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Australia's downward spiral

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Oliver Brett | 15:48 UK time, Monday, 8 November 2010

There are a number of ways of looking at Australia's poor form entering the Ashes, but the over-riding impression is clear.

If England, who have prepared fastidiously for this tour and have the confidence of an early warm-up win behind them, do not win on Australian soil this time, then one will have to wonder if they ever will again.

International cricket has changed immeasurably since Mike Gatting's team won 2-1 in 1986-87, and in that time England have toured Australia five times and have come back empty-handed five times.

Never on those five trips did they face an Australian side which appeared anything other than extremely formidable opponents. This time, by contrast, they will face a side short of self-belief who have slumped to fifth in the Test rankings.

When Australia were outplayed from start to finish in the second one-day international against Sri Lanka at Sydney last Friday, Ricky Ponting did his best not to look shell-shocked.

It was the seventh consecutive reverse suffered by the Aussies across all formats, a run that began at Headingley in July in a Test match against Pakistan, and has taken in an energy-sapping, confidence-draining tour of India.

Ricky Ponting during the series defeat to India

Ponting has already lost two series as Australia's captain in England (AP)

Australia did at least prevent a whitewash to Sri Lanka, with a convincing win in the dead rubber at Brisbane on Sunday, so a few optimists will feel that they have stopped the rot.

Other, more realistic observers will feel they've merely splashed a tin of paint over the walls of the house while the foundations start sinking into the mud.

The most troubling issue is the selection of the squad to take on Andrew Strauss's men in the first Test at Brisbane, which starts on 25 November.

The players are due to be picked next Monday, and the party would traditionally feature 13 names. This time, uncertainty over the form and fitness of key players suggests there will be two extra men included.

Among the pace bowlers, Doug Bollinger damaged stomach muscles in India and will not be able to prove his fitness in a match until New South Wales's Sheffield Shield match on 17 November.

Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris are two other possibles just coming back from injuries, while Mitchell Johnson is 100% fit but bowling loosely.

Johnson's wayward spell on the first day of the Lord's Test in the 2009 Ashes was a contributory factor in Australia's defeat in that game. He is capable of winning matches, however, and will play grade cricket for Wanneroo in Perth this weekend in a bid to get some confidence.

Nathan Hauritz seems certain to line up as the spinner, though he is another player looking well short of peak form, and then there is the batting to consider.

Mike Hussey, who achieved a Bradman-esque average of 91.60 in the 2006-07 Ashes, is a real worry. In his last 13 Test innings, his highest scores are 67 and 56 not out.

Marcus North may have chalked up two centuries this calendar year in Tests, but his average is poor, and scores of 19 and 1 against England for Western Australia will not have eased the selectors' concerns in any way.

Two batsmen, Callum Ferguson and Usman Khawaja, plus the fast bowler Peter George are being touted as genuine candidates for Brisbane. Yet they are virtually unknown to English fans, have just one Test cap between them and would not ordinarily be thrown into such a key series with so little international experience.

Mitchell Johnson (centre left) during Australia's 2-0 series loss in India

Australia need Mitchell Johnson (centre left) to find his form (Getty)

Former opening batsman Michael Slater, who Test Match Special fans can look forward to hearing from this winter, has attacked what he perceived as an overly conservative approach from the selectors in recent times.

"Selectors have sat on their hands and done nothing to improve the situation," he said.

"It's beyond a joke. How can you justify sticking with a losing side? There have been plenty of opportunities to blood new talent in that middle order."

Many Australian cricket fans, a normally bullish breed, appear to be losing hope. In one online survey, 56% said they believed England would triumph.

Professional gamblers, on the other hand, see it very differently. On betting exchanges, where fans bet against each other rather than with bookmakers, Australia remain odds-on favourites with England around 2-1.

And one of the major factors is history, the very ingredient that makes the Ashes the special series it is.

England have only won 20 Tests in Australia since the Second World War, and their three most recent wins, in 1995, 1998 and 2003, came when Australia had already done enough to retain the urn.

Thus the most recent "live" Ashes success for England away from home is the Boxing Day Test of 1986, when Ian Botham, Gladstone Small and Chris Broad starred.

Whether it's the conditions, the raucous support for the home team, or the reputations of the players they have squared up against, there have been some exceptionally timid performances from England in Australia since 1986-87.

Australian fans can also be cheered by the knowledge that their current team features players with very similar career records to England's, while in Ponting they have one of the best and most prolific batsmen of modern times.

Moreover, if batting is a worry for Australia, is it not more of a worry for England, who have only one batsman (Jonathan Trott) in the world top 20, compared to Australia's three - Ponting, Simon Katich and Michael Clarke?

Those are just a few sobering thoughts for English fans to consider as they plan their trip down under... All in all, it could be a cracker.


  • Comment number 1.

    Still expecting England to win 3-1. Simply because Australian pitches are no longer as pacey/bouncy as they once were and Hauritz is not a spinner. He is the most useless spinner I have ever seen.

  • Comment number 2.

    "Moreover, if batting is a worry for Australia, is it not more of a worry for England, who have only one batsman (Jonathan Trott) in the world top 20, compared to Australia's three - Ponting, Simon Katich and Michael Clark?"

    Hit the nail squarely on the head. Yes, cricket games are won by taking 20 wickets, BUT Strauss and Trott aside our batting looks very very brittle. We have the same conservative approach as the Aussies, form seems to count for nothing. Which is why Collingwood will start the series despite looking like he was batting with an umbrella in the warm up game and an awful summer.

    But this isn't about Collingwood alone, worryingly there are very few alternatives, and whilst our bowling attack may have more variation than the Aussies, if we win the toss, we have to be able to score 400-450 batting first to be in with a chance of winning matches and I really can not see us consistently doing that.

