The Ashes 2010-11 September 23, 2010

England's heightened expectations

There were few surprises in England Ashes squad, but admirable thought seems to have gone into the marginal picks
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To give some measure of the task that lies in wait this winter, England have won the Ashes in Australia on just four occasions in 17 visits since the Second World War. What is more, when they last achieved the feat, in 1986-87, one of the fast bowlers to whom they've entrusted the challenge this time around, Steven Finn, had not yet been conceived, while another, Stuart Broad, was barely six months old as his father Chris secured his own place in folklore with three hundreds in the five Tests.

For all of the ECB's eagerness to draw a line under a poisonous series against Pakistan and turn the sport's attention to the most storied contest of them all, the ultimate prize of an Ashes victory Down Under is one that is granted barely once in a generation, and a challenge that can never be undertaken lightly, as seven of the squad know only too well from their bruising experience from the 2006-07 tour. "Having not won down there for 24 years it would be an outstanding achievement if we win," said the England team's managing director, Hugh Morris. And that was putting it mildly.

Nevertheless there was something about the squad that was unfurled at The Oval on Thursday that inspired a confidence that has not been equalled in recent times. It wasn't just that 13 of the 16 names picked themselves after an 18-month stint in which they haven't lost a Test series, nor that the glitzy announcement (with portentous musical accompaniment) reinforced the point that England are the holders of the Ashes and that they intend to cling on at all costs. The most significant aspect, arguably, was the clarity of thought that went into those three marginal decisions.

Tim Bresnan's selection ahead of Ajmal Shahzad was the decision that raised the most eyebrows, but when viewed as part of a whole that includes Finn, Broad and the newly recalled Chris Tremlett - three quicks who between them form the tallest English attack ever to travel to Australia - it's fair to second-guess why the lankier of the two Yorkshire prospects was given the last official berth in the party, even though Shahzad will travel with the team to provide support in the warm-ups ahead of the Brisbane Test.

"There are plans ahead," admitted England's national selector Geoff Miller. "Size obviously does matter - there are going to be some bouncy wickets over there and we obviously have cover in the bouncy areas. But we also have people who can swing as well, so there is a good cross-section there and everything has been taken into consideration. The planning has been a long time in the making."

In his solitary Test at Old Trafford back in June, Shahzad produced some prodigious reverse-swing to encourage the notion that he could travel to Australia as England's point-of-difference bowler - the man to mix it up with hustle, bustle and magic balls when the side was in need of a pick-me-up. But to watch the manner in which James Anderson has changed his tune and tightened his lines this summer has been instructive. While harvesting 32 wickets at 16.84 in six Tests, Anderson served up 76 maidens, or one-third of his season's tally of Test overs.

Hooping the ball around corners is a lovely idea in theory, but with the Kookaburra ball and under clear blue skies, England's default approach will be to give Australia nothing to hit for five Tests in a row - and the best way of doing that is to ping the ball down on a good length from as high a starting point as possible.

To that end, and for all that it will dredge up those old doubts about the size of his ticker, Tremlett's recall is an exciting selection - and one that was largely instigated by David Saker, England's bowling coach, whose approach since joining the set-up ahead of the World Twenty20 in May has been to accept no pre-conceived notions and to judge all candidates for selection on the merits that have got them to the top.

The most significant aspect, arguably, was the clarity of thought that went into the three marginal decisions

Having shifted from Hampshire to reboot his career in an eye-catching debut season for Surrey, Tremlett believes he's a changed man from the timid performer who claimed just one wicket in three one-day appearances on the one-day leg of England's last trip to Australia, and the selectors seem to agree. "Last season I stopped enjoying the game a little, and that's why I felt I needed a fresh start," he told Surrey TV. "I think my confidence is as high as it's ever been, and I've surprised myself a little bit by doing as well as I have and staying on the park as long as I did."

