A joint feature between Martyn Corrin & Cameron Burge
After two and a half years of waiting, another Ashes series is upon us. They will come thick and fast from here onwards but for now all eyes are on England (and Wales). They are friends a lot of the time but come what may, Martyn Corrin of England and Cameron Burge of Australia are fierce and parochial opponents of one another as they seek glory for the their respective home nations in cricket's ultimate series.
Each was tasked with providing five reasons why their team would win the series; here are the results.
The English View - Martyn Corrin
England's batting is far from perfect. We all know it, and that's before we consider the prospect of Kevin Pietersen being unavailable, unfit or out of sorts - though his return to county cricket suggested there wasn't too much to worry about on that front for England. Joe Root has made a bright start but that's all it is so far, Compton has more doubters than fans and Bairstow is yet to pass three figures, though Compton will miss out, initially at least. And yes, Bell and Trott aren't quite scaling the heights they each did when England last played Australia in Test Cricket. All that being said, it is a batting line-up which is far superior to Australia?s, whom have only one batsman that is likely to give England fans sleepless nights. His name is Michael Clarke, and in fact he did just that to yours truly, the night in question being that between day four and five at Lord's in 2009 when it seemed he might pull off something unthinkable.
He didn't, of course, but there is no doubting his brilliance. Very possibly the greatest batsman in the world, albeit one who has spluttered miserably against England as often as he has plundered our bowlers all over the show. Yes, he has improved out of sight since his unspeakably awful 2010-11 series, but he also went missing at the business end of the 2009 series and you'd be naive to think James Anderson and co won't remind him of that when the opportunity arises. That's if his bad back, brought on by carrying around a bunch of numpties, doesn't flare up again. The next best batsman is probably Brad Haddin, who is no slouch. It's a shame he gets to play because originally I had written that Peter Siddle was second best, he'll have to settle for third if picked, so it's fair to say there's a lot of pressure on Clarke.
If Clarke stays fit 250-300 will be the average first innings score for Australia. If he doesn't, expect a few more days like Boxing Day 2010.
Slowly working his way to the top of England's all-time wicket-taking charts, James Anderson has surefootedly silenced his doubters since the last Ashes on these shores. Then, he came off a great prior twelve months and played a blinder at Lord's and Edgbaston before disappearing faster than an Australian at the sound of a police siren. He hasn't been perfect since then - his performance against South Africa was disappointing - but it cannot be questioned that he is far superior to any other bowler that will play in this series (Warne comeback notwithstanding). Australia should know - he made them look like they hadn't done any homework at all during the last Ashes. Though actually?
Australian batsmen these days aren't much good at playing the moving ball (they aren't much good at playing any balls, but I already used that one in my previous point) and Anderson just happens to be a great exponent of the fine art that is swing bowling. Additionally, when things don't go his way, Jimmy circa 2010-13 is not the liability that his young self was in such circumstances. While some may scoff at the concept of bowlers taking wickets at the other end, you'd be hard pressed to deny that golden arms like Broad and Finn have benefitted from Anderson working over plenty of batsmen over the past couple of years.
Australia have some hotshot pacers that can certainly come to England and cause significant damage and could go on to become excellent bowlers. But there is nobody you would swap for Anderson, and he will lead England to victory.
When Plan A Fails, Revert to Plan A
As alluded to, Australia have a few pace bowlers that, if they manage to keep their limbs on for long enough, will see England fall for a few lower totals than we may like. Pattinson, Harris, Siddle, Starc, Bird, there's a world-leading attack in there, potentially. I mean, the great Mitchell Johnson didn't even make the squad, what does that tell you?! Yes, they are a bunch of crocks, but that's neither here nor there. Well actually, it is, but let's give them their dues. They are a cracking bunch of fast bowlers, the sort of cricketers that any Englishman over the age of twenty is conditioned to expect from the enemy.
But here's the thing. I remember Headingley 2009. I was actually there on day one, which is probably why I remember days two and three better, but I digress. The joys of the following, and final, test in that series and then the laughable mauling of our supposed rivals in 2010-11 have still not quite healed the pain I felt as I watched us capitulate to masterful seam bowling and then an exquisite slaying from Ricky Ponting. But, it served a greater purpose. The Australian selectors, who generally act with the sort of intelligence that makes Shane Watson such a great ambassador for cricket, saw that four seamers worked at Headingley and thought, mmm yeah I'll have me some of that. For The Oval. They based their selection for The Oval around events at Headingley. Yeah, just reflect on that for a minute.
