After the thrilling series between England and Australia in England in 2005, that saw England finally regaining the Ashes trophy from Australia after sixteen barren years, Ashes cricket is back.
The series of 2005 was judged by many to be the most exciting cricket series ever, and not many people would disagree. It was sporting, hard and thrilling right through, and all cricket lovers hope to see a repeat in Australia this time. Last time it went right down to the wire of the last day of the last match, and supporters in England and Australia have been looking forward to the return series ever since.
The five match series gets under way at the Gabba, Brisbane and England have not won there since 1986. Australia are still ranked number one cricket nation in the world, though England could depose them from that lofty perch with a three test winning margin. They have not managed to do that since the days of Kerry Packer in the seventies when most of Australia’s best players were banned from taking part.
The bookmakers and most shrewd pundits have Australia as red hot favourites to re-take the little urn of a trophy, (Oz 1/5, England 9/1, drawn series 13/1. You can still get a free $30 bet at Betfair by inputting the code 6CHE3VPWJ ). Not much doubt there you would think on those odds, yet there are some reasons to be optimistic if you are an England supporter.
Firstly, some of the Australians are getting old. Quite a few of their front line players are over 35, and in searing heat and long playing days, it isn’t impossible that some of their senior players might run out of steam. Secondly, Australia need to win the series to take back the urn. England will retain the Ashes if they draw the series, a small but not insignificant advantage.
On the debit side for England, they have suffered serious injury blows. Jones, the Welshman’s miserable luck with injuries has continued and he misses the tour. Trescothick the reliable opening batsman has returned home with what is described as a stress related problem, and perhaps worst of all, the winning captain Michael Vaughan, is still injured and will not play in any of the early matches. He will be missed, not just for his batting, but also for his leadership. Don’t forget he was the best batsman from either side in the last series played in Australia, and in the process became ranked number one in the world in Nasser Hussain’s ill-fated series in 2002.
Last time there, Nasser won the toss at Brisbane and on a scorching day, promptly decided to field, when almost everyone recommended batting match prediction 100 sure. That decision put England on the back foot from day one, and they never recovered. This time under the charismatic Freddie Flintoff, if England win the toss, they are expected to bat and much could depend on the flip of that coin. The groundsman has reported that he has prepared a “juicy” pitch with plenty of zip, one that will take pace and there is bound to be a lot of hostile stuff flying past the ears.
England has some younger inexperienced players coming into the side. Alistair Cook has rapidly established an excellent test match average of 54. He has attracted the attention of Glen McGrath the Australian strike bowler, who has vowed to make Cook one of his Bunnies. We shall see. Glen is also predicting a five-zip result to Australia, but then again, he predicted the exactly same thing in England two summers ago. In the spin department, a late decision will be made between the old stager Giles, and the new kid on the block, Monty Panesar. Monty, of Sikh extraction, has rapidly established himself as something of a talisman to the barmy army, the crazy supporters who have travelled down under in their tens of thousands. Monty is also a potential match winner, though whether he will be able to spin the ball on the hard Australian wickets remains to be seen. Their top orders batters have already publicly stated that they intend smacking Monty to all parts. That could be interesting.