Monday, 22 November 2010

Settling Down

It's been a calm and successful build-up for England this time out, as they try to learn some lessons from the car crash of 2006. Convincing victories in the warm-up matches, a settled side and no (visible) signs of panic. Next the players will be talking with Australian accents and predicting 5-0 whitewashes.

There are no going to be no surprises in the batting line-up on Thursday. Strauss bagged a couple of hundreds. No surprise there. A class act. The form of Cook had been a worry but he answered his critics with a century against South Australia and 60 in the next match against Australia A. Now he needs to do it when it really counts. It's fair to say a lack of alternatives at the top of the order has helped him some what.

There were no real doubts about Collingwood retaining his place for the Ashes but there always seem to be question marks hovering over him. Scores of 94 and 89 in the final two pre-Ashes run-outs have banished them. Is he saving a big ton for the real thing? He's used to delivering on the Ashes stage - an obdurate, match-saving innings in the first test at Cardiff and a double century in Adelaide in 2006 are the ones that immediately spring to mind. What's more, his impeccable fielding is always worth a wicket or two and, in the absence of a fifth bowler, his wobbly seamers will surely be required at some stage.

Bell is another that always seems to be under the selection microscope but a quite brilliant 192 against Australia A, plus meaningful scores in the other games, show there is no doubting his form. Now he needs to prove that he can handle the pressure and the Aussie jibes. He looks confident and seems determined to prove he's the real deal. This is his series.

Trott is the luckiest man in the top 6. He's the only one yet to pass 50 on tour, despite getting a few starts. In many ways he's the opposite of Bell: he's in for his temperament and the management's belief that he's up for the scrap. Dropping him might also mean a reshuffling of the batting order. Strauss and Flower clearly wanted a settled side going into the Ashes and they have their wish. As long as they are prepared to bring in someone like Eoin Morgan if any of the batsemen are struggling then it appears a strong strategy.

But we've missed one out. And so to KP. No test century for 20 months, dropped from the one-day side, still seething about losing the captaincy, labelled an outcast from the England set-up by his 'mate' Warney, doubts cast over him from every corner. The list goes on and on. From this observer it's about as ridiculous as questioning Ponting's credentials. He's a proven big match cricketer. His test average is still a more than healthy 47.8 and he scored more runs in the last Ashes series in Australia (in a losing cause) than he did in 2005. And how the player of the tournament at the Twenty20 World Cup can be dropped from the England one-day side really does beggar belief. Good news is he's the type of guy who likes having a point to prove.

To the bowlers. Again such a settled line-up that the entire foursome could afford to miss the last match in Hobart to 'acclimatise' to Brisbane conditions. (I've been here a few days lads - trust me we're not talking about the Sahara desert here) Early days for Finn but he's shaping up well and could be a more reliable Harmy type figure. He'll be nervous come Thursday morning.

Jimmy is the spearhead. Number 4 in the world rankings and only a successful Ashes tour Down Under from earning the respect he deserves. Any article about Anderson highlights his inability to swing the Kookaburra ball. He's been on a few tours for England now, he's an intelligent bowler. He should go fine. Could be bowling the first ball come Thursday...and I guarantee it wont' go to second slip unless it comes courtesy of Watson's edge first.

Broady has already proved himself an Ashes hero with his timely 5-fer in the deciding 2009 test at the Oval condemning the Aussies to a big first innings defecit and ultimate defeat. His batting cannot be discounted either. His maiden test cenutry might always have a question mark against it considering it was made against Pakistan but another one might not be too far away. Headingley was not a happy hunting ground for England in 2009 but what a display of counter-attacking batting from Broad and his partner in crime, Graeme Swann..

...and to Swanny. Well he's lit up the cricketing world in the past couple of years. Incredibly consistent, earning a reputation for taking wickets in his first over and a character to fill the gaping hole left by Freddie. Let's not forget that he snared Gambhir and Dravid in his first over in test cricket. A decent series would seem him topple Steyn as the number one bowler in the world. Now that would be some achievement and, more importantly, it would mean that England has probably retained the Ashes.

His twitter page says it all really:

"More excited than a puppy whose (sic) just found a manky old tennis ball"

May the sporting gods be with you sir...

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