Saturday, November 20

Ashes 2010-11: Preview

England not only have their best chance of finally winning an away Ashes after more than two decades of wait, but they also have a chance of being ruthless: modern sport is not an amateur's pleasure, and for the English cricket team to attain supremacy over the next five-odd years, it is important that it starts stamping its authority on a pathetic Australian team right now. A much more stiff challenge would come whenever it meets India; and there's no better way to prepare for it than to relegate the Aussies to somewhere midway in the Test teams' table.

I have no idea from where will Austalia produce a win: at the most it can hope for inclement weather, poor umpiring decisions, and draws. The biggest thorn in their flesh will be Graeme Swann: also, this time England are not carrying any baggages who only flatter to deceive; rather than the likes of Harmison and Hoggard, England have a well-rounded pace attack without stars: Anderson to swing and zip it, Broad to pepper it short, and Finn and Tremlett as able seam backups. It is important that Broad doesn't get carried away and gets mature: he should start mixing full-length deliveries with his short ones, the stock ones for him. To reiterate, Aussie batting is in doldrums, and I don't see the likes of Katich filling an opener's role beyond making a slow, scratchy half-century at times. Ponting and Clarke are completely out of sorts, while Hussey's been found out now since some time in the international arena; Australia will have to depend on quick runs by Watson at top of the order and a fightback by the lower order. But those are not ideal situations to have: it's the middle order, numbers 3 to 6, that are vital for winning a Test match. It would have been wise for Australia to bring in Cameron White in place of Marcus North; he is a much better batsman, attacks more, plus a genuine spinner compared to North's colorless bowling. But, nowadays, Australian selectors behave more like the English selectors of the last decade, and vice versa.

On the other hand, England's biggest problem ahead of the series looks only to be the enigmatic Pietersen; I don't think he will like that adjective, and he shouldn't. Geniuses like to prove themselves in tough conditions, and that is what he will love to do. However, if England have the series early in their bag, then I will still be tempted to replace him or Trott (whoever's not doing too well) with Eoin Morgan, even if Morgan hasn't played a single warm-up game so far; Pietersen and Trott are around thirty, and it's the mid-twenties' Morgan who is the future for England. He's courageous, and he takes the game to the opposition. He's a mature lad, unlike Bell, who in my books is a far greater worry than Pietersen or Cook. The rest of the English batting lineup is solid: Strauss as always is very reliable, Collingwood is in good nick, and the English lower order led by Swann and Broad know how to knock off quick runs.

The key to this series, and the difference between the two sides, is bowling. Australia haven't got any decent spinner at all, while England have got Swann, the best spinner right now in world cricket. Plus, none of the Australian fast bowlers have any huge kit of unplayable deliveries: Hilfenhaus is honest but one can keep watching him carefully and that's all; Johnson and Siddle are wild and erratic, and I don't see them getting wickets unless the batsmen get overexuberant; while Bollinger can be a little dangerous at the start of a fresh day's spell or at the end of a day, but thereafter, for lack of variety and incision, he is simply not international class. On the other hand, though the English bowling attack is not at the heyday of 2005 (Harmison, Flintoff, and Simon Jones), the present one sticks to its guns and loves to tweedle out the batsmen more by precision than by sheer bluster.

I would love England to whitewash Australia: a fair justice for being at the same receiving end last Ashes in Australia. But is that possible? Yes, I say so, if England start well, and keep the intensity going. They must keep their fielding tight and go for correct reviews. In any case, England should at least win by 3-0 or 4-0, if not more. As I said, I don't see the other column giving any work to the scorer; I just don't see how can Australia win a game!

The Ashes won in Australia will also be a lovely final reply (not that he needs any now, after having inspired England so beautifully over the last year or so) for Andy Flower to all his who-now-say-they-never-said-so detractors. (That being said, the World Cup could be the last remaining dream; England has never won the 50-over one.) Mental strength is the best pedigree, especially in cricket, as has proved Flower, Strauss, and Collingwood: three men whose play and strategies are more marked by pugnacity and audacious determination than desires to bloom only when spring comes.

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