The last two Ashes series had the names of the winners almost pre-determined. In 2013, the Englishmen dominated the visitors, heaping insults upon their existing injuries. Then, a few months later, came the resurgent retaliation of the Australians in the return leg.
This time though, both teams enter the competition on par with each other. And in a way, the outcomes of these two back-to-back series have been responsible for leading to such an equivalency, improbable and almost unthinkable previously.
Where for the Australians, their loss became a watershed moment bringing about – much needed –radical changes, the Englishmen’s win led to a massive reversal of their bright fortunes on the field.
England’s loss of the urn in the reverse leg of the series in 2013-14 also brought out, into the spotlight, the cornucopia of problems brewing internally within the team. Not only was the team in shambles, with many players struggling with their form, but there was also a divisiveness in the squad as internal politics ran rife.
While the Australians have continued to maintain the stability of – and around – their team, England has also, in a way, regained its constancy. This aspect, come the Ashes, should then greatly influence them positively, enhanced by the singular competitiveness of the series itself.
Expectations continue to hover around both squads as the pre-tournament trash talks – AKA sledging – have begun targeting the players. But neither the anticipative air nor the increasing frequency of the trash talks seem as if they can determine the way the series will unfold.
Despite all that has been produced on paper, each team still doesn’t know the core strengths or weaknesses of the other. As compared to the two closely held Ashes tournaments, necessitated by the scheduling of the World Cup, this fixture of the tournament features several new faces on both squads. This series can then be regarded as a viably significant evaluation of their mettle and calibre.
The opportunity for both squads to do well – and best the other – has also lent a different dimension to the rivalry, sharpening it and adding to its keenness. For the newer members of the squads, it will be a rite of passage, one that they will never experience against any other team.
And thus, even with the nature of the series’ result remaining unknown, the course of the rivalry between the two teams looks set to ascertain itself. Starting anew, and yet harshly and bitterly as ever, to make the Ashes distinguishingly predictable in the end.