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The Ashes - Preview
08 Nov 2006
By: Archie Mac


The most anticipated Test series in living memory is set to kick off this November.

With every day of the Test series a sell out, and thousands of Barmy Englishmen set to invade, the series has generated unprecedented interest in the cricketing world.

The big question will be whether this series can be as exciting as the 2005 Ashes series, which could arguably be considered the most exciting in cricketing history.

The short answer is no - how could it possibly equal a series that was 125 years in the making?

The second biggest question is who will win?

The answer to this question is not as clear-cut as the first as there are many variables that must first be considered.

Road To The Ashes

Australia

In the post match fall out that was Australia's first Ashes defeat for over 18 years, a few tough decisions or as the spin doctors prefer to call it new directions were made/undertaken - the axing of Damien Martyn and Jason Gillespie from the Test side with Simon Katich soon to follow; the temporary cessation of Matthew Hayden's ODI career; and the hunt for a genuine all-rounder in the Flintoff mould.

Australia V ICC World XI Won 1-0 (home)

The first Test for the Australians was the much anticipated clash with an ICC World X1. The match itself turned into a fizzer with many of the World 11, seemingly uninterested, and a hungry Australian team winning comfortably by 210 runs. More pleasing was the return to form of Hayden with scores of 111 and 77, and Adam Gilchrist scoring 94 in the first innings.

Australia V West Indies Won 3-0 (home)

A crushing 3-0 win over the West Indies at home followed, with the 'Sheik of Tweak' Shane Warne almost playing with the Windies lower order on occasions, but even more pleasing was the form of new boy 'Mr Cricket' Mike Hussey, who, after a long apprenticeship, seemed liked an old hand at this international cricket caper.

Australia V South Africa Won 2-0 (home)

A tough talking South African captain, Graeme Smith, arrived in Australia and he was still talking tough when he left, but not about his team's performance after a 2-0 defeat. His opposite number Ricky Ponting had a dream series including a hundred in each innings in his 100th Test Match.

Australia V South Africa Won 3-0 (away)

Australia arrived in South Africa to continue hostilities both on and off the field (this time it was Mark Boucher, who said he had lost respect for the Australians)

With no Glen McGrath Australia turned to another fast-medium New South Wales pace man in Stuart Clark to lead them to a 3-0 series whitewash. Throw in some fine batting by Hayden and Ponting, plus the recall and return to form of Damien Martyn not to mention Brett Lee bowling in his best form in the Test arena for a number of years and the Aussies were at the peak of their form.

Bangladesh Won 2-0 (away)

The Aussies finished with a surprisingly tough 2-0 Test series win against a tenacious Bangladesh, relying on an undefeated 201 by night-watchman Jason Gillespie in the second Test. Throw in his eight wickets and the written-off Dizzy was seemingly back in business.

England

What was hoped to be an extended challenge to the Australian position as the No.1 Test nation, turned into a battle to hold off challenges for their own position of No.2 Test nation. The reasons included injuries to Ashes stars Michael Vaughan, Simon Jones and Ashley Giles, a not fully fit Andrew Flintoff, who seemed to take too much responsibility on his own shoulders when captain and a constantly poor run of form in ODI which seemed to put even more pressure on their Test performances.

England V Pakistan Lost 2-0 (away)

The first series for England after the euphoria of their Ashes triumph was a tough one with a tour of Pakistan. After a heartbreaking 22-run defeat in the first Test they ended up losing the three-Test series 2-0. The lion-hearted Flintoff seemed to be almost bowled into the ground.

England V India Drew 1-1 (away)

England's next tour was to the only country that may be even tougher to tour than Pakistan; India. With Flintoff now in charge they showed great resolve and determination to come back from one nil down to draw the series 1-1. This was especially commendable as they were missing two of their best batsman in Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick.

England V Sri Lanka Drew 1-1 (home)

At home against Sri Lanka, England looked easily the better side in the first two Tests, only for Sri Lanka to win the third and draw the series 1-1. England would have been disappointed in their failure to win the first Test after asking Sri Lanka to follow on with poor catching a big factor. The good news for the hosts was the outstanding batting form of Kevin Pietersen who looked a world-class player with every shot in the book and a few of his own design thrown in for good measure.

England V Pakistan Won 3-0 (home)

With Pakistan as visitors England showed signs of returning to their very best form, winning the four-match series 3-0. Paul Collingwood, Peter Bell and again Kevin Pietersen were in fine touch. The mercurial Steve Harmison showed what he is capable of, with an 11 wicket hall in the second Test. The most pleasing thing from an England view point, was the win being achieved without 'Freddie' Flintoff.

