Wednesday, July 8

Ashes 2009: Preview

While I went horribly wrong in my preview two years back, England went similarly on a wrong path, not playing Monty Panesar in the first Test, and giving all the initiative to Aussies. The onus of poor selection policy this time though seems to be on Australia: a single set of openers both of whom look likely to fail, no all-rounder, and an extremely poor spin option. On the other hand, England, even after a wretched winter and a summer of success against a poor West Indian Test side, look strong: for one, Aussies are weak against spin, and England have an option of plenty after decades, with Graeme Swann certain to give headaches to Aussies and Panesar and Adil Rashid fighting out for the other slots.

Batting well may decide the series fate, since though England seems to have a better attack on paper, they haven't too much in their arsenal should conjectures remain conjectures and speculations remain speculations. Flintoff should last the whole series, Anderson must be the matchwinner he's expected to be, Swann shouldn't become nervous and should hold ascendancy, and Onions and Harmison, whenever played, should at least be taking pressure off from the tired spearheads. These are all ifs and could horribly backfire against a middle order of Ponting, Michael Clarke, and Michael Hussey. I don't have high hopes from Katich, who at the most will last for a scratchy 30, and the new opener, barring an innings or two, and neither from Brad Haddin. Having said that, England must guard against their inability sometimes to take tailenders out quickly, especially with Australia having Mitchell Johnson, who bats better than he bowls!

Ricky Ponting's poor captaincy will be another decisive factor, and one of the things being Johnson's use itself: how much and when he is bowled, and when he is sent in the batting order. If I were Ponting I would send him even above Haddin, since he can be a genuine all-rounder and an extremely destructive one. What strategy does Australia employ against an unflappable Swann will be again crucial: if Flintoff remains fit, they can't afford to remain quiet at both ends. Ponting's own batting form might be crucial: he is a bunny to spinners, and it will be interesting to see what does Strauss do when he comes to crease. Strauss is an inventive captain, and I hope the pressure of Ashes doesn't get to him that he doesn't remain one; he showed against West Indies that he isn't averse to surprise the opposition, and this would be more than handy against Australia under Ponting.

England start as favorites this time. I think the openers Cook and Strauss will be a success, and while a lot has been said that Bopara is going to come unstuck at no. 3 position versus Australia, I think quite the opposite. If Bell is to come back into the team, it should be at the cost of Collingwood, though I would hate a coward taking the place of such a courageous man and I cannot see foresee Bell ever really doing anything other than disservice to England. KP, if he remains fit, should fire really really well: this might be his series! If he and Flintoff remain fit, then Aussies are not going to win even a single match. If problems arise there, then it will become interesting: how well Broad takes up the responsibilities both in batting and bowling departments, and does England show the courage to go to Foster in the latter part of the series, especially if the upper order is clicking well and the bowling needs more support from the wicketkeeper? A forgotten interesting cog is Collingwood himself: I think Flintoff's not going to do anything with the bat this time round, so the middle order relies heavily on KP and Collingwood, and how well Collingwood and Broad can combine and produce partnerships (not to forget Swann as we start entering the lower order, since he's a handy bat too). I don't have any worries about English bowling: Anderson and Swann are enough for the Aussies, and if Flintoff adds to trouble, I don't foresee much there.

My prediction? 2-1 in favour of England, or even 3-1, with one game certainly likely to be a draw, most probably the first one at Cardiff. Hope I am wrong, since who loves draws? :)

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