The Battle for the Urn Begins: 10th July
The build up to the Ashes has been a long drawn out process, simply because of how much is at stake. Just ask Andy Flower, the England coach and he will tell you that he had his team prepare 24 months in advance for the last Ashes series which took place down under.
For the current series, preparation has also been intense and the mind games have gone to a whole new level ever since the Aussies landed in England. It wasn’t long before, Sir Ian Botham an ex-test player now turned cricket commentator predicted a 5-0 white wash saying “”We would beat Australia if we played them on Mars at the moment, to be honest”
Well one could probably say that Botham being English is being a little one-sided. But let’s look at 5 key areas which will decide who will take the coveted urn.
Go back a decade and without a doubt the Aussies were the best side in the world. All that changed when their legends retired and had to be replaced by an innocuous bunch of cricketers who were not even impressive in their Sheffield Shield matches. Apart from Michael Clarke (captain) and Shane Watson (all-rounder) there are no big match winners in the current ashes squad. The lack of depth in their batting order was so evident that the Aussie media reported there were suggestions of calling back retired veterans Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting.
Their bowling has depth but spearhead Peter Siddle has not performed on the tour games and could very well be dropped for the first test. That would leave James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc who are relatively inexperienced, to take charge of the fast bowling department. The Aussies will most likely field Nathan Lyon in the spin department and it remains to be seen how he performs in English conditions.
On the other hand, England have established themselves to be one of the best test teams in the world. Their batting is rock solid, led from the front by Alistair Cook (Captain), followed by Mr. Superstar himself Kevin Pietersen and they have a strong tail with the likes of Swann and Broad. There bowling department is probably only second to the South Africans. Jimmy Anderson, considered to be one of the best swing bowlers in the world will spearhead the attack and get support from Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann. There is no doubt that they will use the duke ball better and hence on paper are the clear favorites.
In this department, England clearly has the better team in the batting as well as bowling departments.
In cricket, it is all about how you perform on the day and there is no bigger stage than the Ashes. Superstars can be made in just one test match and careers can come to an end just as fast. Australia played two warm up matches and the fast bowling pair of Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson performed really well and are have most likely secured a place in the first test. Peter Siddle on the other hand, looks badly out of form and could very well lose his spot to Ryan Harris.
In the batting department, Shane Watson notched up a century and that would have given him a lot of confidence. However, none of the other batsmen have made three figure scores, which will be a cause for concern. David Warner has not had much practice, Chris Rodgers will be playing just his 2nd game and Ed Cowan (if he does get selected) will have a lot to prove.
England has done reasonably well in their warm up games. The biggest news was the return of Kevin Pietersen who took the field after a long injury layoff. He came back in usual KP style and scored a century in quick time. Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan and Jonathan Trott have also been amongst the runs and will start the first test with a lot of confidence. In the batting department, the only concern could be Joe Root who is set to open the batting for the first time along with Alistair Cook.
The bowling department has the ever reliable Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad who has done well in his last few test matches picking up crucial wickets. Their cause for concern will be the injury to star spinner Graeme Swann who might not be fit in time for the first Ashes test. The other decision Andy Flower will have to make it who is going to be the third fast bowler. Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett have all filled those shoes but it remains to be seen who gets picked for the first test.
In this department, England clearly have more players in current form than the Aussies.
There is no doubt that the role of the coach is going to come under scrutiny during these 5 test matches. For England, they have the experienced Andy Flower, who has proven to have a calm head in the midst of trying situations and can take a lot of credit for changing the fortunes of the English team. Flower and Cook have a good working relationship and Flower commands a lot of respect from the England team. His ability to plan, strategize and get the best playing eleven on the field will play a huge part in how well England perform in this Ashes series.
If you haven’t been reading the news, you might ask what is Darren Lehmann doing with the Aussie team. The answer to that question is he is the newly appointed coach! Yes that’s right. Cricket Australia shocked the world when in the middle of an Ashes campaign, they decided to sack Mickey Arthur and have him replaced with Lehmann. Just about everyone in Australia think it’s a good move because Lehmann is an ex-test player and commands a lot of respect from the team. However, Lehmann will take time to adjust to the players and the players will take time to adjust to a new style of coaching. Yet Lehman is one of those old-school-in-your-face kind of Aussies and that is exactly what this team needs, an infusion of aggression that brings out the fighting spirit which has diminished over the last few years. Only time will tell, if Lehmann can make an impact and how well the Aussies perform under his coaching skills.
In this department, England has a more experienced coach whereas Australia needs to come to terms with Darren Lehmann and his style of coaching.
The Ashes 2013 takes place in England and hence the England team clearly has a head start since they play on home soil, have the home crowds supporting them and more importantly get to play with the Duke ball. The five test matches are scheduled to take place at Lord’s, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford, Chester-le-Street and The Oval.
When you play in England, you have to be prepared for rain interruptions. The weather will play a crucial factor in determining a result. Sir Ian Botham went on to say that he believed the only thing that could prevent England from white washing Australia was the weather. The English weather will definitely favor team England as cloud cover means James Anderson will exploit the conditions better than any other bowler, on either side.
In this department, if Australia can win the toss, they will have a better chance of managing the conditions and give themselves a better chance at winning.
After Andrew Strauss retired, his deputy Alistair Cook has taken over and has done a pretty fine job in leading the squad. While some of his results against Pakistan in the UAE have not been impressive, he has overall led from the front and has improved with every game. Cook goes in with a number of experienced players and this will help make his job easier because most of the senior players have played in an Ashes series before and know what is required of them.
Michael Clarke on the other hand is starting the series with a number of issues. First, he has a bad back and must be hoping it holds up during the Ashes. Apart from this, he has had to deal with a number of off field issues that must have certainly taken his focus away from practicing. In the past few weeks, he has had to deal with David Warner and his bar room antics that got him suspended, the sacking of coach Mickey Arthur who had a close relationship with Clarke, the appointment of Darren Lehmann as new coach. Clarke is also considering moving himself up the order from No 5 to No 4 and is doing so only because the batting no longer has the experience of a Ponting or Hussey.
In this department, Cook will be entering the series in a better frame of mind than Michael Clarke.
So if you factor in all of the above, England appear to be clear favorites and if they play to potential there is no reason why they cannot have a 5-0 white wash that Sir Ian Botham had earlier predicted. For the series, the fixed odds listed on Bet365.com has England listed at 1.33, Australia at 5.0 and 7.5 are the odds of a drawn series. We will get back to the individual games and our cricket betting tips for those games as it gets even closer to start of the series. For now, we would venture to recommend a bet on England to win the series and for those who are looking for a huge payoff, try betting on England getting the better of Australia in every single game.