November 18, 2013

The Ashes 2013-14

England a fading force

The resumption of Ashes cricket is drawing nearer and there is a sense of a change in mood: England standing as clear favourites has been eroded somewhat by their tricky build-up and the form of many of the Australia squad. In the Sunday Telegraph, Scyld Berry says that England's batsmen, with the exception of Ian Bell, are beginning to fade which sets up the prospect of a shared series.

Some Australians, emboldened by signs their team have bottomed out, are predicting 3-1 - conceivable, if injury strikes a major England player. For instance, if Alastair Cook broke a finger and Matt Prior had to take over as captain; or if Kevin Pietersen's knees give way again and England lose their capacity to score quickly and give their bowlers extra time; or if James Anderson, heaven forfend, proved mortal at last.

Many England supporters are predicting 3-1 in their favour which, again, is possible if injury intervenes. Australia's batting would be lost without Michael Clarke, whose back ruled him out of the Champions Trophy last summer. Or if Ryan Harris, their attack leader, is injured - and he has managed only 16 Tests in his 34 years - they are down to the reserves of Ben Hilfenhaus and the uncapped Nathan Coulter-Nile.

Michael Vaughan, in his Daily Telegraph column, argues that both Alastair Cook and Michael Clarke have work to do on their captaincy - Clarke needs to win a few Tests and Cook needs to come out of his shell

I will be interested to see Cook in the field in Australia because I think he will have been damaged by what Warne has said. The environment in this England team is to try and improve every day and that means you also have to be open to feedback. If I were Cook and Andy Flower I would be saying: "OK, some of Warney's stuff has been out of order but we could be more proactive and aggressive in the field."

The Brisbane Test will mark the 100th of Kevin Pietersen's England career, a period of time studded with breathtaking batting and a fair few controversies. In the Observer, Vic Marks says that the landmark shows how durable Pietersen has been

Now Pietersen is in the autumn of his career. The body is creaking. When he sets off for that first single it is not only the non-striker who looks on with trepidation; so does the physiotherapist. Often it takes longer for him to acclimatise at the crease. Yet to the Australians he surely remains the most coveted of England wickets in this series.

And in the Daily Mail, current and former team-mates discuss Pietersen's impact

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