Nick Teale - An intriguing Ashes winter awaits
17 Nov 2010 - 17:08:16
It's the Ashes holders, England, who haven't lost a Test series in over 18 months, versus Australia, who have only just ended a four-month winless run. A side with so many out-of-form, average players that their squad for the First Test is bigger than England's touring party.
You would think, therefore, that this winter's Ashes would be a formality. Far from it.
The Aussies are stronger than is being made out in the British press and are favourites to win back the urn, just as they did so emphatically four years ago.
And England aren't as invincible as we like to believe. Kevin Pietersen, for example, hasn't been in form for some time now. And there's no Andrew Flintoff this time either.
Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, has been one of the best Test batsmen of the last ten years and remains one of the world's most formidable players. He loves a go at us poms and this is almost certain to be his last Ashes series on home soil. Motivation isn't something he'll need.
Opener Shane Watson averaged 48 in five innings in the 2009 Ashes and his Test average this year is a shade over 52. He has been compared to Matthew Hayden but the Queensland man also boasts a medium-fast bowling arm with the ability to strike when the chips seem to be down for his side.
Watson's left-handed opening partner Simon Katich has been consistent since becoming a Test regular in 2004 and has a higher average than either of England's opening pair.
Mike Hussey is one of the world's most powerful batters and is a man who strikes fear in England's bowlers - last time we visited Oz, he averaged 91.6.
Bowler Doug Bollinger made his Test debut less than two years but is already ranked within the ICC's top ten bowlers in both Test and One Day cricket. The 29-year-old is yet to face England but could make a name for himself by skittling through our top batsmen over the next few months.
Mitchell Johnson suffered at the hands of Pakistan over the summer but bounced back with 5-64 to kick off Australia's series in India last month. He's one of the world's best strike bowlers and will no doubt be among the top wicket-takers of this Ashes series.
There are flaws in their team, of course. Who will be their chief spinner, for example? Do Bollinger and Johnson have the necessary support or will they too capitulate under English pressure?
It's going to be an intriguing winter for cricket fans and, despite all I've listed above, this is a great chance for England to kick a wounded side while it's down and retain the Ashes.