Friday, 19 November 2010

A Preview of the 2010/2011 Ashes

This post was unavoidable. With only six days to go, now seemed like the right time to write a preview for the Ashes. It would take too long to cover all the intricate battles and aspects of the upcoming series but I thought I would take a more general overview, albeit still quite a lengthy one, of where the two teams stand as the opening Test rapidly approaches. 

England are, according to the bookmakers at least, considered the underdogs. The odds of 7/4 on England to win the Ashes represents good value as many pundits and experts see England as the stronger of the two teams and I would be inclined to agree. Under the measured leadership of Strauss and Flower, England have become a formidable side in every form of the game. Australia, on the other hand, enter the series on the back of a largely disappointing 2010.

Let's look at England.

If we start by looking at the batting line-up. England have a stable and relatively consisted top six. Furthermore, with the likes of Broad and Swann in the tail, England can rely on players outside their regulation batters to contribute runs.

Strauss will inevitably be key. Both as captain and opening batsmen it is integral that he leads by example. Cook is likely to be targeted as a genuine weak link in the side so Strauss will be vital for England at the top of the order. Runs from the openers is always important and the pressure will be on Strauss more than Cook to provide them , even though Cook did get a century in England's warm-up match against South Australia.

Trott and Pietersen, at three and four respectively, could be where the series is won or lost. The patient Trott is still inexperienced at Test match level while Pietersen is struggling with a well documented loss of form.

KP will probably not be considered 'the danger-man' any more. There are too many other weapons around him now. He is being regularly outscored by his team-mates and his reputation is faltering so the pressure is on him. There have, however, been signs in the warm-up matches that he may yet be able to recapture his form. Let's make no mistake about it though, he is still England's best batsman. The mind games between KP and Australia show that they still fear his run-scoring capabilities and rightly so. If he can rediscover something like his best form he could well prove to be the decisive factor in the series.

Behind KP, Bell and Collingwood appear to offer real stability in the middle order. The dogged style of Collingwood offers a steadying confidence for any faltering team while Bell, who has just hit an impressive 192 in a warm-up game against Australia A, seems to be playing better than ever. Questions over his mental strength are seemingly on the way to being answered by the new, more confident and free-flowing Bell. His runs in the middle order would be invaluable.

Prior has been a reliable source of runs as wicket-keeper and, as I have said, with Broad, Swann and perhaps Bresnan too in the tail, there are players who can bat right down the order. On paper at least, England's batting line-up looks to be in good order. It is one full of experience, talent and variety.

As for the bowling. This is where many of the concerns lie. Can England take twenty wickets in the less bowler-friendly conditions Down Under? Much has been made of the Kookaburra ball and flatter wickets so it will be interesting to see how the seamers fare. Anderson will have less swing to help him take wickets so the line and length bowling of Broad and Finn, Bresnan or Shahzad will be key. If they can adapt to the conditions and remain disciplined there is no reason why England's bowling attack cannot take wickets.

Swann, the world's premier spin bowler, probably holds the key with the ball. As Australia lack a quality spinner, Swann could be the difference between the two sides. His wicket-taking ability over the past two years have been phenomenal and if he can continue this then England's chances will improve no end. If, in second innings especially, he can tie up and end while threatening to take wickets then England will be able to exert real pressure on Australia's faltering batting line-up.

Now looking at Australia.

They have lost the sense of superiority they use to have in Test cricket. They have struggled, as any side would, to replace the likes of Hayden, Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist and find themselves in an awkward transition period. They have tried numerous spin bowlers, wicket-keepers and opening partnerships but with little sustained success. They lack that extra class they had become so use to having and as a result have struggled of late. Their bowling attack is too often wayward and their batting line-up has been failing to producing big scores.

All that being said, it would come as no surprise to see Australia's performances improve dramatically in the Ashes. Their determination to beat the English and regain the Ashes should not be underestimated. With Ponting, Katich, Hussey and Clarke they still have an impressive selection of batters in their team too.

Ponting is under more scrutiny now than at any other time of his career. His captaincy has come under question and his batting is not what it once was. Like Pietersen though, he could prove decisive. This could be his moment to bow out in style by having a stand-out series with the bat. Nevertheless, those around him will still need to perform and there are question marks surrounding the likes of Marcus North and Shane Watson.

Whether their bowlers can perform with the necessary consistency is where serious doubts can be raised. They failed to do so in the 2009 Ashes series in England but if each of their seam bowlers reaches top form then the English batters could well be in for a tough time. They must find that trademark killer instinct so commonly associated with Australian bowling attacks because if they don't Australia have no chance.

What the Australians do have is the extra advantage of the home crowd. It will, of course, be a hostile and unnerving atmosphere for any English player this winter. Having a Test series on your own soil is a massive advantage both for the cricketing conditions and the motivation of having a nation cheering you on.

In the 2006/2007 Ashes, when Australia demolished England 5-0, England struggled to adapt as Australia thrived. Can they avoid those mistakes this time around? I would agree with many by saying that England have the better team now. A comparison of the form of the two sides will tell you that. That will count for nothing though if they are unable to perform at their best as I would Australia to do nothing less. England now have to cope with the pressure of expectation and end the twenty-four year wait by completing the greatest feat for an English - win the Ashes Down Under.

(Here is a useful breakdown of every Australian and English player of this winter's Ashes by the Guardian.)

My perhaps overly Anglocentric prediction is an England 3-1 series win. There are too many 'ifs' when assessing Australia's chances. England seem better placed to deal with a malfunctioning part of their team whereas the currently underwhelming Aussie side will need each part of their team to be on top form if the are to beat England. Through all the talk and hype, one things seems certain – it is going to be a very close series.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

1 comment:

  1. Good Series. Hope this Time England will take out the series. Thank you for this post.
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