With Aussie confidence renewed, AOC columnist Mark Butcher issues a reality check as England embark on their bid for a fourth Ashes win on the bounce. The tourists do have a couple of serious questions to answer before Brisbane though…
Listening to all the noise coming out of the Aussie camp you’d imagine that England are going be lining up against Hayden and Langer, with an in-form Ponting at No.3, Gilchrist coming in down the order and McGrath and Warne leading the attack. That’s the level to which the Australians are talking themselves up; that they’re this all-conquering, brilliant team. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Australia are a decent side and if Ryan Harris produces the sort of form that he did over here in the summer then England are certainly not going to have things their own way. But they still have the same old problems that they’ve had for a while now; problems that have seen them go nine Tests without a win. The consistency of run-making from their top six is non-existent with the exception of Michael Clarke and while Mitchell Johnson is bowling quickly and more consistently, the ghosts and the scars from past series will be there when he puts on that Test match shirt and goes out to play in the Ashes in front of the Barmy Army.
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The way England’s diet document was reported made me laugh too. I really couldn’t care less about the document itself – it’s a complete non-story – but the Aussie media seems to be on Defcon 3 about the Ashes and every little thing England do. I saw some headlines saying England chose to bowl in their final warm-up because their batsmen didn’t fancy batting on a juicy SCG pitch! It’s fever-pitched and it’s laughable. It’s mind games taken to the nth degree and when you start doing all that kind of stuff – like Michael Clarke ‘naming’ England’s side for Brisbane – it actually makes it look like you’re crapping yourself. So Australia aren’t at all worried what could happen in the series? Well, I think the lady does protest a little too much. Thank God the Test match is only a few days away so we don’t have to put up with this much longer. None of it’s going to bother England in the slightest. I think they’ll be quietly laughing about it all.
Aussie ‘banter’ aside, England do have a serious question to think about before Brisbane: who do they pick as third seamer? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Chris Tremlett played because of the experience that he brings. Traditionally, and I don’t mean this as a criticism, England have tended to be relatively conservative, to build up pressure, and Tremlett’s somebody who’s going to do that. Finn has thrown the cat among the pigeons by taking a five-fer in the final warm-up game, proving once again that his wicket-taking potential has not left him at all, but the Brisbane pitch can offer something for the bowlers early on – apart from 2002/03 obviously! – and therefore being able to land the ball on a sixpence is a highly valued commodity there. He might have lost a bit of pace but he’s a giant of a man; he’s going to make the new ball kick and bounce and if it’s pitching on a good line and length more often than not, then you’ve got a chance of making things happen.
They’ve taken Tremlett because they would dearly love him to be in the side, which is why it beggars belief that he didn’t play in the final Test of the summer at The Oval. That would have allowed England to make an informed decision and given them 100 per cent knowledge of whether or not he was worth taking on the trip. They’ve taken three guys out there – all of whom could be very successful in Australian conditions, let’s not forget that – but not really known which one of them they’re going to play. That’s not ideal. You wouldn’t disagree that tall bowlers are going to be good for you in Australia but you still have to pick your best bowlers, and at the moment I don’t think Boyd Rankin is among England’s best bowlers.
The other question mark is the fitness of Matt Prior. It would be a huge loss if he doesn’t play but I have a gut feeling that he’ll be ok. England have kept their cards pretty close to their chests but if it’s a minor tear then two weeks of intensive treatment and recovery could be enough to get over it. We’ll just have to wait and see, but I do have concerns if Jonny Bairstow has to keep wicket. By all accounts he’s gone pretty well with the gloves in the warm-up game but long-term I’m still not convinced he’s our second-best wicketkeeping option.
I’ll leave you with a prediction: England to win the Ashes. But don’t ask me to guess the scoreline!
Mark Butcher was speaking to All Out Cricket’s Jo Harman and will be contributing to alloutcricket.com throughout the Ashes.