Form

Australia

Impressive, ruthless, determined and grimly sedulous, the Australian team has carried all before them since the Ashes in 2005. They have not only won every series they have contested, but have also not dropped a single Test. What is even more impressive is that they have not fallen into the 'Dead Test Syndrome', coming from behind on two occasions to snatch victory against a South African team hell bent on salvaging some pride. Add the fact that they have next to no injury concerns and the Aussies will start firm favourites.

Batting

With captain Ricky Ponting arguably the best batsman in the world leading the way at No 3, the Australian team have a plethora of choices for the top six batting positions. Left-handers Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer will no doubt open the innings, with their record at home being extremely impressive.
The middle order will definitely contain Mike Hussey, but the other two positions will be contested by Damien Martyn, Michael Clarke and possibly Shane Watson.

Bowling

Danger man Shane Warne will be, along with Ponting, the first name put down on the Australian team sheet. The interest will be in the fast bowling positions; Brett Lee and Glen McGrath will almost certainly be there for the first Test, but the third seemer will come down to Watson, Clark or Mitchell Johnson. If a second spinner is preferred then Stuart MacGill will have the front running.

Dark Horse

Batting - Brad Hodge
Bowling - Shaun Tait

England

Talented but inconsistent, England have managed to win only one series since the Ashes 2005. The good news was that it was their latest series, and as the old saying goes "you're only as good as your last game". They are also leaving two of their Ashes heroes at home - one of them, Michael Vaughan, not only the captain of the last Ashes series, but easily England's best batsman on their last visit down under. The other is Simon Jones, a master of reverse swing. Luck may be needed if England are to keep their prized urn.

Batting

It is hard to imagine that England will not open with Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick, even though Tresscothick had a poor home summer averaging only 27. Alastair Cook looks set to make the No 3 spot his own and at 22, he looks destined to be a Test player for years to come while Pietersen will most likely bat at four.

If England decide to play the four pacemen then Collingwood and Ian Bell will contest the No 5 batting spot. Bell finished the English summer in fine form but Collingwood's superb fielding may just give him the edge. With Flintoff at six and most likely Chris Read to retain the gloves for the first Test filling the No 7 position, England look to have a well settled batting side, the one down side being a longish tail.

Bowling

The Ashes bowling heroes of Steve Harmison, Matthew Hoggard and 'Freddie' Flintoff will lead the England pace attack, and if England play a fourth seamer then the erratic Sajid Mahmood will most likely start the series. Mudhsuden Panesar should be given the spin duties for the first Test, but Ashley Giles' superior batting may make this an interesting decision.

Dark Horse

Batting - Ian Bell
Bowling - Ashley Giles or Stuart Broad

Danger Men

Australia

Adam Gilchrist: after a poor Ashes series with the bat 'Gilly' will be setting himself for a big series in what will most likely be his last in Ashes cricket. He struggled against Flintoff in the last series with the blond Englishman claiming his wicket four times, but an hour of this left-handed batsman can change the cause of an entire match.

Brett Lee: The world's fastest bowler and one of the best in ODIs, Lee now at the age of 30 is in his prime as a fast bowler. Extremely fit and hungry for success, Lee may just be Australia's trump card.

Mike Hussey: known as 'Mr Cricket', Hussey rarely fails and has waited a long time to make his dream come true and play in an Ashes series. Bats well with the tail and can play an attacking or defensive game depending on team requirements.

England

Andrew Flintoff: although he no longer seems capable of bowling at 140km+ he is still the man who can single handily win the Ashes for his country. The added pressure of captaincy will either lift him to greater heights or weigh him down with responsibility. The player Australia will fear over all others, with either bat or ball.

Kevin Pietersen: England's answer to Gilchrist on his day there is no more exciting batsman in world cricket. Full of confidence in his own abilities, he can sometimes cross the line from instinct to impetuosity. His duel with Warne will be worth the admission price alone.

Steve Harmison: according to Ian Chappell the most important player in England's chances of retaining the Ashes. On his day almost unplayable, off his day fodder for the side board. His second Ashes trip down under, England will be hoping the experience will stand him in good stead.

History Trivia

Since WW1 every English team that has regained the Ashes in England had retained the Ashes in the following series played in Australia.

1926 England regain the Ashes; 1928/29 England win 4-1
1953 England regain the Ashes; 1954/55 England win 3-1
1977 England regain the Ashes; 1978/79 England win 5-1
1985 England regain the Ashes; 1986/87 England win 2-1

History says England, form says Australia but one just hopes for a series half as good as the Ashes 2005, if so it should be a great summer of Test Cricket.

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