As self-endorsements go, Tremlett's words are not exactly the most passionate you'll ever hear, but then again, that's simply not his style, just as Anderson's demeanour also tends towards introspection. With three first-class games and some of the best nets facilities in the world in which to make his case for selection, Tremlett will have every chance to push himself into the frame if he really is the changed character that the Surrey management proclaim him to be. And should he fade into the background, a la Joey Benjamin in 1994-95, then at least England will not have committed the mistake they made in 1998-99, when the best tall bowler in the country, Andrew Caddick, was left behind in Taunton because no -one trusted him to fit in.

The other key selection is that of the second spinner. James Tredwell was Graeme Swann's understudy in Bangladesh, and he let no one down with his diligent performance on debut in Dhaka, where he claimed six wickets to help secure the series. But as a man for an occasion such as Sydney or Adelaide, when two slow bowlers could well come into the equation, there could be no ignoring Monty Panesar, another player for whom a change of county, from Wantage Road to Hove, has led to an upsurge in his fortunes.

Four years ago in Australia, when his career was still on an upward trajectory, Panesar became a cause celebre due to Duncan Fletcher's reluctance to pitch him into the contest, and when he could be held back no longer for the third Test in Perth, he responded with eight wickets on his Ashes debut, including a first-innings five-for, a feat that not even Shane Warne had managed at the WACA.

"Monty has been to Australia before and did well once he got in the side," said Miller. "It was up to him to go away and resurrect his career. There were times we thought he was not thinking for himself, but he has been given the onus to do that at Sussex. He has set his field and had conversations with his captain and coach, and he has developed as a person."

It could well be that none of the three marginal selections actually gets a game in the Ashes. The first-choice XI is more or less set in stone, with Ian Bell due to take Eoin Morgan's berth at No. 6 from the side that saw off Pakistan at Lord's last month. But the sense you get is of a squad with no passengers, least of all among the bowlers, upon whom the real burden will fall this winter. Only in the victories of 1978-79 and 1986-87, when Australia's fortunes were close to rock-bottom, have Ashes tours been won without a paceman making an indelible mark. In 1954-55 Frank Tyson forged his legend; in 1970-71, that honour fell to John Snow. If a similar star is to be born in 2010-11, England have ensured they've got their bases covered.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • gottalovetheraindance on September 26, 2010, 4:13 GMT

    Australia played 6 tests in their backyard last summer & they failed 2 win all 6 tests against weakened Pakistani & West Indian teams without Fidel & Taylor & Younis Khan In fact they easily could have lost 3 of those matches so 2 think that they will win the Ashes 5-0 is not solid reasoning. It is just mere wishful thinking. I can bet my bottom dollar that England will put up much more of a fight for the Ashes than either West Indies or Pakistan gave them last year because very little was expected of those teams when they went down under on tour but expectations of England r very high going in2 the Ashes thats y Aussies r trying 2 convince themselves that they have what it takes 2 regain the Ashes.

  • vipin.chaudhary2325 on September 25, 2010, 16:00 GMT

    is wickets are gud den 2-0 for Australia...... if wickets helps bowler den may be 3-1 for australia... come on... England can't beat Australia in Australia in next 15 years or so.... England is a good team, but only in England..... no chance for England

  • Jim1207 on September 25, 2010, 13:52 GMT

    The way England think that they can beat Aussies down under is commendable, if not laughable. What is laughable is the repeated saying that they have not lost a test series 6 six times in a row for 18 months against Bangla, WI and Pak! If they want to win Ashes, they have to forget those easy outings and prepare for tough times. To win Aussies in Oz, you have to play top-class Cricket for every session, your batsmen should be very tough and can be able to bat singlehandedly for longer periods and score some big runs and your bowlers need to be consistent throughout the tournament. The reality is Cook, Bell, KP and Colly are not in good form to be very competitive. Strauss, Trott and Morgan have the mental capability, but there has been a talk of leaving Morgan! That's one of the dumbest decision one can arrive at!! Nobody would have believed Duminy would play well in Aus but to say that Morgan is new to Aus - even though he is the strongest mentally - is surely laughable. Aus: 3-1.

