Ashes HQ ASHES HQ 2010-2011

England continue smoothly, now that

England continue smoothly, now that

Well, England’s Ashes preparations continue to progress serenely, the latest victory coming against an Australia ‘A’ side that had few answers to some very good cricket played by the tourists.

Before I look at that latest tour match in more detail, I’ll continue scratching my head while trying to fathom out the latest reason for Australia experimenting with another spinner from their ranks and excluding Nathan Hauritz from the squad of 13. I must confess this did come as a surprise, not because Hauritz has impressed enough to be warranted automatic selection, but I thought he was probably deserving of the first shot at the Poms, for the sake of continuity, and I query whether Xavier Doherty is actually that much better than Hauritz or if it is a change for change’s sake.

I suppose Hauritz must count himself fortunate to have had his name drawn out of the raffle as frequently as he has in the past 12-18 months, this is the only process I can think of that Hilditch and co. implement to decide their spin option.

The selection of Steve Smith in the squad you can understand, he’s a 21 year-old seemingly highly rated Test player of the future, who can gain experience of being around the squad for a much anticipated Ashes series, but realistically he shouldn’t really be anywhere near the starting XI, and if he is, perhaps it’s a reflection of where the Australian side is at right now.

It’s unusual that much of the discussion is surrounding Australia’s selection policy rather than England’s when we come to an Ashes series. The only possible decision to be made is whether Steve Finn has done enough to gain favour over Chris Tremlett, or even Tim Bresnan, after they both boosted their chances with impressive returns and displays of control and patience in the latest warm-up game.

Tremlett has developed his frail frame of the past into that of a finely tuned heavyweight boxer and following his recent punch that left Jimmy Anderson with bruised ribs, a bout against Audley Harrison is now a realistic money spinner for him.

Bresnan is generally described as a stereotypical honest, hard working, English county seamer, but I think that is to under-estimate what he brings to the squad. He is reliable, you know what you’ll get from him if he is thrown into a Test at late notice, he hits the bat harder than the batsmen anticipate, he has excellent stamina, executes bowling plans that are in place accurately, and can get some reverse swing out of the older ball. His batting is none too shabby either, and for those that have seen the England side performing ‘The Sprinkler’ (can be seen on Swannys Ashes Videos) he undoubtedly leads the way in presentation.

The signs from the game against the Aussies second-string are most encouraging. The depth of the bowling ranks looks good, England admittedly had ideal bowling conditions in the first innings, a very green looking pitch, but we’ve seen in the past if you’re not accurate enough, these advantages can easily be wasted. Ajmal Shahzad was probably the pick of the attack on the opening day, his aggressive approach to bowling twinned with his pacy swingers made him a real handful.

When it came to England’s turn to bat, the pitch had settled down a little, fortunately. Andrew Strauss was unable to continue his rich vein of form, but Alastair Cook spent some more valuable time in the middle, as did Jonathan Trott and Paul Collingwood, who both grew in confidence with every minute spent out there.

There is no doubt, however, who stole the show. Monty Panesar coming in as night-watchman played a blinder. Oh no sorry, it was indeed Ian Bell. He stroked 192 of the most elegant runs you would like to see. Equally adept against pace or spin, his footwork, balance and timing all in perfect sync, and despite Ian Chappell and Ian Healy suggesting he’d batted for too long and it was doing him no good towards the end, he’ll arrive in Brisbane feeling ten-foot tall and confidence at a real high. Although as a Pom you do hope he’s not used up too many of his runs, is that possible anyway ?

What is it with Kevin Pietersen and left-arm spinners ? Regardless of the quality of the bowler, he just seems to over-complicate how he plays them. He has at times even struggled against the most innocuous of left-arm filth (as he once described Yuvraj Singh’s abilities). That is not to say Steve O’Keefe, who bowled him comprehensibly in Hobart, fits into that particular description, but it is bewildering. His method in Bangladesh seemed to be to stay legside of the ball and hit with the spin through the offside, ensuring his front pad remained out of the firing line and the prospect of being dismissed LBW reduced, however, it’s not now hitting that front pad, just the stumps instead!

He is surely too good a batsman for Xavier Doherty to torment him through the series. His positive approach is important, but so is his ability to play each ball on merit and treat the left-armer in the same dismissive manner as he has so many bowlers over the years. Perhaps more a test of mental strength than anything else.

The performance of the England bowlers in the Aussie ‘A’ second innings told Strauss more of his back-up options. It was a much easier pitch to bat on, although there was the odd sign of uneven bounce, yet the attack remained patient. Monty was in containing mood if not totally threatening, his three wickets towards the end was just reward for a disciplined approach.

Strauss and Cook completed the job and a ten-wicket win was ideal preparation going into Brisbane. The option to send the first-string bowling attack up to Brisbane seems to have been the right one, but that will depend if Graeme Swann catches the first delivery of the series direct from a Broad/Anderson loosener!

The worry for us Poms ahead of the opener next week, is the fact there are no worries yet. Preparation seems nigh on perfect, there are no injury concerns, team spirit looks very high, they seem to have gained the respect of the Australian media, the Aussies themselves are unsettled to a degree, it is all too good to be true. Generally when something is too good to be true, it’s because it is. In typical Pom fashion I await the morning’s paper headlining with ‘KP, Swann, Strauss, Bell, Collingwood, Broad and Anderson out of Test opener!” My fingers are firmly crossed that is not to be the case!

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