The 2010 Ashes promises to be the most open Ashes series on Australian soil in recent history. England are in possession of the little urn courtesy of their 2-1 triumph in 2009 thanks to victory in the final test at the Oval. Whilst they only require a 2-2 draw to retain The Ashes, the prospect of playing in Australia is quite a different story. It was way back in 1986/7 the last time that England won down under. Even more disconcerting is the stat that England haven’t won a test that wasn’t a dead rubber since their last series triumph.
But history is one thing and can be rewritten. Looking at the respective build-ups of each of team you could be forgiven for Australia’s preparations as being very English and England’s preparations as being very Australian.
For England the starting lineup is pretty much guaranteed and has been for months. Evidence of a settled side based around the solid management of Strauss and Flower have meant their build-up has been quiet and effective as their games so far would indicate. Australia, meanwhile, have had a torrid time of it in the media with the 17 man squad announcement leaving the selectors with egg on their face. They have a talented yet aging side with the likes of Michael Hussey and Marcus North hanging on for their spots for dear life.
Now the squad has been trimmed down to 13, there are less question marks for Australia. The selection of Xavier Doherty is a bold progressive move; although it does come at the expense of Nathan Hauritz. Australia’s build-up may have been shambolic in certain aspects but the sides are as equally matched as you could possibly imagine.
1st Test Brisbane, Nov 25-29
2nd Test Adelaide, Dec 3-7
3rd Test Perth, Dec 16-20
4th Test Melbourne Dec 26-30
5th Test Sydney, Jan 3-7
So…how can we pick this series apart?
1) identify the main advantages for both sides
2)choose the key players to watch out for
3) examine the starting lineups
4) analyse the opening test at The Gabba
5) make some bold Ashes predictions
There are numerous reasons why Australia are considered the favourites by the bookies. First and foremost is the huge factor of home advantage. The last 4 Ashes series have been won by the home side. Throw into the mix the Kookaburra ball, England’s travelling woes, and a side intent on revenge and you can see why Australia might hold the advantage.
It’s also possible to pinpoint areas in which England hold the edge. Two phenomenons are most pertinent here – “The Swann factor” and “The Flower Effect”. Australia is often considered a graveyard for spinners – if Murali can’t take wickets here then how will Graeme Swann? – but in Graeme Swann England have the far superior spinner. As for “The Flower Effect” it seems that this England side is a unit full of confidence, well drilled and workmanlike. When you also consider that England only need a draw, it puts them in the box seat. Bare in mind this – defensive cricket is risky territory down under though.
Players to Watch Out for – Australia
Ricky Ponting has admitted that his legacy is on the line in this series and he arguably holds the key for Australia. Whilst not being the finest of captains he is head and shoulders above every other batsman when it comes to quality. His runs could be the difference if Australia regain The Ashes.
Shane Watson is close to being the best all rounder in world cricket on current form. His form since moving up the order in the Edgbaston test in 2009 has been nothing short of imperious. He’s very much in the Matthew Hayden mould scoring his runs at a healthy pace. Could be brutal in Australian conditions.
Michael Clarke, if he can shake off his back troubles, is Australia’s most in-form middle order batsmen and whilst his limited overs record is patchy of late he keeps producing runs in tests. He’ll be hot on the heels of Punter for most runs.
Ben Hilfenhaus is the bowler most feared by England and he’s proven himself to be a very adaptable cricketer. He bowls wicket to wicket and gets that touch of movement that will unnerve the English batsmen. He also won’t lose you a test match in the blink of an eye quite like Mitchell Johnson.
Here’s David Green’s take on Australia’s potential match-winners and a wild card.
Whilst Alistair Cook declared that England are a side that consists of 11 match-winners, the reality is there are some definite candidates who are likely to feature prominently in the series. The first of which is Graeme Swann (Here’s 10 Things to Love About Graeme Swann) who is arguably the best spinner in the world on current form and far superior to his Australian counterpart.
Andrew Strauss holds the key to England’s top order as he’s been a more prolific run scorer since taking on the captaincy. He also might be considered a better captain than his opposite number.
Stuart Broad is one determined cricketer and a cricketer who the Aussies have come out and openly said they fear the most. Australian conditions will suit him with both bat and ball.
KP is the 2nd most talented batsman in The Ashes but can he turn his form around? if he can his role could be massive.
Here’s David Green’s take on England’s potential match-winners and a wild card.
The opening test match is traditionally held at The Gabba, a place where England don’t have too many fond memories of late. In fact Australia has a formidable record there. So far this season Brisbane has been affected by a lot of rain and has produced some relatively green pitches and scores have generally been low. The groundsmen are speculating whether the pitch might be the green top that always threatens but never surfaces. Remember Nasser Hussain putting Australia in on a “green deck” in 2003 only to have Hayden and Ponting smash huge scores and leave England decimated by day 1.
The outcome of the first test is likely to have a significant impact on the overall outcome. I’m of the opinion that whoever wins in Brisvegas will win The Ashes.
We expect a lively track – here’s the Gabba pitch inspection by Ben Roberts.
England (definite): 1. Strauss (c), 2. Cook, 3. Trott, 4. Pietersen, 5. Collingwood, 6. Bell, 7. Prior (w), 8. Broad, 9. Swann, 10. Anderson, 11. Finn
Australia (possible): 1. Katich, 2. Watson, 3. Ponting (c), 4. Clarke, 5. Hussey, 6. North, 7. Haddin(w), 8. Johnson, 9. Doherty, 10. Hilfenhaus, 11. Bollinger 12th. Smith, 13th. Siddle
The bookies have Australia down as favourites at $1.91, England are at $2.75 and the draw looks a healthy prospect at a juicy $5.50.
Meanwhile the Ashes poll has England as outright favourites with 66% of the votes.
Possibly a more reliable source of information comes from our Ashes Crowdsourcing Feature where we asked cricket writers – featuring journalists from The Times, The Guardian and Cricinfo amongst others) and fans to give their predictions and then pooled the results. The results show that England have the very slight edge at this stage with the 2-1 scoreline to England (7 predictions) slightly edging the next most popular scoreline of 2-1 to Australia (6 predictions).
“Swann to take most wickets; Strauss to score most runs; Finn to be the tallest player throughout the series; Shane Watson to actually cry when Australia lose the series. And not a single, mournful tear from Watson either. I mean proper, red-faced wailing and bawling. I expect visible snot.” – Alex Bowden of King Cricket
“Marcus North will be the key, I’m just not sure what side he is the key for.” – JRod from CricketwithBalls
“Australia remind me a bit of Mike Tyson in his later years – once great, now subtley altered, tortured by the past and fighting because it’s all they know. England will only fail if they take on the memory and the image, rather than the current reality.” – Jon Hotten of The Old Batsman
“But who will Australia’s spinner be by then, given their selection chaos since Warne retired? I reckon they’ll choose Xavier Doherty in Brisbane, Steve Smith in Adelaide, no one in Perth, Tim May in Melbourne and then, after a fast-tracked change of citizenship, Murali in the decider.” – Patrick Kidd of The Times
“PJ O’Rourke claims that ‘age and guile beat youth, innocence and a bad haircut’. Australia has plenty of age and bad hair cuts, but is pitifully short on either youth or guile. I think that’s a losing combination.” – Betti Woo of Poshin’s World
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