Thursday, 18 November 2010

Ashes 2010/11: Up For Grab’s

They might have gone with trepidation in 1994 & 1998, and they might have gone with hope in 2002 & 2006, but for the first time since 1978 England go to Australia with a real opportunity to retain the Ashes on Australian soil.  The irony is that when they toured in 1986/7, they were touted as the team that couldn’t bat, couldn’t bowl, and couldn’t field.  Until they won the first test in Brisbane by 7 wickets.
Austraila Retain the Ashes in 2007

Draws followed in Perth & in Adelaide before England retained the Ashes by winning the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.  Perth & Adelaide may be reversed, but the challenge England will have to negotiate if they are to retain the Ashes this series remains as hard.  England have not won in Brisbane since that test in 1986, and have only won there on one other occasion since the Second World War.  In 1994 & ‘98  England were batted out of a chance of victory by Australia making huge first innings totals.  In 2002, England ceded the advantage before then, by opting to field.  In 2006, nervousness and a lack of match practice cost England dear as Australia racked up 346 runs for the loss of only 3 wickets.  Brisbane is a place where batting first and putting a big score on the board will put you in the pound seat, as bounce allied to a wearing pitch takes it’s toll on the opposition.

Australia though are not the force they were 4 years ago, as England found out by regaining the Ashes 15 months ago, by only really dominating in 5 sessions (The first two days at Lords and the Friday afternoon session at The Oval), the momentum swings provided by these sessions proved insurmountable for an Australian team who put in the runs but only saw their bowlers on top at Headingley.   They have not won a test since beating Pakistan at Lords, having lost the second test of the series at Headingley followed by  both tests in India.  They are also in the middle of a run of defeats in the one day form of the game.  Though the form of the Australian test side is not as bad as the drought experienced in the mid 1980’s (when Australia failed to win a test series between January 1984 and December 1987), there are still worrying signs.
Australia announced a squad of 17, which will be trimmed down, for the first test which starts on 25 November.While Katich is expected to open with Shane Watson, with Ricky Ponting coming in at his customary No. 3 position, the middle order places are less certain.  The men in possession, Hussey & North have not had the best of years,with the selectors bringing in Khawaja and Ferguson as possible replacements.  Interestingly the selectors have kept Phillip Hughes out of the squad for the time being.  Before his dismissal for a brief 30 odds at  the Sophia Gardens Ashes test, Hughes was the latest supposedly great batsman to come off the conveyor belt.  Both Michael Clarke & Brad Haddin should also make the Gabba.
England Leave the field well on their way to regaining the Ashes, August 2009

The Australian attack is similarly unsettled.  Peter Siddle has been injured since January and might miss out this time, especially as Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger are the current men in possession.  Ryan Harris, who played during the test series in New Zealand might be an outsider.  The inclusion of Xavier Doherty has also put pressure on Nathan Hauritz ahead of the First Test.

England also have their selection issues.  With the return of Kevin Pieterson & Ian Bell, it looks as if Eoin Morgan will make way.  I suspect England will go for Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pieterson, Bell, Collingwood, Prior, Broad, Swann, Anderson & Finn.

History will be against England.  Since their last series win in Australia, England have only won 3 tests in Australia.  Since the end of the second World War, England have only won 4 series in Australia (1954/5, 1970/1, 1978/9 and 1986/7), while Australia were unbeaten at home in a test series between 1992/3 (when the West Indies won a 5 match series) and 2008/9 (when South Africa won a 3 test series).  However, they do have a good chance to win against an opponent still trying to find it’s next generation of greats.  I think that with both sides much of a muchness, that this series will be a draw.

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