Ashes 100-1 Countdown: 9 Days Until the Ashes
David Green aka The Reverse Sweep looks at 10 possible contributing factors to England retaining the Ashes.
This Ashes series is boiling up to be the closest one down under since 1986/87, when Mike Gatting’s England team beat a dismal Australian side 2-1. Since then Australia have dominated, winning 3-0 in 1990/91, 3-1 in 1994/95 and 1998/99, 4-1 in 2002/03 and of course 5-0 in 2006/07.
But this time it is difficult to separate the sides and a strong case could be made for either an Australian or English triumph. Over the next two days we will provide ten reasons why each team will preveil – starting today with England.
After the shambles of the last trip, England have been meticulous in their preparations this time. The much lambasted boot camp in Germany seems to have focused minds on the target and the two warm-up matches to date have seen England hit the ground running. There will be no excuses for being undercooked in Brisbane this time.
2. The Flower Effect
Since taking over from the hapless Peter Moores, Andy Flower has been a revelation as coach. Other than his first test series in the Caribbean, England are unbeaten – winning five and drawing one series – in South Africa. He has already transformed the T20 side into World Champions and the ODI side into serious contenders for the World Cup. Who would bet against him removing the final monkey off the back of the England cricket team and piloting Ashes success this Australian summer?
3. No injuries
England probably never had much chance of success on their last two trips down under, but rotten luck with injuries made things even worse. Flintoff, Gough and Thorpe all missed out in 2002/03 and last time around it was the turn of Vaughan, Simon Jones and Trescothick. This time however, with the possible exception of Graham Onions, England have sent their strongest squad. There are no injury worries so far and with the four main bowlers being sent to Brisbane as an advance party, then this should still hold true come day one at the Gabba.
Over the last two years, England have grown a backbone and an Australian like attribute of never knowing when they are beaten. Witness the nine wicket down draws at Cardiff, Centurion and Cape Town and also the way they bounced back to win at The Oval in the 2009 series after being humiliated at Headingley. This England team won’t go down without a fight and that lion of the trenches Paul Collingwood – who was the central figure in the first three rearguards, epitomises England’s battling spirit.
England currently have the best spinner operating in test cricket – and it is a long, long time since you could say that. These teams may be closely matched in all other departments, but in the spin department there is only one winner. Swann has grown visibly since the 2009 series and despite the poor record of off-spinners in Australia, none have given it as much rip as Swann. He did well on similar pitches in South Africa last winter and expect him to do the same here too.
6. The Middlesex Factor
England captains who plied their county cricket with Middlesex have a pretty good record of winning Ashes series down under. Of the eight England captains to win a series in Australia since 1900, three of them played for Middlesex – Pelham Warner in 1903/04, Mike Brearley in 1978/79 and Mike Gatting in 1986/87. Could Andrew Strauss become the latest member of this exclusive club?
7. Like Father, like Son?
The two warm-up matches to date suggest that Stuart Broad looks set to have a big series. Conditions in Australia are ideal for him with both bat and ball and success down under is in the blood, after his father’s three centuries provided the basis for England’s victory in 1986/87. A case of like Father, like Son?
8. Australia are there for the taking
That this is the weakest Australia side since 1986/87 is without question. Only one all-time great in Ponting remains and even he seems past his best. Confidence is low and the confused selection of a 17 man squad for the Gabba suggests that the selectors are split on whether to stick with the current players or plump for new blood in the shape of Ferguson and Khawaja. It will be tough, as it always is to win in Australia, but England have a real chance.
Whereas before England have gone more in hope than in real belief, this time it is different. Confidence is high in the camp after winning five and drawing one of their last six test series and the trepidation once felt about facing Australia has gone after winning the 2009 Ashes as well as the T20 World Cup Final and the Nat West Series against them in the summer.
10. England only need a draw
Given that England hold the Ashes, a drawn series will enable them to retain the urn.
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