    As both batting line ups are wobbling, this will be a 'results' series, I can not envisage more than one game being a draw. Therefore the most consistent batting side will win the series. And even as an avid Englishman, if I had to put money on it, I would lean towards the Aussies I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 3.

    Of the two teams it is England for once that has the settled side, although there are questions around batting form, there is an advantage in knowing the make up of the side from the start. Australia still look quite strong in their batting, but the bowling is light years away from the glory days of McGrath, Lee, Warne, Gillespie/Kasprowicz and MacGill and England look like they may have the edge here, especially if they can give Swann something to bowl at. If England can put runs on the board consistantly I can see them winning, but you can never count Australia out at home.

  • Comment number 4.

    Totally agree with AJM1982 - the most consistent batting side will win this Ashes series.

    Very worrying for England that the likes of Cook, Collingwood and Pietersen go into this series so out of form. It puts alot of pressure on Strauss, Trott, Morgan and Prior if those three don't step up. But as this blog points out the Aussies have got some big name players who aren't firing either.

    I think the both team's tail will have a crutial role to play in this series. For England Broad and Swann are just as important with the bat as with the ball. For Australia, Mitchell Johnson can be hugely destructive if he gets going.

    I think we're in for a cracking Ashes!!

  • Comment number 5.

    I think the batting will be the key. England for my money have the stronger bowling attack but I still think England look fragile. I think Bell has to be started as the rest of the middle order (KP, Colly and Morgan) do not fill me with confidence and despite his previous poor record I think Bell will definitely come of age. Cook also doesn't fill me with promise. I never thought I'd say this but we will be relying on Prior to continue his good form.

    Over all though, I would trade for Katich, Punter, Clarke and Hussey any day!

    I think Aus will win 3-1 but they'll be closer than previously!

  • Comment number 6.

    It's not quite history that is the reason the Aussies are favourites, it is the conditions. Though it may be perverse to use history to illustrate my point, a revealing stat is that Oz have been beaten once in 17 years at home, and that by a SA team who were essentially playing in home conditions and whom had to recover phoenix-like in two Tests to squeak the series.

    By contrast you have to go back to 2004-05 to recall the last time England won a series away from home against a decent Test playing nation. Englands bowlers either rely for form on swing and seam (Anderson) a combination of the alignments of the planets and stars (Broad) or who are green (The rest) Swann is the honourable exception, there again who was the last orthodox offie to have any success in Oz? Exactly.

    I desperately hope England win, and they have their best chance in a generation (though that's not saying much) but Australia, regardless how woeful their preparation has been, are rightly favourites.

  • Comment number 7.

    History to me still suggests an Aussie win, just a lot closer one than last time.

    For England to win the series:

    1. Pietersen and Bell need to score big runs to back up what are likely to be solid contributions from Strauss and Trott, and the lower middle order of Prior, Broad and Swann need to top up the totals with some valuable runs. We need a few 350+ totals for the bowlers to defend.

    2. Swann needs to take 20+ wickets, ably supported by 15+ from Broad, if we are to bowl the Aussies out enough times. The Kookaburra and Aussie conditions will negate Jimmy's swing and we should be careful not to expect too much from Finn. Our 4 man attack may be found to be a bowler light if one or two Aussies dig in on a flat track in sweltering heat. It would be a signal of our demise to see Trott, Colly or KP brought on to turn their arms over.

    3. Strauss must get more of the big decisions right than Punter - from batting or bowling if he wins the toss, to rotating his bowlers and field placings, to the timing of any declarations.

  • Comment number 8.

    1. It was interesting that Doherty was dumped from the ODI side after one v successful game to accommodate the returning Hauritz. I do not, incidentally, agree that the lack of pace and bounce is necessarily a hindrance to Australia - probably more so for our bowlers who are generally taller and thus likely to exploit it more.

    2. Very few draws, I agree one's about right unless there's quite a lot of rain about...

    6. I think Stuart Broad has a bit more skill than you give him credit for. For me, he is England's key bowler this time.

    7. A number of people are already worried about Eng going with four-man attacks, especially given how quickly these matches follow each other. Our hand may be forced if we go 1-0 down and are struggling to take 20 wickets though...

  • Comment number 9.

    Thats it, run Australia down and big up England's chances - you know what will happen don't you - England under-perform - Australia win - Tears

  • Comment number 10.

    When all the bed wetting ends, this surely, is merely the fifth rated test side playing against the fourth rated. Hardly anything to get excited about, more like the battle of the bums.

  • Comment number 11.

    I don't think England's chances are ebing "bigged up". All that has been said is that Australia aren't as good as they used to be (true), England have their best chance of winning a series down under since 86/87 (true) and that Australia are still the favourites (true).

    IMO, I think Broad will be the key man in this series. Looked good with bat and ball in the warm up game, is high on confidence after his 169 against Pakistan and when he gets hot and high on confidence, he is nigh on unplayable, circa Oval 2009. Keep your head Broady, and bring the Ashes home!

    Australia to win 3-2. :(

  • Comment number 12.

    Do the player world ranking mean anything to anyone really? Trott may be the only England player in the Top 20, but he's ahead of Ponting. Does anyone think he's better than Ponting?

    Daniel Vettori is a better batsman than Andrew Strauss and Tamim Iqbal is better than Rahul Dravid. Apparently. I'd tend to disagree, and sense many cricket fans would agree with me. If they do, I think it proves that the rankings are (quite stunningly) useless.

    Best test is to compare the teams and pick the best 11 - how many Aussies would get into the current England team? In 2001 for example, it would be 10 or 11 (Darren Gough might shade Gillespie, maybe). Now... well we'd take Ponting for Trott, Hussey (despite recent dip in form) for Collingwood, Watson for Cook, Mitchell Johnson maybe ahead of Finn... that'd be it in my mind I think.

  • Comment number 13.

