Ashes: Australia will be right at home at Lord’s

By Online Editorial   

With their last defeat at Lord’s coming in 1934 Australia will be confident of finally taking a 1-0 lead over a potentially unbalanced England side, says Ed Hawkins.

If the momentum was with England following their extraordinary rearguard action in avoiding defeat in Cardiff, then there is no doubt that since the players left Sophia Gardens it has been slowly but steadily drifting back towards the Australians.

And by the time the two sides pass through the Grace Gates on Thursday morning for the second Ashes Test, there should be a bounce in the stride of Ricky Ponting and co while England could feel like they are shuffling towards a 1-0 deficit.

The draw, a perennial favourite at a venue which has seen six stalemates in the last seven, heads the market at 2.18 but Australia are shortening all the time at 2.80 while England are 5.40.

Australia’s march to London has a sense of inevitability about it. With every notched mile on their journey from the Welsh capital to the English one, they will have felt more confident.

That will have been largely because during the three-hour drive, it will have dawned on them exactly how dominant they were, something which can too easily be forgotten when a draw feels like a defeat.

England took only six wickets in the match as they reverted to the form of the side that, pre West Indies this summer, hadn’t a hope of taking 20 wickets and this correspondent made it 11 sessions won for Australia in Cardiff. If it had been a boxing match …

Do not underestimate, either the lift it will give Australia to be playing at Lord’s, a venue where they have a quite incredible record. They have lost only five times in 34 matches and four of those were a scarcely believable two centuries ago. The last was in 1934.

There is no rhyme or reason for Australia effectively making Lord’s an outground, save for the slightly uncomfortable one that they just seem to put in a bit of extra effort. If that sounds like emotional claptrap, just reread their record again.

The potential loss of Andrew Flintoff is a boon, too, for Australia. Despite England winning 44% of Tests without the allrounder as opposed to 37% with, his absence to a knee injury will leave them unbalanced (Steve Harmison, who averages 3.8 wickets per game in north London, is the likely replacement) and without the one bowler Australia genuinely fear.

No doubt England’s hopes of taking wickets will take a blow if Flintoff is out on a Lord’s track which has been a graveyard for their bowlers. During the run of draws, England four times had the upper hand against Sri Lanka, India, New Zealand and South Africa but could not find the nous to bowl them out a second time.

Indeed, so impotent were they in those innings that they averaged a wicket only every 20 overs. Having averaged one every 30 overs in Cardiff, the form is there for a repeat.

Of course Australia must also contend with a wicket which has produced an average first-innings total of 404 in the last ten Tests – Australia and England are 1.68 and 1.98 respectively on the first-innings runs market – but the general consensus is that one, or both, of the admirable Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle have the perfect styles to make use of the slope.

Backing Australia would be the advice but a canny wager could well be lumping on which side bats first to enjoy a lead. In the last 10 Tests, the side getting first go has eight times getting a first dig advantage.

Otherwise punters must be aware of the likelihood of a run feast. England have five times posted 500 or more in the seven times they have batted first and their top six boasts 13 centuries between them.

Cases could be made for top bat honours on averages alone for Andrew Strauss (average 58), Alastair Cook (59), Ravi Bopara (143), Kevin Pietersen (72), Paul Collingwood (41) and Matt Prior (58). However, there are doubts about the form and decision-making of all of those men except Strauss and Collingwood. Strauss (Phil Tufnell’s pick) is 5.30 and Collingwood, the Cardiff hero, is a disrespectful 8.00.

For Australia, Ricky Ponting is the 4.60 Australia favourite. He averages only 19 at HQ, a mark he must surely put right. Michael Clarke, who fell nine short of a ton in the 2005 contest, and Phillip Hughes, 183 runs for Middlesex in one game this summer, have ground form.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited

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