With less than 24 hours to go to the start of the Ashes, I thought it was about time I gave my views on what I think will/might happen.
I do believe England have a chance of retaining the Ashes, maybe even a slim chance of winning them outright as Australia have some clear weaknesses that we are not used to seeing over recent times.
The question is, are England good, ruthless and efficient enough to beat an Aussie side that is by a mile the weakest one they will have played in Australia for 20 years?
At the moment I have to say I’m not convinced they are. Yes, England have vastly improved over the last 12-18 months, but that is mainly in 50 over cricket and T20, in fact they have improved out of site in Twenty20, but I’m not totally convinced they are strong enough to win an Ashes series in Oz.
To have any chance of winning, the top 6 has to do a lot better than it has done recently. Scores of 250 – 275 are not going to be enough to beat Australia, England need 1st innings totals of 450 plus. If they can do that, then they can apply scoreboard pressure on Australia.
We have a competent enough bowling attack that can then exploit the Aussie batting weaknesses, which has been there for all to see for some time now. Their batting seems to have become susceptible to English style batting collapses, including that humiliating 88 all out against Pakistan.
Not hammering home an advantage is a problem that Australia have also suffered with recently. In tests alone we have seen Cardiff in 2009 and now the recent 1st test against India.
I recently heard Ponting saying how close they were to winning that 1st test against India and he is right, but the point is they didn’t. Fine margins make all the difference and letting India put on 81 for the 9th wicket cost Australia the match – and possibly the series. This certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to happen 4 years ago.
Then there was the major indicision on selection policy with the ridiculous sight of a 17 man squad named for this 1st test. From the outside, the Aussies look in complete turmoil.
I don’t buy that though, I think that there is a myth being built up around this team that they are a total mess. But I believe that the team which lines up on Thursday will be nothing short of a typical, hungry, gritty, determined Australia team.
England would be very stupid to read too much into what has been happening lately and think they are now a team in crisis.
The two sides do look fairly evenly matched on paper. The Aussie batting might just be a touch stronger than England’s, but that could depend on how Hussey and North perform at 5 and 6. Behind the stumps Matt Prior and Brad Haddin are both solid performers and like England, Australia have a decent seam attack.
But they don’t have Graeme Swann. They have now dumped Nathan Hauritz and called on the next sacrificial Shane Warne, it’s time they gave up trying to find the next one because he just dosen’t exist.
The great man himself didn’t approve of the treatment of Hauritz either, who also had an Ashes batting average of 22.50 in 2009, will Xavier Doherty be able to replicate that?
Both sides are decent in the field. Although I do think England don’t snap up enough half chances, the real tough ones that win matches. Also the throwing at the stumps could be better, but on the whole the fielding is safe.
That isn’t going to be an area where we can beat Australia though, they are as good as anybody in the field.
As I stated above though, I believe it’s mainly down to England’s batting, particularly in the 1st innings. Good solid scores of 450 upwards will give us a great chance. Australia’s confidence is brittle, they are now prone to a batting collapse when put under pressure.
I believe our bowlers are good enough to get 20 wickets if enough pressure is put on Australia with big scores of our own. They are a good unit, who all complement each other.
Australia might try and get after Swann to unsettle him. Swann will cope though and James Anderson and Stuart Broad are now experienced enough to know how to handle themselves.
Steve Finn is the only real unknown quantity. Will he be able to cope with the pressure? Only time will tell, but England have seen enough of him to expect he can. His temperament certainly looks good to me.
In the betting it seems too close to call. I don’t see any value in either side as Australia are Evens and England 7/4, I also haven’t a clue which way it will go. That is why I think a drawn series looks the only real value call to me. It is currently a best price of 9/2 with Bet365 and most bookmakers listed on this site.
The only problem is I can’t back it as I want England to win, although I suppose a drawn series will be good enough to retain the Ashes.