    I think both teams have reasons to be worried about their batting.
    With the exception of Jonathon Trott this year, most of the English batsmen had a mixed series against Pakistan.
    Australia's concern is the current Test form of Michael Clarke and the continuing downward spiral in Mike Hussey's fortunes.
    No 4 & 5 will be the weak points in both teams. Both these players plus Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood are struggling in this position.

  • Comment number 14.

    It's going to be the cricket equivalent of a bare-knuckle fist fight IMO. Both teams have issues, Aus perhaps less, perhaps more depending on perspective, but home advantage counts for quite a bit some I'm expecting a hard fought 2-1 win to the Aus, it won't be pretty but will be absoloutly riviting!

  • Comment number 15.

    Based on current form I expect England to win 5-0 in Australia. Australia got problems in both batting and bowling departments. But Australia's home record was excellent last summer for them and I expect the same from them this summer in Australia. I still would put Australia slight favourites

    Expectations is a lot higher this time and I think England is probably more likely to feel the pressure and collapse under the pressure. England's recent away form is not good. England squad has got a lot more experience than the current Australia squad and that would prove to be the difference between winning and losing the ashes

    Good news for freeview TV, ITV are on the verge of signing a deal to show daily highlights of the ashes 2010-11 according to the guardian news

  • Comment number 16.

    Tight - yes, of course it's going to be, but I suspect some of our batsmen will be happier with faster, less 'swingy' wickets - Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood - all happier with the ball moving less, so .... let's hear the Kookaburra sing. (Do Kookaburras sing, or just make a loud noise? ..... can't remember, though I did live in Australia once - Brighton, Melbourne, for those of you interested enough to ask).

    Anyway, enough nonsense for now, and thank you to all those tweeters who twittered briefly on my site before fading back into oblivion.

    For what it's worth, I reckon our bowling is sound enough (Broad and Swann occasionally exceptional) and I think our batting will stand up, especially against a mediocre Oz line-up. I guess 1-1 (retaining the Ashes) or 2-1 to England. Let me know when I'm wrong.

  • Comment number 17.

    'Australia's concern is the current Test form of Michael Clarke and the continuing downward spiral in Mike Hussey's fortunes.' I would hardly say Michael Clarke is out of form, he is probably one of our best at the moment. Australian sportsmen are probably the most competitive people in world sport, never write us off.

  • Comment number 18.

    It's a tricky one to call. Australia can never be written off. It can be said they have an aging/underachieving batting line up. However, they have one of the top performing opening partnerships in Australian cricket history, the second highest test run scorer of all time, two blokes averaging nearly 50 and one bloke who, when past 20 odd is capable of taking the game away from teams. All that in their top 6.

    Katich, Ponting and Hussey are probably in the same boat as Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist and Langer were 4 years ago, on the verge of a last hurrah. They'll be going as hard as they can to see that they win back the Ashes, and with their combined records, thats pretty daunting.

    England have a settled and strong side, with no injuries and no false hopes placed on individuals, like they've been guilty of in the past. This is no longer a side built around one or two mavericks, like it was with Flintoff and Pietersen in his pomp. Obviously it will make things a darn side easier for England if Pietersen can rediscover his form, but this is an England unit, and they've started to prove that when those maverick players don't come off then they can pull it out of the bag as a team, they have players like Broad who can come in and do something magical when the chips are down.

    The form of Cook and Collingwood is worrying, but they have the backing of their team for a good reason. Cook has proved before that he is capable of making runs at international level, bringing in somebody like Carberry is clearly too much of a risk to the teams balance, especially Down Under. If we start chopping and changing now, the Ozzies will sense fear in our camp, we want to give them as little ammunition as possible.

    As for Collingwood, he may look at times like he's batting with a walking stick, but the amount of times he's been the man for us against Austraila, I can't see how anyone could begin to doubt him now.

    Bowling wise, both teams have shortfalls. Both sides probably lack a bit of variety. Head to Head I think England shave it. I have faith in Anderson being able to perform, despite his previous difficulties away from home. He's grown up now and into a role where he is the attack leader, and I can see his experience playing a big part in Englands effort. Finn and Broad will enjoy the extra bounce that Australia offers and Swanny will be pivotal. He easily destroys Australia's spin capabilities, but that doesn't always matter when 4 out of the 5 grounds that are being played at aren't useful for spinners at all.

    I think this could well be the best Ashes series yet! Bring it On! (and apologies for the essay!)

  • Comment number 19.

    My biggest fear is definitely the weather. The Australian Bureau are predicting a La Niña event from Nov to Jan, with Brisbane, Sydney and Perth all having a 75% chance of above median levels of rain.
    England to win the series 1-0 in Melbourne using 2 spinners...

  • Comment number 20.

    I find the level of confidence in England ahead of this series astonishing. The Australians have had a bad run, but England's "good form" is pretty misleading, against weak teams at home. The bowling was key against Pakistan and Bangladesh, and I think the bowlers will struggle to reach those levels. Anderson is yet to convince anyone he can bowl away from England, our absolutely vital bowler, Graeme Swann, is touring to a country that has been a graveyard for off-spinners, almost without exception. Unless Broad can find uncharacteristic consistency then there could be some very long days in the field.
    As for the batting... England may have the distinction of having a batting order with even less form than Australia. Only Prior and Trott have had "good" summers, while Bell can be spared being called bad because of injury and good form before that, but the rest have not batted well in 2010. I believe England's batting line-up is actually quite a strong one, but it is a bit much to expect or hope they can find form in Australia.
    I believe it will be a close series, and England may even win a test... but Australia are at home, and like that was the difference for England in 2009 so I think it will be for Australia this time around.

  • Comment number 21.

