The Investec Ashes 2013 July 8, 2013

Ashes tradition cannot disguise flaws

There is no amount of marketing or jingoistic hubris that can dress up the Investec Ashes series as a battle between the two best Test sides
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While the careers of most England and Australia players will be judged disproportionately on their performances in Ashes series, it is worth putting this encounter into context. England are currently No. 3 in the Test rankings; Australia are No. 4. There is no amount of marketing or jingoistic hubris that can dress this series as a battle between the two best Test sides.

It is, like the Glasgow or Liverpool derbies, an encounter dripping with tradition and significance for those involved but, in the grand scheme of things, it is another step on the journey for both sides as they seek to retrace their steps on the road back to former heights. England cannot claim to be No. 1 again until they defeat South Africa. But defeating Australia would represent a decent step in the right direction.

They are expected to do just that. Not since 1978-79 have England gone into an Ashes series as such overwhelming favourites. On that occasion, when England went on to win 5-1, Australia had the valid excuse that their squad had been weakened by World Series Cricket and could therefore dismiss the result as something of an aberration. This time, neither side can have any excuse.

It is worth reflecting on how that situation has arisen: how a side that for many years beat England with almost embarrassing ease has sunk to arguably the lowest point in its history and how an England team that, less than a decade-and-a-half ago, sunk to the bottom of the Test rankings, has risen to touch - albeit briefly - the top spot in the rankings in all three formats.

The root of the answer is in the question. England were so awful for so long that there was, eventually, a realisation that things had to change. The defeats were so painful and so damaging to the ECB's hopes of developing the game commercially that it was agreed - at long last - that the England team had to be prioritised and every act in domestic cricket geared towards ensuring the success of the national team.

So, central contracts were introduced in 2000 to help ensure that players reached international cricket in the physical and mental condition to give it their best. Two divisions were also introduced to the County Championship in 2000 to introduce a tougher competitive edge to domestic cricket, while the ECB also invested in a very well-equipped national performance centre in Loughborough and more age-group and A team tours to help bridge the gap between the domestic and international games.

They invested in better facilities and the best coaches; they invested in longer tours and better planning; they identified the best players at a young age and they tried, wherever possible, to stick with them whatever the fluctuations of form and fortune. In short, a game that was still amateur in many ways in 1999, has been dragged into the professional world by 2013.

It would be stretching a point to suggest that Australia have gone in the other direction. But, while England made a point of toughening up their domestic cricket, Australia introduced an age qualification into their second XI competition, so that only three players in each team could be aged over 25. As a result, there was an exodus of wisdom and experience in Australian domestic cricket.

Meanwhile, they altered their academy system so that, instead of identifying the best young teenage players in the country, they started to concentrate on those who had already started their professional careers.

And while England have made a point of consistency of selection over the last decade, Australia are just hours from the start of an Ashes series yet it remains almost impossible to predict the identity of their side. They have changed their coach, their keeper, their opening batsmen and their new ball bowlers in recent months and, since the retirement of Shane Warne, have given a Test cap to every spin bowler in Australia with a pulse and bladder control.

There are some lessons there for England. County cricket is currently awash with rules that incentivise counties for picking young players and regulations that render it increasingly hard to register non-England qualified cricketers.

Equally, there are ever fewer appearances from the best international players in domestic cricket, reducing not only the quality of competition but the ability of young players to learn first hand from the best in the business. While the motivations for that are admirable, they are in danger of compromising the standard of the domestic game which may well, in a few years, manifest itself in a weaker international team.

The current team is benefitting from the tough domestic scene that pervaded about a decade ago. It was that environment in which Kevin Pietersen, who arrived in the UK as a modest spinner and has developed into one of the best middle-order batsmen England has ever selected, learned his trade. It was that environment in which Alastair Cook, who has already broken a host of England Test batting records and has much power to add, learned his trade.

It was that environment in which James Anderson, England's most skilful swing bowler since Sir Ian Botham, and Graeme Swann, their best off-spinner since Jim Laker, honed their trade. And it may well prove to be that environment that makes the difference between the two side in this series.

There are concerns for England. England's slip catching has, of late, been fallible and they have never adequately replaced the fielding of Paul Collingwood, in particular. They may have some issues, too, over the potency of the attack on a Trent Bridge pitch that is not expected to help conventional swing or spin bowling. Reverse swing, a skill with which England probably hold the edge, may prove crucial in the first Test.

Jonny Bairstow is also a concern simply due to the fact that he has not enjoyed enough cricket to find any form; he has one innings in competitive cricket since the Test series against New Zealand ended in May and that was in a T20 match.

England are favourites. But a series between Nos 3 and 4 in the rankings should not be by any stretch of the imagination be considered a mismatch.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • GedLadd on July 9, 2013, 5:12 GMT

    On the matter of domestic cricket as the breeding ground for young test players, Dobell omits to mention the emergence of domestic Twenty20 tournaments, which surely is the main reason that County sides now struggle to find the very best international players willing and able to play for them.

