锘? Ashes Preview from BetDirect's Charlie McCann
The battle to retain the Ashes begins in Brisbane next Thursday and Australia have announced a 13-man squad for the opener including no less than six pace bowlers. All-rounder Shane Watson has been preferred to Michael Clarke at number six Gary Cahill UEFA EURO Jersey
, and the final pace berth looks a three way fight between the trio of Stuart Clark, Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait who, between them, have only played six Tests.
Johnson has yet to make his Test debut, but has always been highly regarded and bowled some decent spells in the recent ICC Trophy. The Aussies have been looking for a top class left-armer since Bruce Reid, but Dennis Lillee is a big fan and it would be no surprise if Johnson gets the nod over Tait and Clark.
The opening partnership of Justin Langer and Mathew Hayden are under pressure given Phil Jacques has already scored a pair of centuries against the Tourists, but the old guard are in good form themselves and will be surely be given at least a couple of Tests to cement their place at the top of the order.
Captain Ricky Ponting is, arguably, the best player in the World and he will be followed by the mercurial Damien Martyn and Mike Hussey who averages 75 in his 11 Tests to date. Watson was a revelation in the ICC Trophy at the top of the innings, but will bat at six ahead of the brilliant Adam Gilchrist. Ponting is 52 to be top Aussie bat with BetDirect. That looks a fair price.
Shane Warne goes into what is likely to be his last Ashes series with 685 Test wickets and nearly 3000 Test runs. The legendary leg-spinners life remains a soap opera but, despite being in his thirty eighth year, he continues to bamboozle the best of batsman. His googly may not be as effective as in his early days, but he has added the slider and top spinner to his repertoire and remains a massive threat. England will be looking to score heavily in the first innings, as the Aussie curators will make sure there is plenty of spin for Warne and possibly MacGill especially at Sydney and Adelaide.
Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath complete the formidable Baggy Green line up. The former looks the most complete fast-bowler in the world at present, and Strauss and Co will have a fierce examination of their technique and temperament with plenty of short stuff likely to come their way. McGrath has lost a bit of pace but remains an outstanding seam bowler whose nagging length and line will ensure there are no easy runs for the England batsmen. Lee is 52 with BetDirect to be top Aussie bowler and I suggest that is decent value.
The Tourists will have been disappointed, but not surprised, by the news that opener Marcus Trescothick has returned home. The loss of the aggressive Somerset left-hander is a big blow, with Alastair Cook likely to open the innings and Paul Collingwood likely to split the big two of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff at number five. Much rests on Andrew Strauss at the top of the innings, and it is good to see that the former skipper has been in rude form at least in the run up to the final warm up game this weekend. At 31 with BetDirect he is my idea of the top England bat.
If England are to compete Flintoff needs to regain the brilliance of the summer of 2005 and Steve Harmison must recapture his best form. Harmison at his best is a wonderful sight, quick with the ability to bowl a throat ball from just short of a length. Perth with its steep bounce will assist the Durham paceman, but Harmison has not been at his best in recent tours and England must have Harmy firing on all cylinders if they are to remain competitive.
It will be interesting to see if England go with Monty Panesar or Ashley Giles for the spin option. Panesar did little wrong during the summer, but I feel team England will go with the superior batting and fielding of Giles despite his lack of match practice.
The loss of the Aussies was a huge blow to a proud nation and a wonderful if slightly aging side. Warne and McGrath are not the forces they once were, but I believe there will be one last hurrah for Ponting and Co and I can see the Aussies gaining regaining the Ashes by a 4-0 scoreline which is a 51 shot with BetDirect.
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