This summer sees the latest renewal of the greatest rivalry in sports: England versus Australia at cricket. The Ashes…
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In my mind, the history of The Ashes falls into three periods. Before 1989, it was a back and forth affair, with neither side winning more than 3 series in a row since the early 1900s.
The , from 1989 to 2003, Australia became the modern-day powerhouse of test cricket, taking over from the fearsome West Indies team of the 1970s and 1980s. Captained by the likes of Allan Border, Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh, Australia carried all before them. Against England, they won an astonishing 8 Ashes series in a row. I started following cricket in the summer of 1989, and by 2005 I had still never seen the England team muster as much as a drawn series against their great rivals.
And then 2005. The greatest Ashes series ever, the greatest cricket series ever, the greatest summer of sport in my lifetime. McGrath treading on the ball, Pietersen’s ton at the oval, Kasprowicz’s disputed caught behind, “Freddie” consoling Brett Lee at the end of the Edgbaston test… England wrested back The Ashes (with a fair bit of luck).
2006/2007… Revenge! England are thumped 5-0 back in Australia. McGrath’s and Warne’s swansong proves all too painful for England, with Harmison’s wide to second-slip first ball of the series setting the tone.
2009 in England. Redemption for England with a 2-1 victory, franked by an astonishing 3-1 series win on the road in 2010-2011. England win 3 of the last 4 series and go into this summer’s renewal as solid favourites.
So why have I devoted half my word count to recapping previous Ashes series, rather than previewing this one? Simply because I think this one is a very hard series to call. On paper, England look by far the stronger team. Looking down the Australia line-up, who are the players to fear? Where are the McGraths, the Warnes, the Pontings, the Waughs?
Australia feature a number of useful little cricketers, cricketers who would have been role-players, bit-part players in the mighty Australian squads of old. Michael Clarke is a useful batsman, Phillip Hughes seems to have gone all the way from over-rated to under-rated, “Two Metre” Peter Siddle is no fool and Shane Watson can swing a bat. But nothing in the team scares me. Even Australian spin legend Shane Warne has slammed the country`s Ashes squad as `powder-puff` and `squidgy`, saying that the players have gone soft and have not been aggressive enough in the build-up to the Ashes.
The England squad hasn’t yet been announced at eh time of writing, but you pretty much know what you’re getting with this mob. Nick Compton appears to miss out, with Joe Root opening alongside the criminally-underrated Alistair Cook. Swann’s x-ray shows no break and the latest word is that he will be fit for the series. Broad’s shoulder could be a concern down the road but, again, he should be fine for such a big series as this.
Betting-wise, I really can’t see past England. I think they are a very good team, playing at home against an average team. Ignore the hype about how The Ashes is a great leveller. The best team usually wins over 5 matches (in fact, you could argue that the only time in recent memory that it hasn’t was in 2005) and England are clearly the best team. Look to get with them if you can.