Can England win the Ashes Down Under?
England captain Andrew Strauss sounded confident when he said his side could not have prepared more thoroughly for their bid to retain the Ashes. The squad flew out to Perth on Friday with good reasons to be optimistic about returning from Australia with the famous urn, a feat last achieved by an England side in 1986-87.
Here I look at a few of those reasons to be cheerful, while below my colleague Pritha Sarkar considers why Australia may themselves be feeling confident.
1. Australia are much weaker than they were four years ago when Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer and Adam Gilchrist were primed to make up for the bitter disappointment of losing the 2005 Ashes in what was always likely to be their last test series against England. Ricky Ponting’s team have slipped to fifth in the world rankings and have lost their last three test matches. The top order has struggled for consistency and the pace attack, disrupted by injury, has not fired as a unit.
2. Unlike Andrew Flintoff four years ago, Strauss is well established as England captain and has developed an excellent relationship with coach Andy Flower. England’s preparations in 2006 were badly affected by experienced opening batsman Marcus Trescothick’s enforced return home due to personal problems.
3. England have a settled team. Although leading batsman Kevin Pietersen has been short of runs, the batting looks solid and a pace attack of James Anderson, Steven Finn and Stuart Broad has the variation and height to trouble the Australians.
4. England’s Graeme Swann is the best spinner in the world on current form. Although off-spinners have not traditionally prospered in Australian conditions, Swann has a fine record against left-handers and has enjoyed great success over the past two years.
Pritha Sarkar writes: Australia, however, always enjoy exchanging some verbal volleys with their opponents and reminded England of their status as Ashes holders when Cricket Australia projected a provocative image of skipper Ponting on the side of London’s Big Ben with the giant message “Don’t forget to pack the urn.” They will also want to point out some facts England might not want to dwell on.
1. With all the hype surrounding the last Ashes series Down Under — which pundits had predicted would be a close series following the unforgettable 2005 tussle — England were left red faced after being on the receiving end of a 5-0 mauling.
2. Australia have a formidable record on home soil. They have not been beaten at home in 2009 and 2010. In fact, since whipping England in 2007, their only blip has been a 2-1 series loss to South Africa. Pakistan, West Indies, New Zealand, top ranked test nation India and Sri Lanka have all tried to trip up the Aussies at home only to leave bruised and battered.
3. In Ricky Ponting, they have a prolific batsman whose haul of 39 test centuries has only been surpassed by India’s Sachin Tendulkar. Having gone 11 months without hitting a ton, which by his own high standards is a rather long barren run, the 35-year-old will be itching to take out his frustrations on the old enemy.
4. While they may no longer have Warne in their ranks to cause England sleepless nights, the left arm pace of Mitchell Johnson and off-spin of Nathan Hauritz will prove tricky to handle. Hauritz struggled to find form during the recent tour to India but Warne could once again spell doom and gloom for England as he has offered to help the embattled spinner so that he is back in top form for the Ashes.
PHOTO: England’s captain Andrew Strauss looks at a replica of the Ashes urn at Lord’s cricket ground in London before the England team fly to Australia to play the Ashes series. October 28, 2010. REUTERS/Philip Brown