Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Ashes Down Under – A Preview…

So, we are raring to go – the first Test in Brisbane is due to start at the end of next month, the squad is assembled and soon to fly out, the stakes are high – all set for the latest bout between England and Australia.

I can only hope that history does not repeat itself from the events of four years ago – and I say that with a degree of foreboding, given the similar circumstances. In 2006, England were the current holders, having beaten Australia the previous year, they had just beaten Pakistan in a controversial home test series and hopes were incredibly high of a first series victory in Australia since 1986/7.

The subsequent 5-0 thrashing was, therefore, somewhat distressing to say the least. However, it must be pointed out that there were a number of clear circumstances that contributed to this – perhaps even made the defeat inevitable. People point to player complacency in the wake of the 2005 series victory, especially given the fantastic drama of the series and the fact that it was the first time England had won the Ashes in over 17 years. However, complacency was not to blame for Simon Jones’ crippling injury that saw him miss the series (and all since), nor was it to blame for similar injuries to Michael Vaughan and Ashley Giles, and certainly not Trescothick’s depression. You can add in the abysmal choice of Flintoff as captain, which subsequently stifled his contribution, weakened the team and contributed to Strauss’s loss of confidence, plus the strange choice to replace Reed and Panesar with Jones and Giles, only to switch them back after the second test. Finally, if those things were not enough, Harmison’s unprofessional attitude and Hoggard’s loss of pace meant that we stood no choice of taking twenty wickets in any of the matches. Meanwhile, Austraila were at full strength and, following their painful loss in 2005, had trained hard for the one objective of winning back the urn.

This time around things are a little different. We have a settled team with few significant long-term injury absentees (touch wood). We have a better captain, who scores runs at the top of the order and is more effective against pace. We have a better wicketkeeper batsman and a stronger tail end. The bowling attack is proven and has a world class wicket taker in Graeme Swann. Most players, with the exception of Collingwood and Pietersen are in good form. The system works and is seemingly improving. Compare that with Australia. Their best batsmen are at the end of their careers. They no longer have a world-class bowling attack (Lee and Tait don’t play tests anymore, whilst Warne and McGrath have retired).

Pretty good signs – certainly the best since the eighties. That is not to say, however, that everything points to an England win. Our bowling attack is less effective outside of these shores – especially the likes of Anderson who loses a great deal of potency when the ball doesn’t swing. We tend to struggle with the Kookaburra ball as opposed to the Dukes. I feel that the selectors have missed a trick by omitting Shahzad, who offers the best “Simon Jones” type of option available in so much as he reverses the ball at pace (useful on flat pitches when the ball goes dead). Add to that the fact that Cook had issues over his technique, Collingwood is out of form and Pietersen is struggling with confidence and a lack of runs (remember how much we relied upon him last time we toured Australia in a losing cause). Australian crowds are hostile, especially at the start of the tour and Brisbane is a total fortress for the Aussies in all sports. Ricky Ponting’s men will be fired up and prepared to compensate for the deficiencies within their team by going all-out for victory.

It is clear that we cannot hope to regain the Ashes by trying to draw the series or simply containing Australia. We must attack them and play to our strengths. We need luck with injuries and decisions – unlike last time. We need to pick the right team for each match and pitch conditions – unlike last time. We need three of our top six batsmen to have good tours, with at least one having a great tour. We need Prior to play well. We need to take twenty wickets on at least two occasions. And, if the players are to have a disastrous performance, then it needs to be together in one game – rather like Headingley last year. If all this happens, we’ll retain the urn. If not, we will lose. How about that for a prediction?

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