Who will win the 2015 Ashes? This was not a question that I and the vast majority of the England cricket loving public thought needed answering when the series got underway in Cardiff a few weeks back.
We English are probably among the more pessimistic nations around, so a decent showing against the old enemy to save face was about the best we thought possible. Honour in defeat was an expression, which came to mind.
Yet here we are going in to the fourth Ashes Test thinking the unthinkable. Some are even suggesting a 4-1 series win. Personally, I think that is a tad unrealistic but how lovely it is not to talk about KP and instead dare to dream that the 2013 debacle was just a dream.
Australia are in big trouble and the pressure is only going to intensify when battle is renewed this week at Trent Bridge.
Jimmy Anderson`s side problem will take on the same coverage as David Beckham`s metatarsal injury prior to the 2002 World Cup. Ever so cruelly and similar to `Pigeon` McGrath`s unfortunate slip on the outfield minutes before the Edgbaston test in 2005, Anderson is out of Trent Bridge and how the Aussies must be celebrating. Anderson`s record is outstanding in the Midlands, and with him swinging the ball and a formidably intimidating crowd behind him it would not have been preposterous to believe that one hand on the urn would have become two.
With this chink of fortune, Australia must take advantage. The question is whether they can handle the pressure. As a former boss told me, pressure is for tyres, but I suspect it is a little more than that for the under fire Australian cricket captain, Michael Clarke.
As overwhelming favorites to retain the Ashes before the series, the Australians have somehow come horribly unstuck. A lot of talk has understandably gone around England`s pitches and tailoring them to a seaming green mamba as was tradition in the old days. However, if Josh Hazelwood and Mitchell Starc in particular could back up Mitchell Johnson, this kind of chat would have been consigned to next day`s fish and chip paper long ago. Australia has more than enough quality to knock over England with the players they have, but confidence is bizarrely low.
The majority of the Aussies are quite simply out of form. Also, one has to wonder about the impact of Brad Haddin`s omission on team morale and the worrying decline of Michael Clarke, in form and popularity.
Prior to this year`s Ashes I read a very good Telegraph review on the memorable 2005 Ashes series. The England captain, Michael Vaughan diplomatically did not name names when mentioning that there were clear problems in the Australian dressing room. May be it is too much of a cliché to say the same thing 10 years on but there are continued rumours of splits between captain and the squad. Too much of a coincidence? Well, 2-1 down with pretty much the same team who wiped out England in 2013 and destroyed South Africa away in 2014 does not add up.
Take nothing away from England, they are loving the underdog tag and are finding ways of chipping in vital runs and wickets without entirely convincing anyone that they are going to win back the urn.
Stating the blindingly obvious, what a wonderful climax for all cricket lovers as we get ready for the last two games. There are so many plots, sub-plots and rumours flying around, picking a winner is frankly pointless because there is no consistent form guide to go on.
I am more intrigued about the selections that face the two teams. Shaun Marsh will come in for Adam Voges it seems, not surprising but I am not sure how much of a positive that will be to the Australian line-up given Marsh`s inconsistency in the five-day format and Voges prolific run scoring for Nottinghamshire in recent seasons.
It is a similar scenario for England. Mooen Ali is becoming a key number eight batsmen but is highly unlikely to spin England to victory. With the absence of Jimmy Anderson, Ali is a major bowling weakness for England if they are to take 20 wickets in Nottinghamshire and the Oval. Mark Wood will probably come in to open with Stuart Broad but he is no king of the swingers like our Jimmy.
I therefore fear that David Warner becomes the danger man for England. He has fired in fits and starts in this series but Warner will relish the absence of Anderson and with the small boundaries at Trent Bridge, he could easily post a very big score. As we saw at Lords, if the Aussies build a sizeable total then the pressure will ease and they could cause mayhem.
On the flip side, don`t discount the crowd either. If the Aussies think Edgbaston was tough, rest assured Trent Bridge will not be a bed of roses. Any England success will be lauded and Mitchell Johnson will cop it from all sides of the ground. Trent Bridge loves a villain and even the toughest of characters will come under fire. I remember David Boon getting a fearful hammering during Australia`s second innings.
The outcome of the fourth Test, starting on Thursday, could hinge on what happens in the first session. If England start anywhere near the way they did at Edgbaston then I can only see an England victory because Australia`s confidence will be shot. Similarly, if Australia get off to a flyer, whether it be through wickets or their opening partnership, then the power and ferocity of Australia’s talent should win it for them as per the initial formbook.
The 2015 Ashes does not match the 2005 series in terms of cricketing expertise but without question the English nation is talking all about the cricket and that clamour will only increase when the first ball is bowled on Thursday. Such is the unpredictability of this year`s Ashes, it wouldn`t surprise me in the least bit if we go to the Oval locked at 2-2 with one final, barmy encounter to decide it all. Fitting, I think.
IMAGE: Australia’s Mitchell Starc (Getty Images)