The first Test of the Ashes series starts in Nottingham later today at Trent Bridge. As always, it is a much anticipated series.
This is the oldest rivalry in our great game.
Regardless of results, Ashes cricket always highlights all the great things our game has to offer: history, tradition, sportsmanship and passion.
One only has to listen to players, coaches, commentators, former players, journalists and cricket fans talk about Ashes cricket to hear the passion in their voices to understand what it means to people.
A good example is listening to former players (captains in some instances) commentating when Australia play England (or when England play Australia, depending where you are).
The pride oozes out of the likes of Taylor, Chappell, Gower and Botham, and you appreciate just what this sporting battle means even long after hanging up the boots.
So what can we expect? Let me explore a few points.
The playing surface
I am going to put the blowtorch on England a bit here. The word on the street is that the Trent Bridge pitch is dry and will turn. This is in direct contrast to County Cricket pitches you encounter when Nottinghamshire play.
England will come out and say they are playing to their strengths, with Swann spinning it (especially after Australia’s battles in India earlier this year) and their fast bowlers getting conventional and reverse swing.
However, the cynic in me looks a bit deeper into it than that.
I am of the opinion that England are more than concerned with the Australian fast bowling brigade. They are well aware the Aussie quicks are dangerous.
In Pattinson and Starc, Australia have two of the fastest bowlers out of both squads who move the ball off the straight when bowling a fuller length.
If these two get their lines and length right, they will be a handful, regardless of what surface but especially on a pitch with good bounce and carry.
England would have also looked at Bird, who relies on bounce and carry, bowling disciplined length and line, and think they need not have pitches that give him too much assistance.
They would have also looked at Siddle and Harris, both highly rated by England, who can move the ball away from England’s right handers at brisk pace.
They do a lot of bowling, they have strong motors, and love doing the ‘hard yards’ for the team.
England do not want them to have any advantage at Trent Bridge.
Basically, England are backing that Swann will cause more problems than Nathan Lyon and that their pace attack can utilise the Duke cricket ball better on a good batting surface.
Are they scared? Probably not, but they are a little worried, that’s for sure.
Likely make up of teams
England’s side will be very straight-forward. Root replaces Compton at the top of the order and Pietersen comes in; while Bairstow retains his place at 6. Their bowling attack will be Anderson, Broad, and most likely, Finn (they will consider Bresnan because of his skills with the old ball), with Swann as the spinner.
Australia, however, is more difficult to predict. Perhaps it will be: Watson, Rogers, Cowan/Khawaja, Clarke, Hughes, Warner, Haddin, Starc/Bird, Siddle, Pattinson, Lyon.
‘Boof’ Lehmann came out and publicly backed Watson and Rogers to open at Trent Bridge. Good decision.
This ends speculation leading up to the match and gives those lads an opportunity to best prepare for the Test series. It also gives them a boost having the coach publicly backing them.
I can’t predict which way Australia will go with the number 3 position. It is genuinely a coin toss.
Who is the better long term option? Possibly Khawaja, but he would need to score big hundreds to justify the spot.
It seems that Clarke will bat 4. To be fair, he probably needs to. His statistics at 5 are outstanding and I think they can be outstanding at 4.
He is just a fantastic player.
I like the look of Phil Hughes. But he will need to get runs early in the series to keep his place and I believe if he struggles, that might be it for him as a Test cricketer.
He needs to play positively and Boof will encourage him to play with freedom.
All the indications point to Warner playing at Trent Bridge.
Boof has said all players have a ‘clean slate’ and he would have served his ban from his altercation in Birmingham.
Is it sending the right message? People will probably say no, but you could argue that once a ban is served, it’s served. The issue will be whether the selectors believe he has had enough good practice to jump into a Test match.
Haddin picks himself at 7. Best keeper batsman we have. Simple.
I think Starc may get the nod over Bird, although Bird brings control to an aggressive attack. I have only seen Bird on TV so Starc gets the nod for me.
Siddle and Pattinson have to play, in my opinion. Pattinson is the quickest bowler Australia has and Siddle has performed strongly over the last two years.
Both are wicket takers and Siddle can bowl long penetrating spells in all conditions.
Lyon is the best spinner in Australia and Trent Bridge will turn. He is not given the credit he deserves. He gets turn, loop and bounce and he will perform a role this series.
The Lehmann Factor
It was a bold and courageous decision by Cricket Australia to sack Mickey Arthur and install Boof as coach. It was also the right call.
I have known Darren a long time. I count him as a close mate.
His people skills are outstanding. Combine that with a shrewd cricket brain and strong work ethic and you have the makings of a top coach.
I’ve learnt as much about the game and life from Darren as I have from anyone.
I will always remember my early days going down to South Australia practice as an 18 year-old net bowler.
Darren was one of the big players in the side and went out of his way to make me feel welcome and comfortable. I saw this continue throughout our careers for South Australia and Australia, whenever anyone was new to the set up.
Always up for a laugh, he believes the game should be enjoyed because, after all, it’s a game at the end of the day. Play it hard, play it fair, and entertain people.
It sounds simple, but I can tell you, it works.
He is a very inclusive person.
We always looked to have a BBQ as a team with everyone’s families after Sheffield Shield games at Adelaide Oval on the bowling greens out back. Boof would usually sort out the arrangements and these are some of South Australian cricketers most cherished memories (not to mention watching Boof wearing his shorts and crocs, beer in hand, challenging any of the lads to a game of lawn bowls at these BBQs).
His lawn bowls was not of the highest quality!
But this is how he likes to operate: work hard, enjoy life and each other’s successes, not just cricket. He creates a positive environment.
You watch this Australian team at training, in interviews and in the field this Ashes series.
They will be having fun wearing the baggy green with big smiles on their faces because, after all, isn’t that what it’s all about?