    As others have mentioned Broad could do very well on this tour providing he can keep his head together. The Aussie batting line-up is still a powerful one though, two very good openers, a class middle order (if a bit out of form) and they bat a reasonable way down. It's the bowling that is a concern for Australia but I'm sure their pace bowlers will be more of a handful at home than they have been away. I reckon it will be close but Aussie will shade it.

  • Comment number 22.

    England may be relying too much on Swann. Remember Anderson had a poor series in 2006, and Finn is a newcomer. Taking out Watson, Katich, Ponting and Clarke will be hard work. Add in useful runs from Johnson and Hauritz and i can't see the Aussies folding for under 300 too often.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hudjer, Australia have folded for under 300 rather frequently in recent series. In India they lost two matches that seemed certain draws through massive collapses. They lost to Pakistan by means of a pack or cards collapse and, in the 2009, strategic collapses meant that the big scores in other innings counted for nothing. Most worrying must be the series of three consecutive Tests lost to top-notch collapses against Pakistan and India.

  • Comment number 24.

    "The form of Cook and Collingwood is worrying, but they have the backing of their team for a good reason. Cook has proved before that he is capable of making runs at international level, bringing in somebody like Carberry is clearly too much of a risk to the teams balance, especially Down Under. If we start chopping and changing now, the Ozzies will sense fear in our camp, we want to give them as little ammunition as possible."

    I do not understand this attitude: Cook has consistently failed for about the last two years, bar a couple of decent scores out of a couple dozen attempts, but let's stick with him because it's better than changing the team? That's the same stupid attitude that led to the rot of English cricket throughout the nineties! If Cook is not performing, which he hasn't for ages now, then give someone else a chance! Poor Michael Carberry must be wondering what he has to do to be given a chance when Cook scores 5 and 9 against Western Australia, and I bet it gets no better in the remaining warm up matches.

  • Comment number 25.

    #6 WalkingTripod – “a revealing stat is that Oz have been beaten once in 17 years at home, and that by a SA team who were essentially playing in home conditions and whom had to recover phoenix-like in two Tests to squeak the series.”

    Where did you read that? The last test series Australia lost at home was in 2008/09 with a very similar team to the one which will contest this ashes series. They lost the series 2-1 to South Africa. Incidentally during that tour they also played a 5 match one day series, which South Africa won 4-1.

    The home series loss I think you’re referring to is the West Indies tour of 1992/93, a very close series which the West Indies won 2-1, by winning the final test.

    I will be close, and England have won more of those close battles recently. Australia have recently lost to India and Pakistan when draws would have been easier. It’s been a very wet year, “the wettest in white fella history”. 2-1 to England. It’s going to be a cracker!

  • Comment number 26.

    While I think that many of your comments were fair, I do think you are over estimating the struggles of the Aussi’s.

    While it is true that the Aussi’s have slumped to 5th in the ICC test rankings the mighty England sit 4th with two ranking points separating the teams. Also, might I add that a good performance by the Aussi’s in the ashes could leave them placed second.

    Also, you forgot to mention that the Aussi’s sit top of the ICC one day rankings ten points clear of second place, with England ‘slumped’ in 5th position. (Somehow I think if it were the other way round you may have mentioned that.)

    I would say, however, that both teams are weak in comparison to sides of the past. I think Swann’s ability could be the difference for England, while Australia will rely heavily on Ponting and Watson. Man I wish Warney would put the baggy green on for one more go…

  • Comment number 27.

    Cook averaging 42.78 with 13 hundreds and 22 fifties from 60 tests. I think he's a fair bet, despite his tendencies to have dry spells.

    The bloke is on his way to becoming England's highest scorer ever in tests considering he's still only 25. For someone of that age to have career stats like that is pretty unbelievable to be honest and I can't see how an older player like Carberry could match up to that. Cook is solidly engraved into this England side and his performances DO merit it, how people can even suggest that he's not included is barmy! A poor start to the tour means nothing, these warm up games essentially mean nothing, when the test matches roll along, I'd prefer to see Cook in there than bringing in a new face.

    He's a class act and he needs more people to back him because, like it or not, he'll be in that test side for the next 7/8/9 or even 10 years. We've seen him play top class knocks before, and i really believe he's more than capable of breaking out of this rut and being a big player for us this winter. The spirit in this England side is so much better than it has been for a long time. Since the last time down under we've seen Strauss go from the same sort of criticism Cook's receiving now to being an Ashes winning captain and a really key player for us, Cook's time will come and I don't see why it can't be in this series.

  • Comment number 28.

    Underestimating Australia in an Ashes series is the equivalent of writing off the Germans at football tournaments - and we all know how that usually ends for England !!

  • Comment number 29.

    A much more rational take on the forthcoming series to counter the slightly absurd over-confidence that we're seeing elsewhere. Yes, the Aussies are a pale shadow of their side from a few years ago. What many seem to forget is that.... so are we! With the exception of Swann and Strauss, I don't believe that there is a player in this side who is in better form than he was in 04/05 or who is better than the corresponding player from the same period. The Aussies are indeed in a bad trot, but I find it hard to believe that England would have come away from India with anything other than a 2-0 defeat.

    I realise this sounds overly negative - and I'm not predicting the Aussies to hammer us - but it seems that people are willfully ignoring a great deal of available evidenc. Where has this assumption of a strong batting line-up come from? Yes, our tail can wag a bit but that has often served only to disguise our shortcomings further up the order. Bar Strauss (who hasn't actually been in the best of nick but who I think will come up with the goods this winter) and Trott, we really don't have a batting line-up to compete with the Aussies. We also have an opener in absolutely shocking form (why isn't Carberry with the 1st team squad???).

    Similarly, we have a bowling attack who have frequently struggled in England when conditions aren't to their liking. Australian conditions will be even tougher for them, to say nothing of the Duke ball. I would have Siddle and Johnson (despite form) down as the two leading wicket taking seamers in the series. Swanny will be top.

