Ashes 2010: The War of Words Begins

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99 Days Until the Ashes…

Subash Jayaraman, of the excellent new blog The Cricket Couch , investigates Ponting’s 5-0 claim and examines Simon Hughes  diagnosis that England are the #1 Test side. You can also follow Subash on Twitter @TheCricketCouch.

Mental Disintegration — Two words that Steve Waugh made extremely famous during his reign as the captain of the (almost) all conquering Australian team. Before every test series, it was either the elder Waugh or the champion bowlers McGrath and Warne identifying their targets and firing the opening salvos, to get inside the heads of the best player in the opposition teams. Daryll Cullinan was owned by Warne. Mike Atherton did the “dead man walking” routine whenever he had to face McGrath.

Those tactics held water because the players saying them had a lifetime of on-field accomplishments and tremendous amounts of success, coming though in tough situations, over and over again. However, when Ricky Ponting mentions, more than 3 full months ahead of Ashes, that “a 5-0 whitewash is definitely possible”, it seems a little hollow. Don’t get me wrong. As much as I don’t like Ricky Ponting and his puckered up face, he is one of the very best batsmen to have played the game and he has personally accomplished a lot, and has been part of a champion Aussie side. But considering the current Aussie test side is dependent on Shane “Twatto” Watson and Marcus North to deliver the wickets, even against a totally mental side like Pakistan, the 5-0 whitewash pre-series build up seems, to put it mildly, preposterous.

Sure, when reporters ask a pointed question, Ponting who typically is pretty straightforward and generally pugnacious with his responses, even though they sometimes rub people the wrong way, gave them what they wanted to hear. Certainly makes for good headline material, doesn’t it? Of course, Australia has a chance of whitewashing the Poms but what are the odds? With a bowling lineup that does not boast of any sure fire all time great like Warne, it is going to be extremely hard for Australia to win the series, let alone 5-0. Not to mention the batting lineup where Mr. Cricket Mike Hussey has become a walking wicket and Marcus North seems to have already maxed out his test batting abilities. Add to this a possibly undercooked Brad Haddin. That does not look like the batting line up that is going to pile on the runs to put England under pressure repeatedly.

Does this mean England is going to walk all over the Aussies and win the Ashes in Australia for the first time in 23 years? Far from it. Considering the current form of the squads, one would be inclined to call England the favorites, even. England has won 6 test matches in a row and in all likelihood, will win 2 more against the schizophrenic Pakistan. It looks like everyone in England has already set their sights on the Ashes, though the English players are saying all they are focused on is the next match against Pakistan. You have to very naive to believe that, wouldn’t you?

Simon Hughes, writing for The Telegraph has already outlined the ten reasons why England will be the Numero Uno Test Side, sooner than later. The list of reasons includes the use of technology, Andy Flower effect, Andrew Strauss’s leadership, England bowling and all that. The use of spin vision and Pro-batter are all fine and good, but if only things were that easy. If it were the use of technology that’s going to propel a side to the top of the pile, South Africa should have been the number one side for all these years, yet their trophy case is frustratingly empty. If you take away a few things like swinging conditions, playing at home and the quality of the opposition (Bangladesh, West Indies, Pakistan and a young Aussie side), England’s victories look a bit hollow. I am not trying to discredit England’s accomplishments, because they beat the teams they were supposed to, but they are a middle of the pack team, currently anyway. They didn’t do their reputation any disservice by holding South Africa to a tough 1-1 series result in South Africa, but that came with a true Houdini pulled by Graham Onions, not once, but twice.

When England get to Australia, they will be presented with conditions that would make Jimmy Anderson look very ordinary. The frontline bowlers, except for Anderson, will be playing in Australia for the first time. There will not be the benefit of crowd support which is crucial especially for batsmen. The Aussie side will be that much motivated to perform in front of their own fans and even Mitchell Johnson might learn to bounce the ball within the strip by that time. Peter Siddle in all probability will be back. Their batsmen would be more comfortable in familiar pitches and conditions.

