Advantage Australia as Ashes looms

England do know what it is like to win the World Cup on Australian soil and they have had the measure of their oldest enemy in recent times.

updated: April 07, 2009 08:43 IST
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England do know what it is like to win the World Cup on Australian soil and they have had the measure of their oldest enemy in recent times.

Unfortunately for Andrew Strauss's side, the form of England's women's team is unlikely to be transfered to their male counterparts in time for the Ashes later this year.

The exit of champion bowlers Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, who bowed out of Test cricket after Australia's 5-0 thrashing of England in the 2006/07 Ashes gave 'the Poms' hope as did South Africa's recent series win in Australia.

But what was overlooked, perhaps wilfully by some England fans, was how immense were the performances from the likes of J-P Duminy and Dale Steyn that secured victory for the Proteas.

The old joke that beating Australia is easy, all it needs is for someone to have the game of their life, may not be as true as it once was but England are certainly going to have to raise their game.

Australia did that by winning this year's return series in South Africa. Worse still for England, that series marked the emergence of Australia left-arm quick Mitchell Johnson as a talented all-rounder.

Defeating Australia in a Test campaign is the prize England value above all others - and therein lies part of their problem.

England's 2-1 series triumph on home soil in 2005 - their first Ashes triumph in nine series over Australia - came on the back of several years of consistent success.

However, it was said that England reacted as if they'd won the series 4-1 and Australia as if they'd lost it 4-1.

For England, all other Tests began to be viewed as 'warm-ups' for the Ashes, an attitude that may have contributed to their recent series loss in the Caribbean to a West Indies side that had been in dire straits.

While Ricky Ponting remains Australia captain, England have had their off-season overshadowed by a row between Kevin Pietersen and Peter Moores which cost the South Africa-born batsman the leadership of his adopted country and the coach his job.

Andy Flower has been put in temporary charge as England coach and now seems likely to get the job permanently if only to avoid further upheaval.

But England's biggest problem is their inability against decent opposition to take the 20 wickets needed to win a Test match.

The wayward Stephen Harmison is currently out of the side while not since 2005 has star all-rounder Andrew Flintoff taken five wickets or scored a century in a Test innings.

England have also neutered the effect of home advantage by deciding against hosting an Ashes Test at either Trent Bridge, a ground where conditions assist swing bowling, or at spin-friendly Old Trafford.

So the likes of young Australia opener Phillip Hughes may not have their techniques exposed to the swinging ball, one of the traditional challenges of playing in England, although the New South Welshman has done his best to prepare by signing an early season contract with county side Middlesex.

Specialist slow bowling, in the shape of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar, is one area where England can claim a clear advantage over an Australia side where leg-spinner Bryce McGain was savaged by South Africa to the tune of nought for 149 on his Test debut last month.

Injuries (England's wins in the 2005 Ashes came when McGrath was unfit), loss of form and confused selection could all yet come to England's aid.

And for all their bowling concerns, they will - especially if Pietersen is in form - fancy their chances of making good totals even if uncertainty, with ex-captain Michael Vaughan presently out of the team, surrounds the identity of their No 3.

Since 2005, England have not won the first Test in any of their 14 series, losing half.

The first Test of this Ashes will be played at the new Test venue of Cardiff, where the chief executive and groundsman have both resigned ahead of the new English season.

Then again England lost the first Test of the 2005 Ashes at Lord's so a new location may do them some good.