So anyway. Nothing much has changed in the grand scheme of things. Australia may or may not play a spinner, but if they do then said spinner (Nathan Lyon) will do very little, because their spin bowling stocks are, how do I say it, not great. Aussies will, rightly, point to the fact that Graeme Swann is not somebody with a great record against Australia. They won't, and shouldn't, fear him. Nonetheless, if there's a chase on in the 4th and the pitch has worn sufficiently, it will be Swann who takes the wickets that crush the deluded Australian hopes of victory, just like at Lord's, The Oval and Adelaide. If it's England chasing on day five, there's a fair chance you'll see a part time spinner or pacers running themselves into the ground. Even if Australia do play a spinner, he'll do nothing. One way or another, Australia are screwed when conditions aren't pace-perfect, and their tendency to over rely on pace is hardly going to be effective when they have the cricketing equivalents of Darren Anderton and Jamie Redknapp leading their attack.
It seems funny to think that there were ever debates as to whether Matt Prior was a better player than Brad Haddin or MS Dhoni before the key series of 2010 and 2011, but it really was a point of contention. Now if you dared to suggest such a thing you'd be whipped off by the men in coats quicker than you can say 'Martin Place'. Unfortunately, Australia have opted not to go with Matthew Wade, presumably because he would struggle keeping wicket to underarm if there was no batsman, but Brad Haddin had been on a notable decline prior to his recent dropping and his keeping is, well, not great.
Haddin can certainly bat, and has thwarted England plenty before now, but he has quite the tendency to play ridiculous shots. A lot of batsmen do, but it's quite galling when someone as capable as Haddin throws it away in such a manner. It would be fair to say that there is more chance of Haddin hitting a daddy hundred than Matt Prior, but who would you rather have walking out for you at 140-5? I'll give you a clue: it's not Brad Haddin. And unfortunately for Australia, there's a good chance he will face such situations throughout the series.
Prior will keep better, and bat better. These things are rather important. Advantage England.
The Winning Touch
You either remember the bad old days, or you know about them. But just in case you don't, allow me a sentence or two to quickly enlighten you. As hard as it may now be to believe, England went eighteen years without an Ashes victory, and our players became accustomed to losing to the Aussies, wilting at the mere sight of them.
Now, of course, the tables have turned. If you take England's likely XI, nine of them know just what it's like to thrash our lovely cousins from down under. If you can level a very real criticism at the current England team, it's that they can be somewhat petulant when things don't go their way. This, though, seems to be a consequence of the way confidence drives them on. They will step onto the field knowing they have what it takes to beat Australia, because they have done it before, at home and away, and there is no reason for them to think this time round should be any different.
Australia, on the other hand, have only Clarke who can remember what it's like to beat England, and while they won't be filled to the brim with players from the previous defeats, there are a few survivors who will be quickly reminded just how bad they were, and still are. Australian 'mental toughness' isn't what it once was and you can see the English getting right under their skin, and early on.
The Australian View - Cameron Burge
Depth in Bowling
While England will, understandably, rely heavily on James Anderson, Australia has the better rounded attack with genuine depth and variety in its fast bowling. Whilst the likes of Stuart Broad, Steve Finn and Graeme Swann are known quantities and are capable of quality spells; Anderson's fortunes really will decide how well England performs this series with the ball. By contrast, Australia fields a fast bowling attack which is the most exciting for a generation. The experience of Siddle is complimented by the raw pace of Pattinson and Starc, who also brings with him late left arm swing. Jackson Bird and Ryan Harris are metronomic and also fast enough to cause England all manner of problems. The oft-maligned Nathan Lyon will start as front line spinner. He's no Shane Warne, but neither is Graeme Swann. A far more redoutable character than he's given credit for, Lyon learns quickly, as evidenced by his performace in India where he bowled poorly in the first test, was dropped but by the last took a five wicket haul. He's adaptable and a more important part of the Australian set up than he's given credit for.
With warm (by glacial English standards) conditions forecast for the first two tests at least, the inclusion of Shane Watson will also be an advantage for Australia. While England will turn out a four man attack, Watson provides a genuine fifth bowling option, albeit Clarke will need to use him in short spells given that he's opening the batting (and made of glass).
