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I love it when cricket takes centre stage in Britain's sporting psyche. With no football tournament, no Olympics and Eurovision done the Ashes will be THE sporting event this summer. Only the Ashes is capable of that. One Day cricket may be fun, Twenty20 may be the cash cow but Test Cricket is the ultimate test and the Ashes is the one that catches the imagination of the public. Can't wait.
So what can we expect? Well only a fool predicts the Ashes so here goes....
It's a cliche, but like many cliches it's based on an element of truth, that the Aussies will be tough and bring a 'never say die spirit' to anything they do. I'm sure that's true but this looks to be the biggest gap between the teams, in England's favour, since I've been on this planet.
That's quite a striking statement. But on paper it's true, although cricket hasn't been played on paper since that ill-fated 'paper cut' series in 1957. The Australians lost 4-0 away to India a matter of weeks after England had won 2-1 there. Man for man Australia only have near-parity in the seam bowling department - England have superior batsmen, spinners and a far better wicket keeper. And then there's the suggestion that Australia is not a happy camp (the homework saga, David Warner's issues, the Watson/Clarke split in the camp etc) that is over here for over 3 months (including the Champions Trophy).
Michael Clarke will need to score big
So is there a case for Australia? Well of course. It's sport and sport is wonderfully unpredictable. May be this is a young Australian team on the cusp of a golden generation like the 1989 team. The most likely way the Aussies can triumph seems to be the Australian seam attack will function
well to ensure low scoring matches and the batsmen will find enough runs. To do this the natural assumption is that Michael Clarke will score heavily and then the others will 'chip in'. This is possible, and Jimmy Anderson twisting his ankle on a cricket ball in pre match practice would probably help. Another other case for Australia is that while the touring party bond under coach Darren Lehmann England splinter as they did 12 months ago - probably because of the disruptive genius of Kevin Pietersen. The most likely way this could happen is if Australia get their noses ahead and pressure the English who clearly expect to win.
More realistically though it looks like England should win this series. The two wickets in the New Zealand series may have given a hint that the English 'powers that be' want dry wickets. Totally understandly from a home advantage point of view as the evidence from India is that England would win on those wickets.
Graeme Swann is a key man
Nathan Lyon is the only spinner (currently) in the Australian squad and I'd suggest he's the equal of England's number 3 spinner, James Tredwell. Swann and Panesar are enough levels above that I'd get the lift rather than take the stairs. Swann could well be difference between the two sides if the wickets are as I expect. Australia have a large quota of left handers which Swann tends to gobble up and look likely to play a left arm seamer too (probably Mitchell Starc but possibly James Faulkner) to generate rough outside the right handers' off stump too.
I guess we should also consider the wickets may not be as the ECB hope. You can't control the English weather, but I would just expect Anderson, Broad and Finn/Bresnan to outbowl Pattinson, Starc and Siddle (that's a slight guess at the Australian seam bowling line up - Harris or Faulker might well play) in swinging, rainy conditions. I would also expect England to bat better against the moving ball (and frankly it always moves, but you know what i mean).
So although there is promise in the Australian line up and perhaps this could be a useful build up to a close series in November to January I feel logic points to an English victory this summer - something like 3-1. But when did logic play a part in the Ashes? Whatever let's hope we're royally entertained in the greatest sporting contest the game has to offer.
Paul Gaught, Superstars CC.
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