The last summer Ashes Test at The Oval finished on the August 25, less than two months ago, but the cricketing nation is already looking forward to this winter's opener in Brisbane. Who will come out on top Down Under?
The hosts will need to play to the strengths to get anything out of the series. The urn will need to be ripped out of a gritty England side's hands. We saw in the summer that their bowling attack is the strength, especially the pacemen.
Ryan Harris is a big powerful fast bowler that caused England’s top order plenty of problems, taking the most wickets in the series for the Australians (24). Mitchell Starc is a fairly new name on the scene but has plenty of promise. An average of 32.45 against England is not to be sniffed at.
The pitches in Australia will surely only play into the hands of these bowlers then? Baked in the sun, hard and fast bouncy tracks will have 90mph balls whistling past the ears of the England batsmen.
The England squad have prepared for this with their squad. Chris Tremlett, who impressed in the last Australian series by taking 17 wickets, and Steven Finn both hit the pitch hard and will cause plenty of problems on bouncy pitches for the suspect top order of the hosts.
Star man James Anderson has the credentials to be, and already is in some peoples view, one of England’s all-time greatest. Second in the all-time Test wicket takers with 329, the Australians know they will be hit with torrential swing, conventional and reverse when the ball gets a bit older. Dealing with the expertise of Anderson is another matter.
When the pitches start to crumble, both sides have spinners that can do damage to a middle or lower order. The Aussies have Nathan Lyon, who may have been given fewer opportunities than expected in England, and Ashton Agar, who was more noticeable with his batting performances than his bowling. On a used track they will rip the odd ball and beat the bat on both sides.
England’s spin options are much better known. Graeme Swann is unplayable on his day, and when he’s in the mood, there is no stopping him taking wickets. He is backed up by Monty Panesar, who has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons recently, but has Ashes experience.
He has, however, gone off the radar somewhat after his heroics with the bat alongside Anderson in Cardiff in 2009. Since then Swann has completely overtaken him in the England ranks to become one of the first on the team-sheet.
It looks to be the batting where the difference comes between the teams. The Aussies are not as settled as England in their top order. They experimented with Shane Watson, who got off to impressive starts before proving his potential with a 176 at The Oval.
Chris Rogers also looked steady at the top of the order and seem un-phased by the frontline bowlers, averaging 40.77. The news Michael Clarke may not make the first Test is a big blow as on his day he is one of the very best. Brad Haddin is a steady wicketkeeper-batsman who seems to be cool under pressure.
After Andrew Strauss announced his retirement the whole of England panicked. Nick Compton was given a go as Joe Root picked up runs at six. Then he was promoted and showed maturity and elegance and will only grow into the role more.
Captain Alastair Cook is composed and unflustered at the top of the order. The whole nation is expecting a heap of runs from Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell. Then there is the character that is Kevin Pietersen. The flamboyant style can crash and burn at times, but with some pristine batting tracks in Oz, he should make runs, swatting plenty of short balls over the boundary for six.
Overall then it should be an interesting series. The England boys will have to adapt as they have in the past to overcome the Australians. They have a better batting line-up but the bowling attack is a lot closer. You have to think it will be England’s series again and that they will at least retain the Ashes. It will be a lot closer than the summer series though.
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