June 7, 2009

An away venue at home

England will have no home advantage or familiarity with Sophia Gardens, and it might just feel like more of an away game than a home game

Well, well, it's another Ashes series. They do come around fast. I'm afraid to say you're unlikely to see me involved in this one at any stage though - I'm finding it a tough enough job just getting into the Yorkshire side at the minute - but I can safely use my in-depth knowledge of international cricket affairs to tell you that there'll be one or two nerves going around the England camp right now.

Some of the lads, of course, will just take it all in their stride, but personally, I always found it toughest right before the toss, when there was that uncertainty about whether we were batting or bowling. As soon as I knew that, everything would feel right with the world again. If we were bowling, I'd just shuffle up, take my chances, you know the drill - if we were batting I'd probably slope off and find somewhere to kip!

The dressing-room kippers might find it a little disorientating over the next few days, mind you. Cricketers like to be creatures of habit, but half the guys will probably not have played in Cardiff for years, what with Glamorgan being in the second division and all that. They'll have no home advantage or familiarity with the ground, and it might just feel like more of an away game than a home game.

Of course, when you get out into the middle, none of that matters. It's still a pitch of 22 yards, with three bits of wood and two bits of wood on the other end. The bowlers still try to get the batsmen out, the batsmen still try to get one over the bowlers. None of that's going to change, but it's the little things that will feel weird: where to change, where to sit, what going to happen for tea, which is your favourite toilet.

At all the usual Test venues, you know straight away how you want to do things. I used to know four or five different places to have a kip on all the different grounds, especially after a big Lord's lunch. But all that research will be out of the window this week. The guys will have to start their hunt from scratch.

Still, when they get over all that, there's a Test series to win, and England go into the contest as equals this time. Australia have lost quite a few of their iconic legendary batsmen, including that nice Mr Hayden of course, and though Mr Hughes seems to have filled his boots pretty well so far in Test cricket, Harmy seemed to stick it up him quite effectively at Worcester, so it'll be interesting to see how that one pans out.

Of course, Harmy can rough up the best of batters, so that's not really saying much. That's what he gets with his height and pace, and a few of the England bowlers will wish they were also 6'6" and could bring that sort of hurry-up to the table. But Jimmy Anderson is in awesome form at the moment, and if he bowls like he did against West Indies, he's going to cause a lot of problems, swinging both ways without a massive change of action.

He's been bowling fantastically well, and though he's been in and around the England squad for a long time, he's developed a hell of a lot lately. He didn't have a lot of first-class cricket to fall back on, because he was picked for England so young after only a handful of games for Lancashire. He's learned the hard way at international level, and he's matured incredibly as a result.

And then there's Fred. If he can keep his body fit, everyone knows what a superb bowler he can be. I was chatting to some of the Warwickshire guys this weekend, and they said he was bowling as fast as light against them last week, which means he's putting down a heavy ball, which is great news. If he's firing it'll be difficult for Australia to deal with.

Swanny will be fun to watch as well, turning the ball away from the lefties in the Aussie order. But it'll be especially interesting to see what Ponting makes of an orthodox spinner. Swanny's not really got mystery balls, except when he hits the high notes in karaoke, so he'll have to do him with flight and guile instead.

England have got a very good chance, especially seeing as Australia are without Brett Lee. They've got a lot of Ashes debutants in their side as well, but then again, you always think about the very good overseas players that seem to line up in county cricket. They are always Australian and they always score shed loads of runs. They have a number of batsmen who can just waltz in and do a job because they have that strength in depth.

Can this series live up to the hype of 2005? Who knows - but the thing that captured the nation back then was all the excitement of the matches. Winning by two runs at Edgbaston, Australia holding out for 24 balls to draw at Old Trafford, our collapse at Trent Bridge, every game had a twist and a turn, and kept ebbing and flowing to the end, and that was what kept the nation gripped. In fact I've been watching all the re-runs on the telly recently [probably on ESPN Classic - Channel 442 … Ed]. Cracking viewing, just like Botham's Ashes, which has been on the box as well.

What's that you say? There's been another Ashes series since then? Nah, you're kidding. I don't remember anything about a whitewash in 2006-07. We must have wiped that from our memory, because nobody ever talks about it. Seriously, the Aussies wiped the floor with us, and just played better cricket.

Especially at Adelaide. That was the biggest turning point in that series. If we'd come out of that game with a win or a positive draw, we'd have wiped the bad memories of Brisbane and revived memories of 2005, when we lost at Lord's but still came back to beat them. Unfortunately Mr Warne got stuck into England, and that was the end of that. But the England guys will still be hurt from that series, and they'll want to put another notch in their records against Australia.

So, is it prediction time? Oh all right then, 2-1 to England. I'm backing our boys to come good. Not sure where I'll be watching this one though. We're off to play Durham in the Champo on Friday. It's all glamour, I tell you.

Matthew Hoggard will be writing regular columns for Cricinfo through the 2009 season