  • pyramidz on September 24, 2010, 23:46 GMT

    Ricky ponting and his men are deadly in australian conditions, i think england can be destroyed 5-0 in the series. Australian batsmen can handle the bounce and if they can see off the new ball they can be very dangerous. australian bowlers with bollinger & johnson will bamboozle the english batsmen. One can see the weakness in their lineup, cook is streaky early on, trott is beginning to struggle for form and eoin morgan will be discovered in australia. the only potent threat is strauss and anderson, all the other english bowlers will toil. England definitely wont be able to secure a victory but can earn themselves a flukey draw. I'd love to see Strauss sadistic smile when england get thrashed

  • osm73 on September 24, 2010, 22:29 GMT

    England will be blown away in the Ashes despite the fact that Australia is not as strong as it used to be. It's one thing to win the series due to home advantage (that too by a narrow margin of 2-1) and another to beat the Australians in their own backyard. England won against Pakistan largely because of the ineptness of the Pakistani batting line up, not to mention absolutely rubbish fielding by Pakistani team. On more than one occasion they were let off the hook because of dismal fielding and some inexperienced captaincy.

  • CandD-Ski on September 24, 2010, 19:27 GMT

    At least two of the grounds will require two spinners. Taking Adil Rashid, who averaged well over 40 in the Champioship and can certainly bat at 7 or 8 for England would allow 5 bowlers - essential to take 20 wickets on hard wickets in hot conditions. Rashid'sbowling performances in the First Division are worth more than Monty's in the Second Division and his fielding is in a different league. Unbelievably, Rashid didn't even make the Performance Squad. I don't believe the selectors are racist so there must be some unknown factor..... Anyone know???

  • pianofan on September 24, 2010, 17:15 GMT

    I agree with a lot of comments about Petersen. You can't drop Collingwood because of his record, but one feels that his is on the downturn. Bell and Cook have to have outstanding series for England's batting to hold up. I would put Morgan in instead of KP. The bowling is in better shape than the batting. I might have favoured Shazad because of his reverse swing.

    It will be either 2-2 or 2-1 Australia

  • schapagain on September 24, 2010, 16:10 GMT

    @WilliamFranklin... go and check the record of johnson in tests he is 150+ wic @29 a piece,now about hilfy highest wicket taker in ashes last time ,about bolly if u see combined one day and test record he is the most sucessfull pacer last year and about spinner, nathen hauritz was only behind swann if u compare the bowling average and if u r not satisfied then check the record of english pacers no one has average below 35 in tests way below than shane watsons average

  • allblue on September 24, 2010, 15:48 GMT

    Well there's going to be a lot of gab before the Gabba, and why not, this series promises to be the most competitive antipodean Ashes for a generation. For my money the Aussies have the slight edge man-for-man in their conditions, but this England team is well managed and well led, and has a resilience that most of their predecessors lacked.Those offering their confident predictions of easy victory either way are whistling in the dark, the fate of the urn will come down to those small decisive moments, and it will be a case of he who holds his nerve wins. Irrespective of the outcome, cricket will be the winner I believe. Can't wait!

  • dummy4fb on September 24, 2010, 15:36 GMT

    I would say that Cook is as likely to fail as Marcus North and Michael Hussey ........... I will say if Swann doesnt strike rich he will still pick up five times the volume of wickets the mighty Nathan Hauritz will do. Ben Hilfenhous ... is that a real name.......... and if there are 11 more self righteous cricketers than Stuart Broad in the world, they will all come from Australia, 3-0 England, 2 drawn tests @ Adelaide and Melbourne!!!! Ponting sacked as captain for not winning the last three series, drawn against a hopeless pakistan team, thrashed in India and well beaten by England...

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