Unlike previous Ashes series Down Under, this Ashes is going to be a tough one to predict. England may have their noses slightly in front but I’d still wait to see the first day of the first Test to see how this English team is responding to the Oz challenge. They are a more balanced and in-form team but it won’t take long for the ghosts from the past to resurface and haunt them again. On the other hand, Australia have their plate full with injuries and lack of form.
England’s batting looks solid but not without a couple of issues to deal with. The first one at the top is with Alistair Cook’s form and then, in the middle, with Kevin Pietersen. England would desperately want someone to give Australians a taste of their own medicine i.e. playing aggressive cricket and taking the attack to the opposition. Having said that, Paul Collingwood, Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott are providing solidity to their batting.
English bowlers prefer conditions where the ball swings more than it seams and fortunately for them Australia are facing a rather wet start to their summer. The conditions would be conducive for swing bowling and I’m expecting Anderson to come on his own. Swann is another guy who tilts the balance in England’s favour because he is the only quality spinner from both sides.
However, it would be unfair to pin your hopes on one man, for one player alone won’t win you the Ashes. I think England’s performance in this series would depend a lot on how both James Anderson and Graeme Swann bowl.
I think the reason for England’s steady rise is that the core has remained the same. For a long time, the efforts put into building this squad went unnoticed because they weren’t setting the world alight with wins after wins. But with consistent performances, everyone has taken notice of their progress. It’s been a steady accent and English selectors must be given credit for persisting with a vision.
The reasons for Australia’s decline are more apparent and visible than the rise of England. Although they did manage to put up a good show after Hayden, McGrath and Co. hung up their boots, but they seldom made significant progress. They’re in the middle of a transition period and hence the blips are more regular than ever before.
Obviously, they need to win a lot of games to get back to the top. But for that they need to unearth a quality spinner. Also they must find able replacements for Ponting and Hussey as they won’t be around forever.
England have a realistic chance of doing well in Australia this time around for a variety of reasons. One—it’s been a rather wet and cold Aussie summer so far, which means that the conditions would assist the swing bowlers. English bowlers thrive in conditions which allow the ball to swing in the air and then grip on the surface for lateral movement.
They aren’t hit-the-deck-hard kind of bowlers and that’s why they struggle on harder Australian pitches. They might struggle in the later part of the tour but a lot can be gained in the first couple of Test matches.
And two—Australian batting is not the same old dominating attack anymore. If their timid approach against India last month is anything to go by, they will allow the English bowlers to bowl themselves into the series.
Contrary to popular belief, the Australian tracks do assist spinners because of the bounce on offer. Swann, thus, becomes a vital cog in England’s scheme of things in this series, for quick bowlers would seldom run through an Aussie batting line-up. Also Ponting and Co. have shown signs of weakness against off-spinners.
(Aakash Chopra opened for India in 10 Tests, forming a potent all-Delhi combination with Virender Sehwag during India`s tour of Australia in 2003-04. He also made his mark as India`s last exceptional close-in fielder. He has also played over 130 first class matches. He writes columns for leading newspapers and websites. He also penned a book `Beyond the Blues`. Aakash`s Twitter feed is here http://twitter.com/cricketaakash)
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