As a neutral fan that loves to watch both Australia and England lose and be miserable, I think it is pretty even. England is not that far ahead of the Aussies as everyone seems to make us believe. Considering the fact that the Ashes are in Australia, I am actually more inclined to give Australia the edge. A 5-0 edge? I don’t think so though that is a definite mathematical possibility but as JRod says, there are a lot of things that could happen before that.

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  1. greyblazer says

    So is it sure that Anderson would be ordinary? on the basis of one series in 06/07 in which he clearly wasn’t match fit and bowled as a first change bowler though a swing bowler should open the bowling.

    Didn’t he do reasonably well in SA and take a 5 wicket haul at Capetown?

    He won’t take wickets at 20 or 25 but I surely see him taking around 15 wickets at 30 which is good.

    Didn’t England give SA a run for their money and drew a test series in SA?

    Unless Aus get huge scores and just like before England’s players get injured I don’t see Aus winning.

  2. says

    @greyblazer – When the ball doesn’t swing Jimmy Anderson is pretty ordinary. Sure he may take fiver here and there, so does RP Singh. I acknowledged the fact that England did draw SA 1-1 in SA. However, I think the hype surrounding the England team based on the recent performances is very misplaced. They beat up some sorry teams at home. So what? India and SL have been doing that for ages. I think its gonna be hard to beat the Aussies at home.

    I am not sold on England’s batting yet and also their ability to compete in conditions that does not favor their fast bowlers. However, they sure have the trump card in Swann. I think he is the best bowler, both teams combined. If he does well and England’s batting fires at least 3 matches, they have a chance to win in Australia. Otherwise, I think its fair enough to favor the home team.

  3. greyblazer says

    Leaving Steyn which bowler can be consistent when it doesn’t help the bowlers? Morne can do it only when there is bounce, Asif’s attitude didn’t look good in Australia and Zaheer can occasionally do it. So why the criticism only on Anderson though he has improved in the last couple of years? In recent times he also averaged 38 in WI in 09 but it was like 28 on decent surfaces for bowling as the pitches in WI were so flat that McGrath may have scored a fifty. His spell at Trinidad which was as flat as the SSC pitch almost helped England to a victory. So it would be fair to back him to average around 30 in Aus which is good on Australian tracks.

    People judge him on the basis of what he did before 08 which doesn’t look right. His action was changed three times, HE BOWLED JUST 50 OVERS between March 06 to November 06 yet people talk about his failures in Ashes 06/07, Anderson hadn’t played a single match for five months before the tour of South Africa in 04/05 yet they played him at Wanderers. Since he has got a decent run in the side and got the chance to bowl with the new ball which is very important for a swing bowler his record is 121 wickets at 28.55 and that is pretty good.

    Australia’s pace attack isn’t better either. The only guy who can bowl better is Johnson as he likes the kookaburra ball.

  4. says

    I know you are a staunch Jimmy Anderson supporter and I’m proud of the way you have been defending him. Jimmy’s exploits for the most part have come in England and against shite batting. As you mentioned, he did it in Trinidad too, but its the freaking WI. I don’t have a personal agenda against Anderson but he needs to prove himself against a quality opposition away from England before I can give him the credit.

    Regarding the overall talk of bowlers, Steyn is fabulous and the pitch or the condition doesn’t really matter to him as he showed in India and Bangladesh. I think Zaheer, even though he doesn’t have the pace, has matured to a level where he can work a batsman over even without assistance of pitch or overcast conditions. Asif, has the ability, like McGrath used to, to drop the ball on a dime, every time. That accuracy factor holds him in good stead in road pitch conditions. Jimmy hasn’t shown that, yet, he has the patience to do that., IMO

  5. Herman van Werkhoven says

    Great article/blog Subash – as always.

    Did you see that this website is looking for a regular blogger? You are made for the position!

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