This new look Aussie side does not have the same aura of invincibility that the McGrath-Warne side had, just look at the home series loss to South Africa and their drawn series against Pakistan in England this summer, nevermind the fact that they relinquished control of the Ashes again in England last summer. But make no mistake about it, Australia are still a formidable opponent in their own backyard and England will have to play bloody well in order to beat them. Ponting will be desperate not to become the first Australian ever to lose 3 Ashes series as captain and we all know how well Australia responded the last time they lost the Ashes…
Ponting’s inexperienced side have not had the brilliant lead up to the Ashes that they enjoyed before the 5-0 demolition of England in 06/07. Having drawn a series against Pakistan they are currently 1-0 down against India and looking likely to lose that series (which would put them below England in the ICC rankings). However this Australia side has a lot of talent and I’m sure every ounce of it will be squeezed out against the old enemy.
The opening pair of Watson and Katich is looking very strong, both of them have had very good years, being among Australia’s top run getters. England will have to use the new ball well in order to get into that middle order quickly. With Ponting at 3 and Clarke at 4 that top order looks in much better shape than England’s currently, but hey, thats just one pessimists opinion! Ponting has been going through a tough time in the last few years and although he is still a class act the English could see him as potentially vulnerable whilst Clarke is still lacking maturity in his batting, he seems impatient and I can’t see him knuckling down and scoring a biggy, however he was one of Australia’s most prolific batsman in the last Ashes.
Hussey will come in at 5 and although he has been through a bad patch recently I think he has come out the other side and there is no doubt about his quality and the threat that he poses to England. After scoring a century in the first innings of the Bangalore Test, it looks like Marcus North has booked his place in the Ashes side, England may see him as someone they can target early on having been out for 10 or less in 16 out of 31 innings so far in his Test career. England must be wary of him if he gets a start as he has the ability to make a start count, something England have been poor at recently. With Haddin and Johnson at 7 and 8 there is potential for some lower order frustration for England although Haddin is recovering from injury so he may not be at his best, in which case they have a very able deputy in Tim Paine.
Australia currently have a bit of an injury crisis with their fast bowlers. Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle are both currently out with injury and I do not know whether they will be fit to play a part in the Ashes. Even with these injuries however Australia still have a strong pace attack with the inconsistent Johnson, and the very impressive Hilfenhaus and Bollinger. Hilfenhaus in particular has impressed me on their tour to India, he has shown that he does not just rely on swing to take wickets, he is very accurate and therefore keeps the run-rate down and bowls a good bouncer. All of this means that when it isn’t swinging he can still be an effective bowler (Anderson take note).
Now on to a more positive note, the one area where England can definitely say they have the upper hand… the spin department. I’m sorry Nathan Hauritz, your decent, but your not even in the same stratosphere as Swann or any of the Indian spinners for that matter who are as we speak proving me right by running through Australia’s batting (something Hauritz was completely incapable of doing to India). I’m sure that against England he will take some wickets and not go for TOO many runs (mainly down to England being hopeless at playing spin) but there is almost no chance of him winning a game for Australia in the 4th innings, in recent times Ponting has had to turn to his part-timers for wickets. So if there is hope to be found for England I believe it comes when comparing Swann (currently the best spinner in the world) and Hauritz (not a Test Match bowler)
So there it is folks, my run-down on the Ashes. I’m grudgingly going to stick with my 2-1 to Australia prediction however I do see hope for England if things go their way. I will be writing more on the Ashes as it progresses. I am fortunate enough to be in Tasmania where England will be playing a warm-up game against Australia ‘A’ so I will be able to give an update to all those fans that are stuck on the other side of the world desperately craving news on how England are shaping up.