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Ashes Review

In my betting days, I preferred to punt on the Hurdlers and Chasers, rather than the flat. For two reasons: because the same old favourites appeared year after year giving an idea of the type of race and part of the season they preferred. And winners usually showed, by their jumping and attitude during a race, that this was their day and they were making the most of it. Conversely, you soon knew your fate if your pick was making mistakes and not travelling.
Compare all that with the lack of information available in a flat race dash over a few furlongs when the whole thing can be decided in a few strides, either for better or worse. Not so much fun really. On the other hand I am not mad keen on bets that take weeks and months to be resolved. I even prefer a 30 second whiz round a greyhound track.
Nevertheless, I have offered a friend a small wager on the Ashes at eleven to eight against the Australians regaining the little Urn. That may seem a little skinny to those who are beguiled by Australia's moderate form in India and England's current winning streak. But I am still mindful of what a narrow squeak it was last summer with more than a few moments when England were outplayed completely.
Who can forget the Monty Panesar cliffhanger survival, fighting out a draw in Cardiff. And, of course, we all want to forget the clatter of English wickets when we were hammered at Headingley. In between we won at Lord's when Australia had a batting nightmare on the first day. Finally, when we clinched the Series at the Oval, it was a huge bonus to win the toss and bat first on a strangely loose surface, totally at odds with normal conditions at that ground.
The batting and bowling statistics were all in the Australians’ favour: so it was a pretty cute get out when Andrew Strauss explained it all with a wry smile saying that when England were bad, they were very very bad. And when they were good, they were just good enough. If I had had a bet on those matches, I don’t think my heart could have taken the strain.
The facts seem to show that both sides are vulnerable to really poor patches and I expect that pattern to continue. Much will depend on whether Ricky Ponting can rediscover his old form but I am sceptical of that possibility. Just as I do not see Pietersen playing a prominent role. His habit of playing shots on the walk, successful for a while, seems to be catching up with him. How the opening batsmen on both sides compare will be more crucial as well as the success or otherwise of the respective slip catching cordons.
I can see the lower order batsmen having to contribute in a big way. I am a great fan of Matt Prior as a cricketer in everything he does and I get a great kick out of watching Broad and Swann bat. I am quite hopeful of what these three might produce.
There is the matter of how well our right handers think their way through the unusual circumstance of facing not just one, but two left arm quicks – Johnson and Bollinger. If they go chasing runs on the off side, they will be in trouble. If they get their angles right, leaving the ball well and making these lefties “come to them”, then life will be a whole lot easier.
The one clear advantage for England lies in the splendid, not to say miraculous form and success of Graham Swann with his off-spinners. It is not surprising that he gets so many wickets in his first over because he never gives them any sighters. His first ball is usually spinning hard and bang on a length and the batsmen know there are plenty more of those to come. His record of successful lbw appeals must be a worry too and it is a bit late in the day to decide they should be going down the pitch more. That is a natural instinct for some – like Clarke – but it is not a skill to be learned in a few weeks.
There are great expectations and I just hope that things go England's way, particularly when it comes to injuries. Despite many encouraging signs they may still need a little help from lady luck.


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