The Ashes: First Test preview

By Online Editorial   

For a series that is increasingly in danger of its words speaking louder than its action, it was perhaps inevitable that the decision taken by England to ignore Steve Harmison in favour of Graeme Onions for the curtain-raiser in Cardiff would be crucial.

That is the reality when two sides closely-matched in inefficiency prepare to slug it out, all flailing arms and occasionally landing a glancing blow.

England are 3.95 to win game one, which starts tomorrow if you have been hard of hearing for the past two months, with Australia 2.66 and the draw 2.62. Yet it is inconceivable to think that the home side would not have taken a trim had Harmison pipped Onions.

In Australia’s warm-up match against England Lions last week, Harmison was twice the bowler Onions was (he took six wickets to his Durham teammate’s three) producing the sort of brutish display of fast bowling that could justify some of the pre-series hyperbole. Harmison struck Phil Hughes on the head with his first ball of the match, Onions’ passed innocuously wide of off stump.

Quite why the England powers-that-be have decided they can do without a man who has smashed through the veneer of batting prodigy Hughes to reveal nothing of the sort and exposed Ricky Ponting is a puzzler.

In Ashes years gone by, England would have been falling over themselves to pick a bowler capable of such magic.

But in truth, both teams are living in the clouds. Australia have turned up with only one specialist spinner and even to call Nathan Hauritz ‘specialist’ is to risk the very reputation of this website.

More by accident than design, however, Australia could be in the box seat for the match at the Swalec Stadium. The potential for spin there has gripped Mr Miller and co like a crush on an 18-year-old blonde barmaid to the extent that both Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar could play.

Just as there is no substance behind the blonde’s smile as she serves a pint, there is little to get excited about Cardiff’s reputation for spin. In three County Championship matches (120 possible wickets) only 17 batsmen have fallen to spin.

Robert Croft, Glamorgan’s veteran twirler, insists that the pitch will turn by day three. That it might. Other sources suggest it will only be slow turn off a lifeless track, not the spit and bite which demands two spinners. Championship matches at Cardiff this summer appear to back this up.

The average match first-innings score is 360 (England are 1.76 for 375 or more in first dig) as batsmen have tried to grind down bowlers on a slow-scoring wicket.

None of the three matches have produced a result either, and it smacks of a surface which is crying out for someone to run in and bend their back.

If the pitch plays as we expect, it will favour batsmen who are comfortable working the ball into gaps rather than those who like the ball to come onto the bat. That rules out strokemakers Kevin Pietersen and Ricky Ponting as far as first-innings top runscorer markets are concerned.

It could favour old favourite Paul Collingwood – who looks a whopping price at 9.00 – and Michael Clarke, 6.00 and Michael Hussey, 5.30, for Australia. They average 109 and 106 each on the ground.

The latter two would be more strongly favoured even if we are wrong not to believe the ‘spin’ about the wicket. For England’s sake, one cannot help but feel it must turn if they are to be called value with a record of only one victory in their last 10 first Tests and two in their previous nine first Tests in the second series of a summer. Two small facts overlooked by the magnification.

Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. © The Sporting Exchange Limited

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