Eng v Aus, Champions Trophy Group A, Edgbaston June 7, 2013

Ashes put aside for Trophy opener

It may be the first of many England versus Australia clashes over the next few months but both teams have their eyes on the initial prize at Edgbaston

And so it begins. Not just the Champions Trophy campaigns of England and Australia, but a saga that will see these two sides play up to 66 days of cricket against one another across 26 matches within the next 34 weeks. It may well prove, in time, that such exploitation of this fixture damages "the brand" but, for now, Edgbaston is a 25,000 capacity sell-out and this event has the high profile it required to capture the public imagination.

This will be the 100th international match - including women's games - at Edgbaston. If it lives up to some of the previous encounters involving Australia - the World Cup semi-final of 1999 and the Ashes Test of 2005, for example - then it will prove to be quite an occasion.

It says much for how the balance of power has changed between these two nations that England go into Saturday's game as favourites. Despite Australia having won both the two previous Champions Trophies and despite England having just lost an ODI series against New Zealand, England are still expected to prevail. It was no doubt a slip of the tongue when Alastair Cook delivered the faint praise that his side would have to play "close to their potential" to win, but there may also be some truth in that.

While Australia make-do without their captain and finest batsman, Michael Clarke, all 15 of England's squad are fit for selection. And while there is a doubt over Tim Bresnan's availability due to his wife's impending labour - she was due last Monday - both Steven Finn and Stuart Broad have returned to something like full fitness and are highly likely to play. The final selection decision will almost certainly come down to a choice between Ravi Bopara and Bresnan.

Bearing in mind the fine weather and excellent batting surface expected for this match, then Bopara has a decent chance of playing. England have based many of their plans around the idea that two new balls in English conditions will aid the seamers and require technically correct top-order batsmen. That may still prove to be true but in an attempt to cover their options, Bopara may well come into the side in order to not just strengthen the batting, but provide a little more freedom to Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler. Besides, Bopara is a much-improved bowler over the last 18 months and has an ability to work on the ball and help his colleagues gain reverse swing.

Certainly Cook admitted that the white ball might not provide as much help to bowlers in such fine conditions and agreed that England may alter the balance of the side to reflect that.

"Last year we played some one-day cricket when there was some rain around and the ball did a lot for a long time," he said. "But thankfully we've got some good weather and in England that normally determines what the ball does.

"We are thinking about the balance of the team. I think it's a good position to be in. It's nice that the option of having three seamers and one spinner, with the fifth bowler being Ravi and Joe Root, has worked well. So it gives us the option. We can change the way we play, which we probably haven't been able to do in the past. It gives us a selection headache in one way, but a good one."

It will not be helpful for either side to look too far ahead. While there may be some truth in the suggestion that previous limited-overs encounters - the Champions Trophy semi-final encounter at this ground in 2004, for example, or the T20 match at the Ageas Bowl in 2005 - have proved important blows in establishing dominance in subsequent Ashes series, this event deserves to be treated as important in its own right.

England are the only side in this tournament who have never won a global 50-over event. They know that the habit of defining success by the results against just one other side has led to underperformance in limited-overs competitions for decades. The Ashes may have tradition and a marketing industry all of its own, but in terms of global appeal, the Champions Trophy could arguably be defined as more important. Indeed, you could argue that England's obsession with the Ashes was unhealthy for a long time.

"The Champions Trophy is such an important event in itself," Cook agreed. "Clearly everyone is going to talk about us playing Australia with the Ashes coming up. But I think both sides will be seeing it just as a game they need to win to get the tournament off to a good start rather than anything else.

"We've spoken about trying to win a 50-over tournament. This is an opportunity to do that. Alongside the World Cup in 2015, it's a very important tournament. We know what we can do. It's about us delivering it in these two weeks."

Cook also dismissed the relevance of the warm-up match against India in which Australia were bowled out for just 65.

"Those warm-up games are irrelevant," he said. "You're not going to be remembered for what happened in the warm up games. You're going to be remembered for what happened in the actual tournament. Just like what happened to us against New Zealand. In the ideal world, we'd have beaten New Zealand in that series. We didn't play as well as we could have done, but that will count for nothing when we start this game."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • N on June 8, 2013, 13:11 GMT

    @ JG2704: Point taken. And might I add: it's nice to come across a more balanced English fan for a change. Not that there aren't that many......I remember chatting with a couple of barmy army chappies during the Mumbai Test recently (yeah yeah, the one that we lost, when Pietersen scored 180 odd and Monty routed us thereafter). Seemed like nice, passionate fans to me (quite knowledgeable about cricket too), far from the louts I was imagining the barmy army to be.

    You don't have to like the IPL but you must realise that it's here to stay (controversies notwithstanding). It is enormously popular in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Windies and S.Africa. The very finest cricketers from around the world are on display and all said and done, it is piloting cricket towards uncharted and exciting territory. We'll wait and see how it all unfolds. I do wish we could see more of KP as well as Swanny, Butler, Bairstow, Root, Prior etc. in the IPL.

    P.S.: I'm not a fan of Formula 1 racing either.