    I'm perhaps being overly negative to make a point. I genuineelyu think it will be a close series, but the failure of many people to place the form of both sides in some sort of context leads me to think that there may be a few surprised English fans come December.

  • Comment number 30.

    The side that wins this series will be the first one that gets on top. If Australia get on top, it gives their players confidence and I don't think the English players are good enough, with the notable exceptions of Strauss, Prior and Swann to turn that momentum back around. the aussie players are very very good at home and with confidence.

    However should England get on top then recent results and the Austalian media will rest heavy on the home side, and I'm not sure they have the mental strangth (with the notable exceptions of Ponting and Clarke).

    We won't get a series like 2005 or 2009 where it ebbs and flows unless one of the 'lesser lights' (Broad, Bell, Collingwood for England, Hilfenhous, North for Aus) does something extraordinary. In some respects, it's with these players that the fate of the Ashes lies.

    From and English point of view, that fact that we know what our 1st XI will be come the opening day and Australia haven't a clue speaks volumes about preparation, but that counts for very little once the first over has been bowled.....

  • Comment number 31.

    A few points to make:

    The batting line-ups are actually in fairly similar positions. For example, you say Hussey has only a couple of 50's in his last 13 outings. Fairly similar to Pietersen then. You also mention North has a couple of tons this year, and thats about it... well, Cook only has the one iirc. Career-wise, whatever permeatations you have in teh line-ups, the numbers come out very close.

    And the bowling is quite similar too. For all the confidence in guys like Broad, the fact remains that Englands two most experienced bowlers (Broad and Anderson) both average over 30 runs per wicket. Finn has a tremendous average of 23 - but has played just 8 test. Oh, and Swann? Well, yes he has been outstanding in his time so far, averaging 26.5 with the ball.. but in his 5 test versus the Aussies, that goes up to 35.5.

    Swap in Johnson and Hilfenhaus (or Siddle) for Broad and Anderson. Then Bollinger for Finn... its a remarkably similar line-up. The only exception really is Swann (although Steve Smith has a career average of 27, it should be noted, which is not a mile behind Swann's).

    So the main point of difference is whilst the Aussie's are on a losing streak, and have contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on a few occassions this year, England are on a run of wins, and have squeaked out some victories from situations where they might otherwise have lost. But then England have played Bangladesh quite a bit recently. You might easily argue they are due a defeat or two, and the Aussies are due a victory or two. Winning is a habit, and an important one, because it breeds confidence and belief. England have that, the Aussies don't. On the otherhand, it can also breed expectation, which can be a burden, and lead to complacency.

    For me, its at this point of the debate that the traditional strength of the Aussies at home swings the pendulum in their favour. For all their travails, they can take comfort in the fact they know how to win at home. They know England are the ones who have to do the adapting. They know that England are the ones who traditionally blink first.

    The Aussies represent the less risky bet.

    Also, as an aside, don't forget, after losing to the Saffa's at home, the Aussies promptly went and got revenge by beating them in South Africa, and the last time England were in Oz, England had an arguably better side than the current one, and were trounced (albeit by a patently better Aussie line-up than todays).

  • Comment number 32.

    "that fact that we know what our 1st XI will be come the opening day and Australia haven't a clue speaks volumes about preparation"

    Actually, though England are pretty much sorted I am not 100% sure Strauss and Flower are fixed on 11 starters... I think they will conisder giving Morgan and Tremlett at least one appearance in one of the last two warm-ups and if they play really well they could force their way in. Dangerous for too many players to feel they are guaranteed to start at Brisbane.

    In any case, I would be very surprised if we have the same four bowlers appearing in all five Tests. The workload could be excessive.

    Saying that, while we are possibly debating one or two spots maximum, all sorts of options appear open to Australia.

  • Comment number 33.

    "the last time England were in Oz, England had an arguably better side than the current one"

    Matzov - very hard to agree with that point. At Brisbane in 06, we had people like a hideously off-colour Harmison, plus Ashley Giles (never as good as Swann) and Geraint Jones in the team. The only person you'd probably want from the 06 side who won't be available on 25 November is Andrew Flintoff, and of the many players who played then and will play again this time, you can't be suggesting they are generally poorer now than they were then?

  • Comment number 34.

    Much as I love the statistical side of cricket, how on earth do England only have one batsman in the top 20 of the ICC rankings? Strauss, at the very least, should be in there. I doubt the Aussies will make the mistake of taking those rankings at face value. KP, Colly, Cook, Bell, and even Morgan, have the ability to dominate this series.

    The advantage England have this time is that they are a fantastic team unit. They work for each other and have tremendous leadership. All the ingredients are there for any number of players to shine.

    I very often disagree with media assessments of English sports teams who are predicted to achieve greatness, but in this case anything other than a resounding series victory will mean that England have blown it.

  • Comment number 35.

    I did say arguably better, not actually better :-) But I will try to make the argument...

    Harmy off colour yes, agreed. But we really only knew that after his first delivery. Afterall, he'd done pretty well in the Ashes 05. Career bowling avg of 31-ish. Not all that different to our leading two bowlers now.

    Jones, equally on a downward trend as Harmy, but again, that was a sort of unknown at that point. He'd also had a fantastic Ashes series before.

    I take your point on Gilo to Swann.

    However, we also had a green Anderson pitching up. We had Hoggy who was still going strong. Cook was still going strong, KP was at his peak. And, as you mentioned, Flintoff was (at that time) seemingly the worlds best all-rounder. I would argue that Colly and Strauss were just as good now, than then.

