The Ashes: Key battles that will decide the series
We take a look at four key match-ups that will be crucial in deciding who takes home the famous urn
There is nothing this summer, or winter if you are in Australia that will truly capture the imagination quite like the Ashes series.
While the Lions series was a bit of fun, it was four countries against one and as you Brits are celebrating Andy Murray's victory at Wimbledon, I am sure their are quite a few pangs from the most English of you that the legendary drought was broken by a Scot.
Nothing but the Ashes truly represents the rivalry between our two nations and here is my take on the four key battles that will most likely decide where that famous little urn that symbolises the death of English cricket will end up before the return bout in our summer.
1. Shane Watson v James Anderson
Watson has finally got what he has so desperately craved, the opening batting position for the Australian cricket team. All well and good for him, but the prospect of facing arguably the best bowler on the planet with a shiny new duke in his hands is going to be a difficult and possibly series deciding contest.
Watson will attempt to dominate the Englishman with his attacking stroke play and intent. He is one of the finest drivers of a cricket ball that you will see, meaning Anderson will have to be spot on with his length if he is to curb Watson's influence.
If he dares drop his length even the slightest, Watson will be quick to rock back and pull the bowler to all parts of the leg side.
Anderson for his part is an exceptionally skilled swing bowler, who has the ability to swing the ball in both directions.
He will be looking to trap Watson in front early on in his innings as the Australian has a tendency to put in a big stride and play around his front pad if the ball is swinging.
Watson can also be susceptible to knicking, as he tends to sometimes play with a slightly open blade early in his innings, which will be something Anderson will look to exploit.
2. Alastair Cook v Mitchell Starc
Alastair Cook has turned himself into one of the best batsmen on the planet. He is a prodigious scorer of not only hundreds, but also big hundreds.
The last time the two countries met in Australia, Cook had a bumper series, compiling a massive 766 runs at an average of 127, showing his undoubted class with a mammoth 235* at the Gabba in Brisbane.
Australia know that if they let the England opener get off to a solid start then he is likely to be in for the long haul.
The man who will mostly be charged with bringing about his downfall is Australia's left-arm quick Mitchell Starc.
The New South Welshman has had a promising beginning to his International career and has the ability to swing the ball away from the left-hander at speeds of around 150km/h.
Starc is also well aware of Cook's recent struggles against left-arm bowlers, with Kiwi Trent Boult tormenting the England captain in the recent home and away series between the two nations.
This one shapes as a pivotal contest that could well decide who will hold the Ashes going into the return bout in Australia.
3. Michael Clarke v Graeme Swann
Clarke's recent batting form has been exemplary. Over the last two summers, the only player in history to have similar numbers to the current Australian captain is the legendary Sir Donald Bradman.
Clarke has compiled four double centuries in the past two years, including a massive 329* against India at the SCG.
His form against South Africa in the last home summer was immense, including leading the Australian team to a day one score of 5-482 against the visitor with a sparkling 230.
South Africa possess probably the most complete pace attack in world cricket, which could make Graeme Swann the man for England to dismiss the Australian captain.
Swann is one of the premier bowlers in world cricket, and with whispers surrounding that the English curators are going to prepare some drier pitches than usual, he could well be the man to spin the Australian skipper out.
Clarke is a fine player of spin who is brilliant at using his feet, but this won't throw Swann off his game.
If Swann can get the wicket of the Australian captain on a regular basis, then England will head over for the Australian summer with a very important trophy still in their possession.
4. James Pattinson v Kevin Pietersen
This could almost be the highlight of the summer, the flamboyant English batsman vs the firebrand Aussie paceman.
Pietersen has an exemplary record against Australia. Few could forget his brilliant 158* against the tourists in 2005 that ultimately wrapped up the most memorable of Ashes victories for the English.
He has amassed 1476 runs at an average of 52.71 against Australia and has consistently been a thorn in the side of the Australian's.
Pattinson will be relishing the contest against the South African born Pietersen. Pattinson is a fantastic bowler and is more often than not the man who strikes when Australia are in most need of a breakthrough.
He can swing the ball at pace, while he also has the ability to ruffle the feathers of the best batsmen with some very well directed short pitch bowling.
Pietersen will most certainly take the young Aussie paceman on, Pattinson will not take a backward step.
I for one cannot wait for the hostilities to begin.
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