Cook and gang ready for The Ashes


Euan Cunningham

Ashes 2013 Preview

The Ashes – series steeped in history, drama and passion. The Poms and the Aussies slugging it out over two long months that will doubtless feel like two long years. A clash of the titans, where heroes will be born and…Anyway, that’s enough of the hyperbole.

With both sides having up-and-down winters, it’s hard to predict who will go into the 67th Ashes in better form. While England managed their first series win in India in more than 30 years, they were then frustrated and at times outplayed by lowly New Zealand on a succession of lifeless pitches. As for Michael Clarke’s team, after playing consistently against South Africa and Sri Lanka at home, they capitulated in truly startling fashion in India, where a lack of experience and deep divisions within the squad proved catastrophic.

In the upcoming warm-up games, England will expect to comfortably see off New Zealand at home on some bowler-friendly, early season pitches. Things are different for the Australians, with their last Test series being the ill-fated trip to the subcontinent in February. They will of course have the ICC Champions Trophy and a few warm up games in England to grow accustomed to the conditions, but whether that will be enough first-class cricket to ready them for one of the most intense sporting battles of the global calendar remains to be seen.

In terms of the psychological edge, that of course resides firmly in the host’s camp at the moment, after England’s stunning 3-1 series victory Down Under in the winter of 2010/11. The last series on these shores was a 2-1 victory for England, at that time captained by Andrew Strauss. While Alistair Cook has never before captained an Ashes side, his staggering number of runs in the previous encounter in Australia should give him plenty of confidence.

His counterpart Michael Clarke is one of the most in-form batsmen in the world right now. With nine centuries in his last 20 Tests, Clarke was perhaps the only batsman to come out of the series in India with any credit and any runs. However, his ability and temperament as a captain came under serious scrutiny in the latter series, where three players were de-selected after failing to complete a simple homework task. Clarke will have to sort out whatever tensions exist within the squad quickly; an Ashes campaign is no place for a divided camp.

England will, as usual, look to their captain at the head of the batting line-up. Cook has been one of the game’s most consistent run-scorers in the last two years and will feel confident about extending his record of the most Test match centuries achieved by an Englishman. Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell will all have to score big runs too and much will be expected of Cook’s opening partner Nick Compton. As for the bowling, Graeme Swann will be expected to have a major impact, with so many left-handers in the Australian line-up, and England will as usual look to Jimmy Anderson to lead the attack; a role he has excelled in for the approximately past three years.

While the tourists have a very strong seam attack, with Peter Siddle, the mercurial Mitchell Johnson and exciting young talent James Pattinson enough to worry England, there are serious questions about their batting. Though the captain is in good form, the rest of the batsmen looked dangerously out of touch in India, with all of them appearing extremely unsure and hesitant against spin.

Predictions are only remembered if proved foolish and ill-reasoned but I might as well share mine: 3-1 England. On home soil and with a better batting line-up, I foresee a comfortable victory. However, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see an Australian holding aloft that glorious little urn in late August; these are the Ashes, and anything can happen.

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