    I seem to recall in 06 there was similar optimism on our side, as there is now. We were Ashes holders, and we had drawn with India, in India, lost to Pakistan in Pakistan, and then mashed Pakistan in England, and drawn with Sri Lanka in England. We were in a fairly good place. Meanwhile the Aussies hadn't played Test cricket for something like a year at the time. There were not the unknowns there are now, I accept that, but equally, guys like Martyn were under pressure. Clark was coming back from injury. We supposedly had the Indian eye over Gilly, and Langer was struggling with the short ball.

    But yes, its small margins, and the Aussie team were, as I said, patently better at that point, than they are now.

    However, all that is really a minor back issue. The main issue for me is, yes, England have a better chance than in previous years. Better even than when Gatt actually won the thing. But equally, there are manifest reasons that the Aussies are the bookies favourites, in what is, on paper, a very tight contest. The Aussies are not in quite the crisis they appear to be, and England are not as strong as is being made out in some quarters.

    For what its worth, I've plumped for 2-2

  • Comment number 36.

    I agree with most of the posters on here that suggest Stuart Broad will be key. If he bowls line and length, he should be able to take wickets. If he bowls like he did in Cardiff where he was trying too hard to create variation and was bowling inconsitent length, he will get smacked left, right and centre.

    I am astounded that Strauss isn't in the top 20 batsmen in the ICC rankings. He will be a big key for how England amass the runs. I am worried about Cook as I recall in the last series in Australia he kept chasing his off stump and getting nicks and caught in the slips. I think he should speak to Trescothick who was master at leaving deliveries alone that were aimed at his off stump.

    As much as Colly has been out of form, there might be a situation in the series where we might need someone to bat for 4-5 hours to salavage a draw and I don't think there is anyone else in the world I would want coming in to bat under those circumstances other than Colly.

    Swann will be massive. He will be Englands match winner!!

    England 2-1

  • Comment number 37.

    " think they will conisder giving Morgan and Tremlett at least one appearance in one of the last two warm-ups and if they play really well they could force their way in."

    Oliver. I take your point about Morgan but I don't think Tremlett will get his first game in the first Test. Injuries permitting a 4-man attack of Anderson, Broad, Finn and Swann seems nailed on to me (we can have the discussion about 4 or 5 man bowling attacks and whether the batting ability of Swann and Broad, or the bowling of Colly and matbe KP makes up for the lack of a quality allrounder another time!). And I hope these four camn stay fit through the series cos that attack looks capable of leaking runs at a decent rate to me - replace Anderson with the inexperienced Tremlett and we've got what looks like a muck weaker attack.

    Morgan does have a chance if he goes big in the warm-up games but who does he come in for? Presumably Bell or Collingwood? I suspect they will start the first test with the XI that played the first warm-up game vs. W Australia unless one of the players in possession has a really poor couple of games, with a view to bringing in Morgan should thungs not go well after the first two tests.

    What would your starting XI be if you picked it today?

  • Comment number 38.

    35. Thanks for your comments. You're absolutely right - the expectation was for a very competitive series four years ago. The big problem with 06-07 was the rushed build-up, plus the Trescothick situation hardly helped matters (though clearly that was through no fault of his own). A 2-2 result isn't a bad call. Long time since there's been a drawn series.

    37. My starting XI if I picked it today would be the side who played WA, but I'd love to see Cook get a score in Adelaide just to settle everyone's nerves a bit. Think he might, pretty friendly conditions there on the whole.

  • Comment number 39.

    I would have to disagree with some of the pessimism posted so far. I personally am backing England to win without losing a test for a number of reasons.

    Firstly, both sides look like they are going to go in with a fairly conservative approach- picking 6 batsmen and 4 bowlers (albeit watson is classed as an all rounder, but has rarely stayed fit enough throughout a series to be threatening), would suggest it will be difficult to take the 20 wickets needed to win a test match.

    Secondly, I don't believe the conditions and England's batting line up is as worrying as has been made out. The summer series against Pakistan actually provided some remarkably tough batting conditions. Alistair Cook said something along the lines of it being tougher than playing in Australia the last time the ashes was over there, so that should actually stand the players in good stead for the challenges ahead. The likes of Amir and Asif swung the ball throughout the innings at 90mph and that simply wont happen in Australia. The pitches go flat after the opening spell and thats when concentration becomes key- and when world class bowlers come into their own, and Australia don't have the latter anymore.

    Thirdly, Australia seem to have lost the habit of "killing teams off" recently- the recent one dayer against sri lanka where a record 9th wicket partnership saw them lose their 7th game on the bounce as an example- and that goes back to lacking the world class bowlers to run through the lower order. Allied to this, the batting form of Swann and Broad, who both average 25+ coming in at 8 and 9 are more than capable pf getting england out of trouble when needed (last test against Pakistan for instance).

    Finally, winning is a habit, and whilst England look to be developing it, they even finally managed a win at the WACA for the first time in God know's how long the other day- Australia seem to be losing it. Whilst it is never that simple, and the chances are that conditions/ umpiring decisions/ moments of good fortune or excellent fielding can change the course of the game, I am very optimistic about the series. Preparation will also be important, but I think the absolute key factor will be whether England choke on the big stage after all the build up...but for now I would have faith in the level headed flower/strauss combination!

    Should be a cracking series!

  • Comment number 40.

    The England team now is vastly superior to the one that toured in 06 for so many reasons. To lose Trescothick, Simon Jones and captain Michael Vaughan from the team that won the ashes in 05 was a huge blow. The fact that Flintoff was captain was a joke and seriously affected his form with the bat and ball. To pick Geraint Jones and Ashley Giles ahead of Monty Panesar and Chris Read was baffling considering they'rd been playing all summer and were in good form. Add the poor form of Harmison, Strauss and Bell made it a disasterous tour. There was no unity, no leadership, no determination and no form playing against an Australia team at their destructive best.