  • Colin on June 8, 2013, 12:38 GMT

    @ Un_Citoyen_Indien, you say it best when you say 'each to their own'. The Ashes is a big deal (for Eng and Aus at least) and many, like me consider Test cricket to be the highest form of the game. I don't mind T20 but I certainly get bored with the constant diet of it that happens in India. It is a shame that Test cricket is so lowly regarded in India and poorly supported but as you say 'each to their own'. Your snipes about Ashes cricket and Test cricket can be best remedied by not a) not watching it and b) not posting on English/Aussie articles. Easy!

  • John on June 8, 2013, 8:49 GMT

    @Un_Citoyen_Indien ctd - Not sure how many Eng fans routinely bash the T20 format. Personally I think it's great and love watching many of the games. However , when we get others on our threads constantly and consistently trying to belittle our cricket (and again bear in mind our population and the popularity of cricket here compared to India) and ram IPL down our throats like it's a religion - then you do get responses. If someone constantly tried to ram anything down your throat which you weren't that bothered about you would eventually respond similarly - no? F1 is one of the biggest money sports in the world - does that mean everyone should like it?

  • N on June 8, 2013, 8:27 GMT

    @ jmcilhinney: I never could sit through an entire test match. That just bores me to death. I do appreciate good cricketing skills (irrespective of format) though. It's great to watch an Amla or a Pietersen or a Swann practice their art now as much as it was to watch a Richards or a Marshall or an Akram or a Warne then. So yes, I only follow test match action when my favourite cricketers are on screen.

    However, I sometimes wish that the English (and the Australians to an extent) join the rest of the world in fully partaking in the joys of multi-format, multi-lateral, "World Cricket" in the days to come and cease this fascination for endless bilateral 5 test Ashes series. It's almost feels like a relic of the days when the ICC stood for the "Imperial Cricket Conference". Listening to the English and Australian fans go on about the Ashes is almost like watching a couple 'getting cozy' with each other at a park, blissfully unmindful of everyone else.

    Oh well, to each their own, I s'pose

  • John on June 8, 2013, 5:58 GMT

    @Un_Citoyen_Indien on (June 7, 2013, 21:44 GMT), I don't think it's that England fans in general take excessive pride in having won the WT20, although any success is nice. It's just that the fact that England have won the WT20 is absolute proof against people saying that England haven't won an international limited-overs trophy. They have and that's that. Of course, winning the WC would be preferable but, whether you can comprehend it or not, winning the Ashes is still a bigger prize than that. England and Australia both love Test cricket and the rivalry between the two countries really is that strong. If you can't get that the you just can't get it. No amount of explaining can make you feel what we feel. Now, even if England beat the current Australia team, we realise that that doesn't mean that we could automatically beat the great teams of the past. It still feels good to beat Australia though, and we'd rather that than win a WC. If you think that's wrong, too bad.

  • N on June 7, 2013, 21:44 GMT

    @ yorkshirematt: Notice that in the second paragraph, I have specifically mentioned "half a century of ODI cricket".

    It does seem strange to an outsider when English fans routinely bash and depreciate the T20 format in favour of test cricket (particularly the Ashes) and yet will be quick to wave their solitary ICC triumph that came about in (horrors!) the very "hit and giggle format" that they so despise, in the face of anyone who reminds them of their glaring under-performance in limited overs cricket. One wonders how long English fans hope to cover the stark bareness of their ICC trophy cabinet with the meagre fig-leaf of the T20 World Cup 2010.

    That performance though, was most definitely praiseworthy (far more so than were several English Ashes triumphs, at least to a non English fan).

  • John on June 7, 2013, 21:05 GMT

    @Cpt.Meanster on (June 7, 2013, 19:30 GMT), check Bopara's stats the last time England played Australia in an ODI series. One of the main reasons that England are persisting with him is that they have a dearth of batsmen who can bowl. Bopara's bowling has proven to be very handy, although he shouldn't be relied upon to bowl a full 10 overs more often than not. Joe Root's unexpected success with the ball has been a bonus but he's very much a part-timer at best. This is another reason that replacing Paul Collingwood has been so difficult.

  • Matthew on June 7, 2013, 20:51 GMT

    @un citoyen indien I agree BUT was the 2010 WT20 not an ICC limited overs event? The England knockers seem to have conveniently forgotten that. I don't dispute that that is still a poor return though

  • Dummy4 on June 7, 2013, 20:32 GMT

    and they aint gonna win this trophy this year too as some underrated new zealand team beated them comprehensively

  • N on June 7, 2013, 19:44 GMT

    As Mr. Dobell rightly suggested, England's obsession with the Ashes has consistently impaired their outlook towards, as well as their performance in limited overs cricket.

    It must be quite embarrassing for players, administrators, not to mention English fans, to note that after nearly half a century of ODI cricket, England have yet to register a win in an ICC event, let alone the World Cup, while even Sri Lanka (who only started playing proper international cricket in the '80s) are former World Champions.

    While other nations have produced outstanding bowlers and batsmen in limited overs cricket, only two Englishmen have managed to take 200 ODI wickets (Darren Gough and James Anderson) and Paul Collingwood is the only English batsman to aggregate more than 5,000 ODI runs.

    And yet, for some, nothing is more important in the English Cricketing Calendar than the umpteenth bilateral Ashes even if there's a 50 over ICC World Cup just around the corner. Talk about cricketing priorities...

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