The Lions is done and dusted, but there’s another big sporting contest between Australia and the British Isles still to come this summer, with the Ashes returning to England following the comprehensive 2010/11 English victory. Following the Lions win and Andy Murray’s successful showing (so far!) at Wimbledon, British sports fans will be hoping for a clean sweep with another Ashes win.
Over in England, the media are very chipper about the prospect of England retaining the Ashes once again. England have looked pretty impressive in the long version of the game of late, and with Australia not exactly up to the exceptional standard set by messrs Waugh, Langer et al, the odds seem to be weighed heavily in England’s favour. Nevertheless, as 2005 showed, the Lions test series is never a foregone conclusion, and neither side can be 100% sure of a victory. Let’s take a look at how both teams are shaping up:
England look in good shape, with May bringing them a decent victory in a test series against New Zealand. Many critics believe that England are only second in the world to South Africa when it comes to test cricket, and with form batsman Alastair Cook skippering the side, the Three Lions are always going to be dangerous.
The England squad for the clash at Trent Bridge that opens the series has been announced and contains few surprises. Nick Compton misses out on selection, and this virtually confirms that Joe Root will be the man that opens the batting with captain fantastic Cook. Judging by the way that they played against New Zealand, South African born Jonathan Trott will then come in at number 3, with Warwickshire’s Ian Bell arriving at number 4.
Big hitter Kevin Pietersen has overcome his recent injury troubles and will probably come in at number 5, with Jonny Bairstow to follow. Matt Prior has made the wicket keeping position his own over the last few years and he is inked in to bat at 7, with the man following him the recovered Stuart Broad, he will certainly add to the English seam attack that is likely to be so crucial in this series.
Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann are both certainties to start, with Joe Bresnan and Steven Finn left to fight it out for the last place in the bowling attack. Reserve spinner Graham Onions has been selected in the 13-man squad, but it nevertheless seems highly unlikely that Onions will see much action unless something happens to Graeme Swann.
As a Brit myself, I can tell the Aussie audience that the mood is extremely confident in England; perhaps too confident, and my own personal view is that the series has the potential to be a bit closer than many are predicting.
Key men for England: If Alastair Cook is on form; life will be very, very difficult for the Australians. Likewise, the return to fitness of Kevin Pietersen will have left the Aussies cursing, whilst the seam trio of Broad, Anderson and Bresnan or Finn will certainly cause Australia some problems.
I think it’s probably fair to say that the preparation to this test series hasn’t exactly been ideal for Australia. Negative publicity surrounded the side after it was revealed that Australian batsman David Warner had taken a swing at England’s Joe Root in a bar. Warner was quickly suspended and therefore has not featured in Australia’s warm-up games, but is eligible to face England.
Despite Warner’s transgressions, the latest word is that he could well line up for Australia at Trent Bridge, and given the fact that England are going to be fielding a fairly fearsome bowling attack, Australian fans will probably be hoping that Warner does feature. Captain Michael Clarke has tipped Warner to overcome his issues, and for the good of the sport I hope he does.
The Warner/Root incident is not the only dramatic thing to happen in the last few weeks, with Australian coach Mickey Arthur sacked barely two and a half weeks before the start of the series. Michael Clarke has also stood down as a selector, and former Australian batsman Darren Lehmann has been installed as the new coach. How these proceedings have affected the side is anyone’s guess, but it’s not exactly ideal preparation for some of the biggest test matches that these guys are ever likely to play in.
When it comes to the rest of the side, Shane Watson and Chris Rogers will open bat, and with Ed Cowan making a decent 50 in their warm up game against Worcestershire, he’d be favoured to start at 3, although this may depend on whether Warner is welcomed back into the fold. The captain Clarke will come in at 4, with 24-year old Steven Smith following him; with Phillip Hughes batting at 6 and the wicket keeper Haddin at 7.
When it comes to the bowling attack, a lot will depend on the form of Peter Siddle, with Jackson Bird also looking like a lively bowler who can cause some problems. Ryan Harris, James Pattinson, James Faulkner and Mitchell Starc are all seamers too, with three of Bird, Harris, Pattinson, Faulkner and Starc working in tandem with Siddle along with the spin option of Lyons.
Key men for Australia: The form of Michael Clarke is going to be absolutely critical. He is Australia’s go-to man, and will need to be on form if Australia are going to have any chance of wrenching those Ashes back from England. Siddle must also bowl well, as the Aussies will have to topple England’s top order to prevent them having to chase big scores.
May the best team win.