    I'm confident England will win this series 2-1. They have a more settled line-ups and the better form going into the series. People are making a big deal about the lack of swing but people seem to forget that England's seamers are also pretty quick and have more consistant lines than the likes of Johnson and Bollinger. I also think that some of the England batsmen will benefit from not playing in swinging conditions as well as series against Australia bringing the best out of players like Pietersen and Collingwood. Swann and Broad will be the key for England.

    This Australia team is there for the taking. If England can't win this series, there's something wrong!

  • Comment number 41.

    England has a fine chance. Visiting bowlers look deadly and batsmen are settling fast. But one should never under estimate the Aussies, especially in their own den and against their arch rivals. I am eagerly waiting for the Ashes Series. Good luck to the two sides.

  • Comment number 42.

    Like u said if England cant beat this Aussie team, i dont know when they will be able to.

    Their just so much better in every single department. England have a better captain, better batsmen, better fielders and better bowlers who are in form thats the important part, theres always talk about Mitchel Johnson as if hes some sort of Jacques Kallis in the making but hes nothing of the sort! Id go as far as saying the guy is a pretty poor cricketer. I cant believe the selectors have stuck with Marcus North for so long too, hes a average batsman. Shane Watson was only good against Pakistan, hes been pretty anonymous since...

    Forget about 2-1, 3-1 or whatever timid results ppl are expecting 5-0 to England is most definitely on the cards. And thats not me being overly optomistic, i genuinely think this English is better than the Aussies.

  • Comment number 43.

    English Cricket supports on here, and most places in general seem to have developed a masterful ability to forget just how enthusiastic you all were this time 4 years ago. The comfort of hindsight, brought about from so many decades of failure perhaps? But as with every new sporting event, this one will be different! This time England will get it right?

    Both teams seem to have more weaknesses than strengths, which hopefully will make for great drama.

  • Comment number 44.

    I would not read too much into England beating Western Australia. The current WA side probably would not win many games at district level in NSW, Vic or Tas at the moment. I just wonder - come mid December, if things are not going to plan, will Sir Ian start questioning out loud why the players arrived in Australia for so long before the first test. It cannot be good sitting in hotel rooms for months on end :-)

  • Comment number 45.

    Re: matzov 11.47 Flintoff was (at that time) seemingly the worlds best all-rounder.

    Unfortunately, it was really only the English media and English fans that thought this. During this period, and indeed before and after, Jacques Kallis was undoubtedly the best all-rounder in the world. He was SA’s best batter and bowler, not to bad in an esteemed test nation. Flintoff was a bowler who could bat a bit. Indeed, no one would be too surprised if Flintoff went a spell without a score. They would be extremely surprised if Kallis did. Although Flintoff was a better bowler, Kallis could have merited a place in the team on his bowling alone.

    I hate that I have to champion the cause of this SA all-rounder (as I am a die hard Aussie) but other players are continually praised as the best all-rounder if they have a few good knock and take a few wickets. He is undoubtedly the best.

    Here are their stats, decide for yourself…

    Jacques Kallis

    Competition Test
    Matches 137
    Runs scored 10,843
    Batting average 54.76
    Top score 189*
    Balls bowled 17,550
    Wickets 261
    Bowling average 31.55

    Andrew Flintoff

    Competition Test
    Matches 79
    Runs scored 3,845
    Batting average 31.77
    Top score 167
    Balls bowled 14,951
    Wickets 226

  • Comment number 46.

    Bob - I completely agree. I did insert the clause seemingly in the sentence, and did not offer it as a definitive statement.

    As good as Fred was, the cold statistics tell the story, and always have done. He had a few golden patches in his career but, in fact, England were often, statistically, a better team without him - I can't remember the exact numbers now, but iirc, post 05 the win/loss numbers show this quite starkly. The cricket write Lawrence Booth wrote about this often in his blogs.

    I was not trying to knock down this current England sides claims to being a decent side. I think they are. But much of the talk has been that they are vastly better than the Australians. I hope this proves correct, but as of right now, there is little hard evidence (man for man) to back that up, outside of the fact England are on a winning run, and Australia are not.

  • Comment number 47.

    I don't think anyone is claiming that England are a 'vastly' better team, it's pretty close. I would just suggest that at the stage both sides are at right now, in terms of form going into the series, having a settled line-up and potential injuries to key players, England should win fairly comfortably.

    I always look at bowling line-ups going into any series and I believe England to be quite a lot stronger in that department. Swann will shine and Broad seems to be slipping escaping the pressure with all of the focus being on Anderson and Finn. He will be vital.

  • Comment number 48.

    #47, I'm still surprised at people's notion that our bowling line-up is that much stronger than the Aussies (Swann is the obvious exception here and it may well be that he will be the difference). Personally, I see the Aussie seamers as being stronger man for man than their English counterparts, less reliant on swing and movement in the air and far more accustomed to the Kooka (I realise that this final point has been made a great deal, but I don't think that the importance of the ball is being overstated). Johnson may not be in great nick, but his record demonstrates that he is capable of taking wickets and producing devastating spells, especially on home turf. I expect Siddle and Hilf, fitness permitting, to be the leading seamers in the series.

    Where I think England definately do have the advantage is in the field, and it surprises me that people forget this discipline when comparing the two teams. If, as expected, the pitches are batsmen friendly and there are long spells of bowling that struggle to make inroads (ahh, back to some proper test-cricket!) then the abilty of a side to keep up pressure in the outfield, force batsmen to gamble for their runs and take the half chances that come around maybe once a session will be absolutely crucial. This is what forces batsmen into giving their wicket away and I think is the area - spin apart - where England really do hold the upper hand.

  • Comment number 49.

