Do England have what it takes to win the Ashes?

2009-07-04 00:00

VIC Marks, the former England Test player, was quoted as saying: “when appealing the Australians make a statement; we [England] ask a question”. As we look ahead to the Ashes series, this comment could sum up the difference between the two sides.

Ricky Ponting’s men have renewed confidence and appear intent on claiming this much-anticipated Ashes series as their own. With England there is more uncertainty and a few uncomfortable questions hanging in the air.

As expected, the media hype preceding the Ashes tour has been rapidly escalating. As always there is much speculation. Can England repeat their heroic antics of 2005? Will the Aussies inflict the same 5-0 drubbing as they did when the sides last met in Australia?

This year’s Ashes series has a new look with Sophia Gardens in Cardiff hosting its maiden Test match. England’s record at Lords is poor and they’ll be hoping this change of venue will ensure better fortune in the opening Ashes encounter.

There are also new faces in the English personnel, with Andy Flower negotiating his first Ashes series and Andrew Strauss as captain. There are queries over English stalwart Andrew Flintoff — a recurrence of his injury will be a huge blow. Kevin Pietersen’s performance is pivotal and the battle between him and Mitchell Johnson will be top billing, in my opinion.

Ponting’s young guns have regained some Test rhythm, fighting back against South Africa, but in the interim have had to contend with their embarrassingly early exit from the ICC Twenty20 World Cup. Their premature exit has allowed them crucial preparation time before the series gets under way next week and their focus will be as keen as ever.

Watching Wimbledon, we’ve had a taste of how good the English summer has been so far. The warm weather flattens out the English wickets and makes the outfields lightening fast. A glance at the county championship scores supports this with some impressive batting totals of late. My money is on some very hot and frustrated fast bowlers. Will Brett Lee be one of them? Can he fight his way back into the Test team and hold onto his place if he does? The flat English tracks won’t help his cause much as there will be little swing to assist his diminished pace.

Peter Siddle will again be called on to be the workhorse, a challenge he appears to be comfortable with.

The real debate is whether Nathan Hauritz can work some magic of his own in the spin department. Hauritz, as with every spinner since Shane Warne, has had to endure the inevitable comparisons between himself and the “spin wizard“, despite the fact that Hauritz is an off-spinner

With the bat there remain a few uncertainties regarding Mike Hussey’s form but at the top of the order Simon Katich and Phil Hughes make a formidable duo. The former is a hard grafter, very at home in English conditions and the latter is full of excitement and flair, having piled on the runs representing Middlesex for part of the county championship.

The prospect of the Ashes is mouth-watering, competitive rivalry at its best. I have a feeling though that Australia are going to expose the question marks hanging over England and as they do when they appeal, assert themselves yet again.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, Western Province and Zimbabwe all-rounder who lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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