. But while Haddin has insisted he is ready to handle a World Cup and then an Ashes series, the likes of Matthew Wade and Peter Nevill have both been mentioned in regards the wicket-keeping position in the Test side, with the 37-year old Haddin facing a battle on his hands to convince the Aussie management to give him the chance to end his international career with one last appearance in the Ashes. But while Wade and Nevill have both done enough to show they could be important players in the future, the fact is that neither player brings what Haddin brings to a team.

One of the most surprising stars of Australia’s 5-0 series win against England was Ryan Harris. Struggling with injuries before each series, Harris ended the series whitewash patched together with tape, bandages and anti-inflammatories – not to mention with 22 wickets to his name.

Harris hasn’t bowled a competitive ball since the 2-1 series victory over South Africa earlier this year, however, and the 36-year old’s continued injury problems is giving Australia plenty of cause for concern with the Ashes now arriving on the horizon. While Mitchell Johnson is the undoubted leader of this Australia bowling attack, Ryan Harris has been the perfect foil for the left-armer and his absence would be sorely missed by the tourists.

If Harris does not come back to England due to his fitness problems, Johnson, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle and Pat Cummins can provide the same sort of pace at both ends which has bothered English batsman in recent years, but Harris brings more than just pace to a bowling attack and his presence would be a massive boost to Australia in England next year.

Much of Australia’s recent success has been down to their pace department, and the Aussie fans will know keeping as much of this unit together for the next Ashes series could be integral to ensuring their hold on the Ashes urn isn’t a fleeting one.

While Australia are yet to make decisions regarding three key players, England have already made changes to three very important parts of their team. Despite finishing as his side’s leading run-scorer in the last Ashes series, it didn’t take long for Kevin Pietersen to find himself being made something of a scapegoat for England’s dismal showing Down Under. A string of accusations and counter-accusations soon followed, including a book detailing the batsman’s side of the story and a leak from inside the England dressing room revealing a list of reasons as to why Pietersen had to go.

Pietersen’s departure has opened the likes of Gary Ballance to establish himself in this England batting line-up. The Zimbabwe-born batsman had been one of the County Championship’s biggest run scorers for Yorkshire and Pietersen’s departure resulted in Ballance being given the chance to prove his England credentials.

With 729 runs to his name in just eight Test appearances, including a sensational 156 against India in the summer, Ballance has already gone some way to helping England move on from Pietersen. But despite his impressive start to life in the England team, there’s little doubt Ballance doesn’t install anything like the same level of fear into this Australian side as Pietersen did.

Pietersen wasn’t the only England player to come out of the last Ashes series without much of an international career left. Wicket-keeper Matt Prior, whose name came up a number of times in relation to players having issues with Pietersen, has also seen his chances of playing a part of next summer’s Ashes all but killed off.

While Prior remains popular with many of the senior players in the England team, his dismal form with the bat and increasingly questionable displays with the gloves resulted in exciting youngster Jos Buttler being given the chance to step into Prior’s shoes.

Just three games into his Test career, Buttler has already looked more than at home on the game’s biggest stage and someone who could be a guaranteed part of next summer’s Ashes team. While his glovework still needs working on, Buttler’s batting make him a valuable part of this team and a player who will be given the time he needs to become a world-class wicket-keeper. At just 24-years old, Buttler looks as though he could be in this England team for a long time and the selectors will be keen for him to experience an Ashes series as soon as possible to see how he handles the pressure.

If the departures of Pietersen and Prior might have been a surprise to Australia, they have had longer to get used to the prospect of facing an England side without Graeme Swann. The spinner’s decision to leave the last Ashes tour mid-series had been taken by Swann in the hope of giving England a chance to get back into the series, but seeing one of the tourists main weapons leave halfway through an Ashes tour only gave the Aussies more momentum to go on and whitewash the English. Swann had caused the Australian batsman untold problems during his Ashes career and it was always going to take England a while to replace a spin bowler with 255 Test wickets to his name.

While Moeen Ali might not yet be the spin bowler Swann was, the 27-year old all-rounder has taken to international cricket like the proverbial duck to water. With 22 wickets to his name in just seven Test appearances, the future looks pretty bright for England in terms of spin bowling. And when you take into consideration that Ali is predominantly a batsman – already with a Test 100 to his name – Swann’s retirement may well be a blessing in disguise for England as they prepare for Australia’s arrival.

If England can keep Moeen fit up until next summer, they have a player who could well be the secret weapon that sees the hosts reclaim the Ashes urn and some credibility back from their fans.