    #48, I've really not seen any evidence of that. I think your first two points are really features of their respective countries. What I mean is, you would expect English bowlers to be more reliant on swing playing their domestic cricket in England and you would expect Australia to be better at using the Kooka as it is their 'national ball' so to speak. I do agree that the ball is significant though. It is my view that Mitchell Johnson is overrated, his line is so wayward at times, he makes Steve Harmison look like Glenn McGrath! He'll take wickets yes, tall left arm bowlers do make life difficult so you would expect that, but this isn't the first time he's been through a poor run of form which I think is unusual for someone who hasn't been playing international cricket for too long. Hilfenhaus is probably their most consistent seamer and Siddle is good but I don’t think either are world beaters. There still seems to be a couple of question marks over who will be selected as well.

    England’s attack is more settled, the four of them have been bowling together all summer. There is good balance as Anderson has good experience and Finn is a very exciting young prospect. The fact that Swann can turn the ball on virtually any surface I think makes the lack of swing much less of an issue. I do thinkthat this is being made far too much of anyway! It’s all a matter of opinion of course but I just don’t see anything in the Australian attack that I think English batsmen need to get overly worried about.

  • Comment number 50.

    We are at last seeing something of cyclical nature of international cricket. For 15 years or so Australia had two of the greatest bowlers of all-time, along with some top batters that fed off them. They knew that even if they were rolled over 250, they were still well in the match. England have real stability for the first time and have few selection concerns as everyone in the team is a proven player with a winning mentality. I didn't think I would be saying that a few years ago.
    Having said all that, I would never write-off the Aussies on their home patch. I think it will be as close as 2009 and a single session might decide the series.

  • Comment number 51.

    Australia are certainly, by their recent very high standards, in a serious trough. They are, however, playing at home, where they have been very hard to beat, and playing against England in an Ashes series when they always raise their game. It won't be easy.

    To offset that, England have a very settled, balanced side, brimming with justifiable confidence, and the warm up games show people coming into form. That includes the bowlers who haven't sent down too many no balls, have found the right lengths, and Anderson even getting some swing. Swann will always be reliable. By contrast Australia are in a state of some flux, and there are several players looking over their shoulders for their places.

    Too much is made of the 5-0 whitewash last time (I was there). I expect it from the Aussie media, but the team was missing several star players: the captain and star batsman, Vaughan, Simon Jones who was a stand-out bowler in the 2005 victory, and Trescothick who left at the last minute and was a devastating opener. To cap it all Flintoff was never really fit with his ankle (and shouldn't have been made captain anyway). It was hopeless from the start. Things are very different this time.

    I suspect a couple of very close games, with some badly bitten finger nails, but come the end in Sydney, England to be 2-1 winners. And don't lose sight of the fact that England only have to draw, so the pressure is on Australia from the start. If England get it right at the Gabba, the Urn will be coming home.

  • Comment number 52.

    I think this is an even contest I see no great differences in team strength. Australia have home advantage, which is not to be sneezed at and England have the winning habit. The first test is crucial. It will be a great series and I have a feeling in my water that England will sneak it.

  • Comment number 53.

    People are getting ahead of themselves. It will be a close series but that doesn't mean that England are going to win, just lose by a close margin. Australia are just about impossible to beat at home.

  • Comment number 54.

    Australia "seem" to have more to worry about than England. There doesn't seem so many "if's" surrounding England as in the past, such as Flintoff's fitness or who's going to bat at thre,e etc. England have a very confident bowling attack and the batsmen appear to gelling nicely. The Australians have no such comforts for once. No knee trembling match winning bowlers and Ponting aside, no batters capable of taking the game away in a session or two. So, as long as James Anderson doesn't bowl the first ball in Brisbane to "second slip" (assuming England bowl first), then the tone will be set. Confidence in all things is vital to success and it kind of reminds me of when England won the Rugby World Cup against Australia- you just knew they'd win. But, don't expect us to win 5-0, more like 2-1 or 3-1. Can't wait.

  • Comment number 55.

    Interesting that England fans are so regularly accused of "getting ahead of themselves". Out of 54 comments so far, I only saw one or two predicting an easy English victory. Half of the rest were England fans sounding a note of caution, or of cautious optimism, and the other half from Aussies or miserable Englishmen (far too many of the latter, in fact) telling us we're all deluded.

    This is likely to be a close-fought series between two teams that, while mediocre, have an awful lot to play for, and are both likely to improve in the short term. Indeed if either or both teams hit their stride in this series, accusations of mediocrity will rapidly ring hollow. Bring it on!

  • Comment number 56.

    As Michael Vaughan said a few weeks ago, Australia no longer have the X Factor. And that just about sums it up, really. Apart from Ponting there are no batsmen who would really put fear in to your heart, no bowlers who would really scare the life out of you and certainly no all-rounder who who could change the course of a match in a session.

    On the last tour England were left pyschologically traumatised, not just after the First Test, but after the first ball of the First Test!! Name me another test bowler who would have bowled so incompetantly to 2nd slip, other than the overated Steve Harmison? Incidents like this set the mood very quickly and Australia new England were nervy, while England became anxious and nervy. Consequently the Ashes became a No Contest.

    But like the great West Indian team before them, all sides eventually are toppled and Australia are no exception in my opinion. Don't get me wrong, Australia wont go down through lack of trying, but to me England just have the best opportunity in years to retain the Ashes as I think they are better all round and have enough bowling in reserve if they need it. It's no surprise that the Academy squad is touring Australia as well. You just get the feeeling that this is the best planned tour by England in years and for once we are not reliant on just one man- Andrew Flintoff. His form, mood and fitness seemed to dominate the team and when all those elements were in place, the rest followed. Unforunately, all these elements were never in place often enough.

    So expect England to win 2 or 3 - 1

  • Comment number 57.

    and now Hauritz is dropped.
    as the article states - England may not be the strongest team in all departments - but the reality is that they are stronger than Australia.
    Discipline among the quicks, no resorting to short stuff on wickets that will not help that much -

    we will win.


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