Reasons to be cheerful
By the time Michael Vaughan and Ricky Ponting walk out for the toss on Thursday, 35 days will have passed since the crucial first Ashes Test of 2005 got underway. And 35 days later, yet another "crucial" Test is upon us at Trent Bridge. With the series level at one-all, a five-match skirmish has become a two-game scuffle. Will Luke details the positives each team can take into the fourth Test.
Trescothick lays his demons to rest
Trescothick was so disheartened with his lack of form in the 2002-03 Ashes series that he announced upon arrival back in England that he wanted to "turn into a fat bastard and sleep for a year". His well-publicised lack of foot movement, and propensity to fish at most deliveries outside his off-stump, were his undoing against a fearsome Australian bowling attack. Two-and-a-half years is a long time in cricket, and Trescothick has developed into an opening batsman of real class and dominance. He has yet to score a Test hundred against Australia, but is averaging over 43 in this series, including an innings of 90, at nearly a run-a-ball, in the second Test. Well beaten at Lord's, it was this innings, Trescothick's best in three Ashes series, which propelled England to a score of 407 in a day, turning the momentum England's way. He has also been England's most reliable slipper.
England masters of reverse-swing
Who would have thought it? Well, Duncan Fletcher and Troy Cooley, probably. Reverse-swing has figured heavily in the past two Tests, with Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff leading the way. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Flintoff has added yet another string to his bulging bow of talents, but Jones's development in this series has been revelatory, even though he has often been mentioned as a fine old-ball bowler. His ability to move the ball both ways at good pace, with immense control, has balanced England's attack with marked results. Jones's delivery that swung back to castle Michael Clarke at Old Trafford will stay long in the memory of those who saw it. With Harmison and Flintoff's height and pace, the ball has become scuffed-up as early as the 15th over, making it ready to reverse just as the new-ball hardness eases up. This is where England have succeeded in not allowing any of Australia's batsmen to dominate, most notably Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist.
Our sister publication, The Wisden Cricketer, recently ran a poll which revealed, unsurprisingly, that Adam Gilchrist was the world's scariest batsman. He strikes unabashed fear into opposing bowlers and fans, with his free-swinging and is rightly acknowledged as the most devastating batsman currently playing. However, he has so far been reduced to a mere spectator in this series with his lack of runs even affecting his usually competent wicketkeeping in the last Test. His average of 24 is lower than Shane Warne, Ian Bell and, incredibly, Simon Jones, and no-one has exposed Gilchrist's off-stump vulnerabilities better than Andrew Flintoff. It was becoming obvious in the one-day series that preceded the Tests that Flintoff had the wood over Australia's No. 7, and that trend has continued. England's talisman has removed Gilchrist three times at a cost of just 13 runs per dismissal.
Who needs youthful exuberance when Australia's 30-somethings are reminding everyone of their continued brilliance? Ageing they might be, but Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath are performing as well as they were in their 20s, much to the continued annoyance of English fans. Between them, they have 34 wickets already in this series. McGrath's pre-series 5-0 predictions might have been churlish, but their dedication to their country and their consistently potent performances cannot be denied. They are both in form, and remain Australia's most reliable weapons of mass destruction, despite their combined age of 70 years.
The allrounder of the series
Er, surely some mistake? Flintoff's English, isn't he? Of course he is, but it is Warne who takes the accolade for allrounder of the series so far. He has taken 20 wickets at 20.90, and clobbered 204 runs at an average of 34. In fact, he's made more than Langer, Hayden, Gilchrist, Martyn - and Flintoff. His never-say-die attitude, unorthodox technique and daring strokeplay have dug Australia out of several grave-like holes this summer. His knock of 90 in Australia's first innings of the third Test at Old Trafford helped his side scrape to 302, having slipped to 186 for 6. No other Australian made a fifty in the innings - extras was the next highest with 38. His adventurous batting has been Australia's saving grace this series; Flintoff, you have competition.
Punter returns to form
Until the second innings at Old Trafford, Ricky Ponting's series hadn't been a memorable one. Then he made the amazing century at Old Trafford. His captaincy has, at times, appeared arthritic in the face of a fearless, nerveless English onslaught. But an in-form Ponting is a happy Ponting, and if he can translate this form into another century in the first innings at Trent Bridge, Australia will be well on course to retain the Ashes. The criticisms of his form and captaincy before the third Test only went to emphasise the brilliance of the match-saving innings.
Will Luke is editorial assistant of Cricinfo