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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