Everyone who follows cricket will be aware of Clarke's stellar run of form in the past 18 months, and of his chronic back condition. Australian supporters sighed with relief when he appeared to be approaching top form in the last of the warm up matches, and batted for a lengthy period in compiling his hundred. Clarke performed well in the 2009 series, and with this being his third Ashes tour, the experiece he brings to the line up cannot be under estimated. Australia needs one or two batsmen to catch a decent run of form alongside Clarke, and they'll be well on the way.
Haddin's return for this series is the feel good story of the Ashes. Struggling with form and injury towards the end of his first tenure as Australian wicketkeeper, he left the most recent tour of the West Indies when his infant daughter developed a serious illness. His replacement, Matthew Wade, initially took his chance and Haddin must have thought his days of playing Test cricket were over. Instead, a consistent first class season with the bat and Wade's failures with the gloves have given Haddin a second shot, also as vice captain. He brings further experience to a young Australian team, and does so with clarity of thought and the positive attitude which comes from having a chance to play again at the highest level. I expect Haddin to have a good series with both bat and gloves, and to shepherd a more than handy lower order to some winning totals. Moreover, he's a far superior 'keeper up to the stumps than Wade, a factor which will only help Nathan Lyon.
Some blokes have it, others don't. Some are formulaic, others have an innate flair and sense of the game. Michael Clarke's ability to sum up a situation on the field and to pull the right rein in terms of field settings and bowling changes makes Alistair Cook look like a cardboard cut out. Never afraid to try things, Clarke is an innovative and aggressive skipper who is prepared to risk in order to gain reward. With a five man attack at his disposal, Clarke will have options available to him which Cook doesn't. In a close run series, the ephemera often counts.
All bowlers love taking wickets. This bloke, he gives the impression he genuinely hates the unfortunate sod at the other end of the pitch. James Pattinson bowls 95mph outswingers. Since cricket has been played, it's a recipe for success. Much has been made of Australia's batting line up in the lead up to this series, however, England will be fielding a rookie opener and number six, a number three who's down on form, Kevin Pietersen who's just back from injury (though unquestionably a class player) and Ian Bell. There is a fragility in England's line up which certainly wasn't there in 2010-11, and this time in Pattinson Australia has an attack led by a bloke who can exploit it. We all stood and cheered as Hilfy bowled his 500th innocuous outswinger of the last Ashes series, but you don't get that with Pattinson. He's taken wickets at home, and in India. The conditions will suit him in England, and I won't be surprised to see him finish the series as leading wicket taker.
Us English have a tendency to overrate our sporting sides when they get within a sniff of greatness. The fall from grace of the 2005 Ashes winning side, and to an extent the 2011 world-leaders, proved in a way that nobody falls victim to the hype quite like the players themselves. And that is leading some to believe that there is just too much cockiness about the English currently, and that Australia may surprise us.
But let's get real. Australia arrived on these shores as a rabble and have developed into an even greater shambles in their time here thus far, and that is unfortunate as even without internal strife they just aren't as good at cricket as us. It's a shame really; victories in 2005, 2009 and 2010-11 brought immense satisfaction; this time round victory is fully expected and therefore a trouncing is required to bring about such a level of euphoria. Fortunately, the gulf in class is big enough for that to be the case. It's almost endearing to see that people like Cameron will stay up late at night powered by blind optimism, but if the long overdue good weather sticks around then England should be aiming for a whitewash, and nothing less.
This series shapes up as one of the more intriguing for quite some time, principally because of the number of newish faces in both sides. Unless the weather turns preposterously hot (that is, over 20 degrees) I think it will be a bowlers' series. Batting is not the strength of either side in this contest and there are fragilities in both line ups. I think Australia has the better attack to exploit those frailties, and for this reason I would expect normal service to resume and for the Ashes to return home to Australia. The English might be full of bravado, but they've always been like a balloon - full of hot air and prone to go flat quickly. It has ever been thus, and so it shall be again this Northern summer. They start as favourites in the eyes of most, something which never sits well with them because of their longstanding, and frankly thoroughly deserved, national sporting inferiority complex. When the dust settles come August, it'll be Ashes to Australia.