The two Mitchells: Johnson (left) and Starc © Getty Images
The two Mitchells: Johnson (left) and Starc © Getty Images

Australia, like always, have started their Ashes tour of England with lot of talk, potential. They however, have not won an Ashes in England for the last 14 years. As they begin their almighty task, Nikhil Popat feels the two Mitchells must be at their best to give Australia their best shot at the little urn.

“We didn’t start the fire, it was always burning since the world is turning!” There could not have been a better line to describe the feel of the Ashes 2015. Australia who are always dominant at home; but will be touring England, a place where they have not won Ashes since 15 years. READ: Sky Sports and ‘We didn’t start the fire’— What do the words mean?

Who would have thought that coming in the past couple of decades when Australia was rolling over England for fun. But this is apparently the ‘New England’, at least the one which played the One-Day International (ODI) series at home and beat New Zealand 3-2. But the men who matter will change; Alastair Cook will back at his seat with Trevor Bayliss the new England coach.

It would be foolish to assume any team weak, but you never expect Australia to be a team to acknowledge their opposition before an important Ashes series. Steven Smith said a few weeks ago and England will not even come to close to Australia. Making a statement like that takes bravery, especially when none of the current members of the Australian squad for the tour have won an Ashes in England. It hurt them when Jason Gillespie, the last man to score a double hundred for Australia on foreign soil, stated the simple fact that this Australian team was Dad’s army.

It hurt them so much so that Michael Clarke had to take efforts to let his thoughts known about the same at a dinner at the Australian high commission. Australia were not happy with the comments from Graeme Swann, who said that Smith did not quite have a technique to last in the longest format of the game. If James Anderson and company can catch him on the move with their swing, Clarke will have many more pressers to do and face tougher questions than ridiculing their opposition. READ: Alastair Cook reveals England will have no batting practice in Spanish training camp

The last time Australia toured England, they will know that they had their chances, but England were better and delivered during the key moments, with Australia left scratching their heads looking at a 3-0 headline. It did not show the complete picture. Yes, Australia won the Ashes 5-0 in Australia in 2014 which might still be fresh in minds of all, but will have little effect with the change in times. READ: Yes, it is time for Australia to talk about Ashes 2015

Remember England had lost the Ashes 5-0 in 2006-07 too but still regained the Ashes in 2009 and then beat Australia at home in 2010-11 to retain it. Alastair Cook was scoring runs then, and is back to his scoring best. Joe Root looks promising, but England too will acknowledge that they will be tested more than how India tested them since you do not expect Indians to gift bowler like Moeen Ali with free wickets.

Mitchell Johnson with his ‘mo’ was the chief destroyer for them — he picked up 37 wickets in five games at an average of just 13.97. The issue however is whether he can repeat such performances on pitches which will have lesser bounce and might not be as hard as those in Australia, where he could intimidate the opposition. READ: Ryan Harris confirms good base to launch his attack in Ashes

His numbers in England do not inspire confidence too. On his tour to England, he picked up just 20 wickets in five games at an average of 32.55 and leaked runs at an economy of 4.01, which is a bit high even for this generation that goes all slam bang irrespective of formats. He did not feature in the Ashes in 2013 and will be keen to make his mark but he will have to adjust his bowling and ensure that he not just relies on pace but also on swing. READ: Basics key for England during Ashes, says Paul Farbrace

Swing is a bowler’s best weapon and if Johnson can get his radar right and if he is happy to bowl full, Australia might have more than a chance to win their maiden Ashes in England since 2001. Giving him support will be Ryan Harris and the emerging line and length dictator Josh Hazlewood, but the impact has to come from Mitchell Starc.

Shane Warne rattled Starc when he called him soft with the red cherry which should not have come as surprise since Starc is not even half as potent as he is while bowling with the white ball. He had a superb ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, but even he will be eager to make a mark in whites and not just the white ball. Conditions in England are ideal for someone like him who is ready to pitch the ball up and let it swing.

He too though does not have good numbers in England, though the sample size might not be that big, he picked up just the 11 wickets in three Ashes Tests in England at an average of 32.45. He has had much better time in coloured clothing and Australia will hope that both their Mitchells get their act together and hit England as a unit as they start their journey to retain the Ashes!

(Nikhil Popat is a diehard cricket enthusiast and a PotterHead till the end of time. He can be followed on Twitter @CricCrazyNIKS)