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Australia v England – Ashes cricket preview

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith
Andrew Strauss

The build-up to the England v Australia Ashes series starting today at the Gabba in Brisbane has been a bizarre pageant of pro-English hype.

As a neutral I am always amazed at the capacity of the English to talk themselves up beforehand either in cricket or football. When they don’t live up to the hype then there is blood letting of the highest order.

This is the most settled England cricket side to arrive on Australian shores for decades. They are buoyed by a successful home Test season, having won the last three in a row. Also their form since arriving in Australia has been impressive with two victories. All the stars seem to be in alignment for the English lion to roar and retain the Ashes.

To add fuel to the fire of English optimism, the Australians have been under pressure. Mixed form of key batsmen Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey has led to speculation at home that both are over the hill. Michael Clarke is under an injury cloud with a bad back.

We know that the Aussie supporters are worried when they start arguing among themselves. The normally parochial local media has also been on a self-destructive feeding frenzy.

There is no question that this golden era of Australian cricket that has shone for around 15 years is coming to an end. This is likely to be the final ashes series for Ponting and Hussey, the last remaining members of the greatest Australian team since the 1970′s.

Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath have all passed over to the other side. By other side I mean commentary work, coaching, IPL cameo’s and philanthropic work. That is a lot of greatness that is not on the park.

All the talk all the buid-up ends today when the first ball is bowled in Brisbane. When it comes down to it, the Aussies will be united in their dislike of the English and the fans will get in behind them. There is enough quality and experience in the Australian side to have grounds for optimism.

The Australian batting line-up has a very solid look to it. Michael Katich and Shane Watson are well established at the top and Clarke, Ponting and Hussey will come to the party. The jury is still out on Marcus North. He will probably get a double hundred and nine ducks.

In the bowling attack Mitchell Johnson is the major player. He has the pace and bounce to get the English batsmen out of their comfort zone. For me though Xavier Doherty may end up having the biggest influence.

Australia have been through quite a few spinners in the search for a ‘new’ Shane Warne. The more experienced Nathan Hauritz has been overlooked for this Test. Doherty has X-Factor written all over him. He is electric in the field and has a presence beyond his years.

Often for a spinner they are very effective when they are unknown to the opposition and batsmen have not spent much time against them. Video analysis is not the same as facing a player live.

With the Gabba wicket having a green tinge and showers forecast Doherty might not be able to get the ball off the quick bowlers much for this test, but I believe he may well end the series a star.

The England batting line-up is also strong with an experienced line-up of Andrew Strauss, Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell. A good start is crucial and I believe there is a weakness with Cook and depsite the rich form Strauss has been in, it is a big ask to captain and open the batting in an Ashes series on foreign soil. He may be tough enough to handle it, but I wouldn’t put too much dosh on it.

Kevin Pietersen will hopefully come into some form because at his best he is one of the finest to watch in world cricket. The key for him will be if he buys into the sledging from the Aussies and the baiting of the fans. Kevin does not always do what his team requires of him, especially when his manhood and cricketing ability has been called in to question.

The English bowling attack is full of quality but there will be a question mark if they can go the distance in this series. They will not get the swing they are used to in their home conditions and the temperatures in Australia will be at least ten degress hotter than the English summer just gone.

Stuart Broad will be the talisman for them. He is the heir apparent to the Flintoff throne, being the guy who can make things happen with the bat and the ball when it looks like nothing is on.

Steven Finn is untried at Test level in Australian conditions. As for Graeme Swann it be interesting to see if he lives up to the hype of being labelled the worlds No.1 spinner.

There is nothing between the English and Australian batting line-ups on paper. It is in the bowling where I believe the Ashes result may be tilted in Australia’s favour. They are in their own conditions and unlike their batsmen there is genuine competition for places.

England have come to Australia as holders of the Ashes. They have had a strong lead-up and are supremely confident. Will they have enough firepower to overcome Australia? I don’t think so. Are they walking into an Ambush boldly over confident? There is every chance.

Feel free to tear me to shreds if I am wrong but I cannot see anything other than a 3-1 victory to Australia here to win back the Ashes and have one last hurrah in the dying days of this most recent golden age in Australian cricket.

Once Hussey and Ponting retire, they will be fair game for everyone (except maybe New Zealand?).

Australia 1 Simon Katich, 2 Shane Watson, 3 Ricky Ponting (capt), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Michael Hussey, 6 Marcus North, 7 Brad Haddin (wk), 8 Mitchell Johnson, 9 Xavier Doherty, 10 Peter Siddle, 11 Ben Hilfenhaus.

England 1 Andrew Strauss (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Jonathan Trott, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Ian Bell, 7 Matt Prior (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 James Anderson, 11 Steven Finn.

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