We are about to witness arguably, the most awaited Test series since the 2005 Ashes. England has a genuine chance of beating Australia at home after more than 20 years of waiting. Andrew Strauss has the unique opportunity to become a home and away Ashes series winning captain. Similarly, Ricky Ponting has a chance to avoid the ignominy of being remembered as the one of the rare Australian captains to lose home and away Ashes Test series.
The Australian camp is facing quite a few hiccups even before a ball has been bowled. They are coming into the contest riding on the confidence of 3 successive losses in Test’s; 2 losses against the high flying Indians and 1 loss against the lowly ranked Pakistanis. Even in home conditions, their bowling is far from being intimidating. The experienced Nathan Hauritz was sacked in favor of rookie slow left-arm bowler Xavier Doherty. Mitchell Johnson hasn’t shown enough proof that he will be the bowler to tip the scales in favor of Australia in a Glenn McGrath like manner. Siddle and Hilfenhaus are no Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie either. Their batting is not quite shaky but rather unsettled for an Australian team. They were ingloriously shot out for 88 by Pakistan in July. Marcus North scored a career saving 128 in the last Test against India but his other scores in the last four Tests were 0, 20, 16, 0, 0, 10, (128) & 3. Michael Clarke’s continuing back problem flared up a few days ago which resulted in the inclusion of the uncapped Usman Khawaja in to the squad. Hussey and Katich haven’t done anything to write home about in the last few Tests either. There’s an inclination to believe that they will come apart at the seams if they do not start out by setting the tone for the series by winning the all important Gabba Test.
In contrast, England look very well settled in all departments. The batting looks solid with all their top order batsmen getting at least a half-century in the tour matches barring Jonathan Trott. Much will depend on the batting of Strauss who’s given us a preview of what’s to come by rattling off two hundreds already. Alistair Cook has scored a hundred and a fifty while Collingwood fell short of a hundred by 6 and 11 runs on two occasions. Ian Bell came within touching distance of a rare double hundred by a touring batsman in Australia. Their bowling doesn’t look very threatening but, it does look very competent with Anderson and Broad as the standout pacemen with the tall Steven Finn to add the x-factor. The biggest threat will come in the form of Graeme Swann, the most accomplished and competent slow bowler to tour Australia in decades. On top of all that, they are guided by the competent Andy Flower with the calm head of Strauss marshalling the troops on the field.
With all the above factors to level the playing field between these two legendary adversaries we can anticipate some absorbing Test cricket in the weeks to come. We could debate, contemplate, analyze and predict scenarios as well as fitting endings to this historic encounter. We could foretell of the heroes and villains of this series armed with the statistics of the past in the hand. However, none of these predictions are certain to become realities. Thankfully, this Ashes series is not a foregone conclusion and in the least, we can expect to be thoroughly entertained. Let the games begin!
- Statistics courtesy of cricinfo.com