With the greatest rivalry in cricket once again being renewed tomorrow in Cardiff, Sport Editor Rob Cross gives his views on the upcoming Ashes series.
“Absolute ignominy…this is an absolute low”. The words of Jonathan Agnew after England’s humiliating group-stage exit from the World Cup painfully brought to mind the Ashes thrashing handed to them down-under in 2013/14. The Aussies could only have been licking their lips at the thought of facing England in the summer after winning the World Cup in such emphatic style.
Then there followed a fresh debacle concerning the ever-controversial Kevin Pietersen, and England’s hierarchy was given a much-needed reshuffle. Mark Butcher encouraged England fans to “hide behind the sofa” instead of watching the Ashes, but then some sort of divine miracle occurred. Out of nowhere, England found confidence, bravery and form, entertaining us to one of the most enjoyable ODI series’ ever witnessed.
Let us not get carried away though. Test cricket is a very different beast, but there is no doubt that we, the England public, are actually excited to see what the national team can do. Confidence can do amazing things to teams, and the momentum is certainly with them at the moment. Ever the optimist, I am going to plump for a 2-1 series win for England. The home advantage has certainly worked in our favour in recent years, and there is no denying that the ODI series has altered the perspective away from a comprehensive Australian win.
The squads are both incredibly strong. In both sides there is a good balance of old-guard security and young talent progressing through the ranks. From an English perspective, I would have liked to see Alex Hales named in the squad. Lyth and Cook are similar in their approach, and whilst this isn’t necessarily a problem, David Warner’s effectiveness in the last series was all too apparent. With 523 runs under his belt, his attacking approach certainly paid off, and I can see Hales being an excellent foil for Cook.
There is also a distinct lack of world-class spin for either side. Pace will almost certainly prevail, and I expect the focus to be on James Anderson and Stuart Broad in their battle against the Mitchells Johnson and Starc. Moeen Ali is expected to be England’s front-line spinner, and whilst he gives the hosts an excellent option at number eight in the batting order, I feel that Adil Rashid has greater variation with the ball. What both bowlers lack however, is consistency, and they must surely find this quickly. The Aussies will be fully aware of this weakness and will look to take full advantage from the off.
Sadly, there is a waning interest in Test cricket. This is due, in large part, to the move from terrestrial television to paid services such as Sky. In 2005, the Ashes had a peak viewing of 8.2 million. Compare that to 1.3 million in 2013 and we can see a drastic reduction in interest in what is classified as a major national sport.
What’s my point? Well, it’s down to the individuals in this squad to come to the fore and make this test memorable and enjoyable, just as they did with the ODI series. The likes of Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen and Simon Jones inspired me and many others in my generation. It’s now down to this team to do the same; characters such as Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Joe Root to step up to the plate and make themselves heroes. The Ashes of 2005 were won against the odds; let’s hope that they can replicate that success over the coming months.