By David O’Neill
IN truth, Vaughan’s chances were almost non-existent after Ravi Bopara made the number three spot his own earlier in the year, tearing the West Indies attack apart with three centuries in as many matches. Captain Andrew Strauss, Alistair Cook and journey man Paul Collingwood will all provide a worthy fight but it is Bopara and Kevin Pietersen who have the qualities to derail the Australian campaign.
Critics point to the fact that Bopara is yet to prove himself against the best sides in world cricket. The same critics though were sceptical before Pietersen’s (KP) debut in 2005 and you won’t find too many doubters now. KP’s attacking style inspired a series win four years ago and has become critical to England’s chances ever since. Bopara just like his profile team mate, has an ability to score runs quickly and thus could turn a test match on its head in just a single session.
With Steve Harmison left out of the training squad, Stuart Broad and James Anderson will spear head the English attack. The pace duo cemented their place in the back to back series against the West Indies, causing the tourist to follow on in consecutive tests.
Anderson has had little success against Australia’s powerful batting line up in the past but is a different player to the one blown away in 2007. He has retreated back to his old action and gained confidence in becoming Strauss’ go to man.
Broad has had his up’s and downs but has enormous potential with an ability to swing the ball and push his speed into the mid 140’s. He has also showed some promise batting at seven which has the Barmy Army hoping another Andrew Flintoff has arrived.
The third seamer will be either Graham Onions or Dale Sidebottom, the swing bowlers fighting for a spot when tomorrows warm up match gets underway.
Also causing debate is whether the hosts should play two spinners, with Cardiff likely to produce a turning deck for the first test.
It would now take a miracle for Monty Panesar to dislodge Graham Swan from the first choice spinner’s position after struggling to have any impact in recent domestic matches. The once heralded off spinner could miss out even if selectors do go with two spinners.
Young leg spinner Adil Rashid appears to have overtaken Panesar with a composed performance in the recent World Twenty20 and would give the English an important variation in their attack.
Despite improvements in the past 12 months with both bat and ball, Flintoff is still the key. The all rounder on his day is as valuable as any player in world cricket. His clean hitting ensures England is never beaten until the big Lancastrian is safely back in the sheds. His fitness however remains a concern after recent knee surgery and his bowling will suffer the most from the limited preparation.
In 2005 his ability to get the ball reverse swinging dismantled Australia’s middle order on more than once occasion and even had champion Adam Gilchrist baffled. If he can recapture just a fraction of that irresistible form, the Aussies will be under pressure and ducking for cover.
Australian tail ender Brett Lee last month was hoping the champion all rounder would be fit for the series, stating that “Your always keen to face the best” and spoke about copping some body blows from Flintoff’s fierce bowling in the past “I’ve still got some battle scars on my elbows and ribs from Freddy” Lee said.
Thankfully for Lee and the rest of us eager souls, the wait is now just a week away.
C’mon Aussie C’mon
Great Ashes Moments
While we’re focusing on the Poms chances this summer, it’s probably time we recalled possibly their greatest Ashes moment, the heroics of Ian Botham in 1981.
The drama played out at Headingly with the Aussies on the verge of wrapping up an easy win to go 2-0 up in the series.
Upped stepped Botham with a gung-ho 149 that ensured the men in baggy green would have to bat again. When the despondent Aussies finally got their chance, an inspired Bob Willis swept through their line-up with 8-43.
It sealed a remarkable 18-run win and signalled a change in fortunes for the hosts who went on to win 3-1.
The match is also famously remembered for arguably the best sledge of all time.
With Botham at the crease it’s alleged Aussie wicket keeper, Rod Marsh asked the English larrikin, “How’s YOUR wife and MY kids”?
To which Botham replied, “The wife’s great, but the kids are retarded.”