England fans: It's the Ashes all the way
When England's cricketers arrive back in London this week at the end of a dismal Champions Trophy campaign, it is likely that they will be greeted by a chorus of indifference. As we have suspected all year, there's only one contest in the pipeline that matters to English fans, and it has nothing to do with one-day cricket.
A survey conducted by Cricinfo has revealed that a massive 91.3% of English respondents would prefer their country to retain the Ashes than win the World Cup. Only 8.4% believed that the World Cup, which takes place in the Caribbean in March and April next year, was the more significant tournament.
For all their excitement about the Ashes, however, the respondents to the survey were a pretty pessimistic bunch. Only 28.6% believed that England would win the series outright, compared to 47.3% backing Australia to reclaim their crown. But, and it's a big but, 24.1% favour the draw (something that hasn't happened in an Ashes series since 1972) and that would be enough for England.
Nobody's expecting a bore-draw though. Of the predicted scorelines, the most favoured by England fans is 3-1 to Australia (21.1%), while 19.4% back a repeat of last summer's 2-1 triumph. The smart money might well be on the 2-2 draw, however, which has been predicted by 17.4% of the English respondents.
As for the top-scorers and wicket-takers, English uncertainty is reflected in the scattergun nature of their predictions. The favourite in the batting stakes is Andrew Strauss, on 36.6%, but Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen all picked up between 17.4% and 18.4% of the votes, while Andrew Flintoff, curiously, was nominated by less than 1% of the respondents.
Flintoff is, however, backed by 30.4% to be England's leading wicket-taker, with Monty Panesar (22.8%), Steve Harmison (22.4%) and Matthew Hoggard (14.5%) also rated highly.
The dangermen in the Australian team are rather more clear-cut. Ricky Ponting is backed by 55.8% of Englishmen to lead the run-scoring, with Mike Hussey bubbling under on 22.6%, while the bowling is a total no-brainer. A whopping 82.4% back Shane Warne to repeat his heroics of 2005.
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