Ashes 2013: Four talking points ahead of first Test at Trent Bridge
Ashes 2013: Harry Kemble takes a look at four talking points ahead of England's opening Test against Australia at Trent Bridge
First blow is what counts
It is often a sporting cliche about the importance of being the one to strike the first blow but it is never more important than in the Ashes; Steve Harmison should know. In 2005, his opening spell set the tone for the rest of series, when he hit Justin Langer on the elbow with his second ball and then cracked Ricky Ponting on the cheek. He finished the innings with five wickets and England had given the Old Enemy a stark reminder that this was a new side that weren’t going to be bullied. But 18 months later, the same bowler delivered a ball that arrived at a startled Andrew Flintoff at first slip; England went onto lose the Ashes, a 5-0 defeat Down Under. That first mini-session up until the first drinks break will say a lot about how the series is going to pan out. England could wilt in the intense spotlight that falls on the series’ favourites allowing Australia to put down an early marker.
Wicketkeepers and the importance of lower order runs
The game’s ‘aficionados’ have been keen to predict 4-1 or 5-0 scores in England’s favour. As already stated, a good start is imperative if either side want to have success. That will be far more telling than a former player’s prediction. Another way to sap the opposition’s attack of confidence is grinding out runs down the order. England will look to Matt Prior to orchestrate the tailenders into adding valuable runs to the team’s score. Brad Haddin – Prior’s counterpart – will again be looking to be a thorn in England’s side, adding experience to an Aussie side that could be crippled by a lack of recent Test wins under their belt. The duel between the two will be fascinating as both aim to prove they can stand side-by-side with former Australia wicket-keeper batsman Adam Gilchrist, who was often so adept at bludgeoning attacks around the park to propel his side to even greater heights, batting at seven. On the rivalry, Gilchrist told the Times: “They are both great players, both have been internationals for a fair amount of time now, they have batted well in the lower middle order. I think Matt Prior is definitely the most able player in that position in the world today. Prior has brought something to England pretty much from the day he came in. There is big fighting spirit in everything he does, which you have to admire.”
Demons in the pitch?
No Ashes series takes place without controversy. The iconic 2005 series, for instance, will always be remembered for substitute fielder Gary Pratt and his famous run out of Ponting at Trent Bridge. The Aussie skipper was left fuming and let it be known to all those around him when he left the air blue because he felt the then-Durham player shouldn’t have even been on the field. In the build-up to Wednesday’s series opener, there has been much talk of the pitch in Nottingham. With the recent sweltering conditions, one too many cracks have appeared on the surface leading to suspicions that inconsistent bounce could creep in well before day 4 and 5 – when you would normally expect it. How it will impact either team depends on the toss but you can be sure one of the sides will be raging if they have to bat last on it.
Although the tourists’ bowling attack may not quite match up to England’s quartet, they are very capable of gaining 20 wickets on any surface. Raw talents such as James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc coupled with the dogged Peter Siddle will ensure Australia have a fighting chance in this series. However, the batting is still somewhat lacking and will prove to be Australia’s downfall if they can’t regularly post competitive scores on the board. Apart from Michael Clarke, who averages 52, no-one averages more than 40 – the considered benchmark of any Test match batsman. David Warner is nearest with 39.46. But the pugnacious left-hander was banned by Cricket Australia for the past month for his indiscretions in the Birmingham Walkabout, he can hardly be relied on for consistency, if he even plays. Team selectors have already selected the opening pair of Chris Rogers and Shane Watson meaning Warner will have to slot in lower down the order but with little time in the middle – having not played in the warm-up matches against Somerset and Worcestershire – means it’s anyone’s guess what kind of form he is in.