England may be clear favorites and Australia in supposed disarray, but that hasn’t stopped the sense of excitement and expectation that surrounds any Ashes series.
Just over a week remains until the first ball is bowled in cricket’s oldest rivalry, and with a sell out crowd guaranteed to greet the teams at Trent Bridge, preparations are starting to take shape.
Australia will come in as rank underdogs to take back the sacred Urn, and it can be said the last couple month or so have been far from an ideal build up.
Poor performances on the field have been met with reckless behavior off it. A winless Champions Trophy campaign, along with batsman David Warner’s alcohol related suspension were enough for Cricket Australia’s powers at be to sack Mickey Arthur as coach, and employ the popular Darren Lehmann in his place.
Hardly the best timing two weeks out from such an important series, but it’s hard to argue with the decision.
Lehmann is said to be a relaxed character, and is renown for his ability to develop a strong team culture, whilst ensuring players are getting a sense of enjoyment from their cricket.
The talk leading into the Ashes has been of fractured relationships and leadership issues, so a squad with a new found sense of unity and camaraderie may just be what the cricket doctors ordered.
Already Lehmann has shown his first tactical hand by instilling Shane Watson and Chris Rogers as his preferred openers. Watson was clearly disenchanted with Mickey Arthur and the Australian set-up, and his performances to date back at the top of the order (90 and a 109), clearly speak for themselves.
Given Rogers’ has over 10,000 first-class runs in England, and is the leading run scorer in Country cricket this season, his selection is one that makes absolute sense.
The harder decision for Boof and his captain-less selection panel will be the make up of the rest of the order. Warner and Ed Cowan, Australia’s opening pair for the past 18-months, must now fight for spots in the middle order alongside Usman Khawaja, Phil Hughes, Steve Smith, and perhaps even James Faulkner, who the tourist’s may use as a bowling all-rounder.
While there is still the never-ending quandary of where Michael Clarke should bat.
Compared to Australia’s selection headaches, England’s preparations have been fairly smooth sailing. Looking at the home sides batting line-up, there is a fair bit to be concerned about for Lehmann and his bowling unit.
Jonathan Trott, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior have all enjoyed great success against the Old Enemy, while Joe Root is the man on every English cricket fan’s lips.
The home side has made the bold move of anointing Root as skipper Cook?s opening partner after incumbent Nick Compton had an unhappy time in the two match series against New Zealand last month.
Kevin Pietersen?s successful return from injury makes him all but a certainty to rekindle his Ashes love affair, where he averages 50 against the Aussie?s, while a bowling line-up featuring Anderson, Broad and Swann is more than a worrying sight for any international batsman.
England are favourite’s to retain the Urn, and rightly so.
Tipping Australia wouldn’t be foolish, but certainly risky. My tip… England 2-1.