    My view, as someone who watches a fair amount of first class cricket in England, is that the first division standard has been maintained in the last 10 years or so, but the quality of first class cricket between the second division sides is now significantly lower.

    The ICC test rankings are fluid right now. South Africa are certainly deserving of their No 1 ranking today but hardly with sustained confidence in the way that West Indies were top for 15+ years from the mid 1970s to the early 1990s and the Aussies for the following 15 years or so. Any one of the current top four sides might be top in the next few years. That fluidity is healthy, not in itself evidence of flaws.

  • Ozcricketwriter on July 9, 2013, 0:58 GMT

    Very good article to highlight the root causes of Australia's problems. I have a feeling that many if not all of those changes were Greg Chappell's ideas. Regardless of who is to blame, they need to be undone and go back to where they were previously as they are identifiable steps in the wrong direction.

    Australia have some very good fast bowlers and are an outside chance if they can play to their strengths. But if both teams go in with 6 batsmen, 1 keeper, 1 spinner and 3 fast bowlers then Australia have no chance. Australia have an outside chance if they go in with 4 fast bowlers, but their best chance, as I have said a few times, is to go in with 5. It is not a big chance, as it leaves them with a short batting line up; but it will give them their best chance of bowling England out cheaply consistently and winning games. The traditional 3 pace/1 spin line up is just not going to work.

  • my_comments on July 10, 2013, 4:18 GMT

    @IndianSRTfan - As you said jadeja is an all-rounder (a spin bowling all-rounder) in pitches spinning from the 1st day itself, even part time spinners would be threatening (eg. TM dilshan, kane Williamson). Similarly a batting all-rounder who is a seam/swing bowler would be considered as a threat in england (eg. mathews) so it was a 04 spinner attack on a pitch which was asked to be a turning pitch.

    Some pitches do favour swing and seam such as Bangalore, while the Brabourne and Wankhede stadiums in Mumbai and Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi never offered nearly as much turn to spinners - Source wikipedia.

    In Oz the assistance given to pace bowlers reduces when the days go by in the test matches. But a spinning track, assistance to spinners increases when the days go by.

    So as I said earlier India took the home advantage to the HIGHEST limit. Cricinfo, please publish.

  • Shan156 on July 10, 2013, 0:05 GMT

    @IndianSRTfan, 4th test in Nagpur against England. India played Ashwin, Ojha, Chawla, and Jadeja. Although Jadeja is an allrounder (so is Ashwin, mind you), he still was the best India spinner on show in that test.

  • Shan156 on July 9, 2013, 17:28 GMT

    wow, India are #2 and we are #3. When and how did that happen?:-) Well, it makes sense. We barely drew a test series against #8 NZ while India, who were ranked #4 before the Aussies series at home, beat the then #3 ranked Aussie side 4-0. So, despite our home and away series wins against India, we still deserve to be ranked #3 because of our other performances especially failing to beat #8 NZ away. Still, the difference of 4 points between us and #2 ranked India seem a little high. In English conditions, I think we are next only to SA.

    However, imagine the uproar had it been the other way round. Had India beaten us home and away and were still ranked lower than us because of their performances against other teams, the ICC rankings would be considered flawed and biased:-) Cricinfo, please publish.

  • Greatest_Game on July 9, 2013, 16:10 GMT

    @ redneck. I know what you mean when you wrote, "we aussies had to put up with 4 of the most lob sided ashes tours down under ever."

    As a kid, an Aus tour was the most exciting cricket imaginable, & I saw most of Aus' 66/67 & 69/70 tours. In 66/67, Aus managed 1 win. Ian Chappell's tour ave was 21.77, & Bill Lawry managed 29.6. Five SA bowlers averaged under 24. Only Bobby Simpson & Ian Redpath averaged above 40. Aus had 2 centuries in 5 tests, & in 5 of 10 inngs they scored under 200 - less than Graeme Pollock's & Dennis Lindsey's top scores!

    69/70 was worse. No Aussie century in 8 inngs. Graeme Pollock scored more in 1 inngs - 274 - than the Aus team did in 6. Only Redpath averaged above 40, yet in 8 inngs totalled 9 more runs than Pollock did in 1. Ian Chappell's ave, 11.5, almost beat Mike Proctors bowling ave of 13.57 (SR 33!) Bill Lawry, dumped as skipper after the whitewash, averaged 24.12, Aus' 4th highest. Six SA bowlers averaged under 24! Now that is really lop-sided.

  • andybu on July 9, 2013, 15:26 GMT

    Interesting to see that 3 of the top 10 run scorers (Rogers, Robson, Allenby) and 3 of the top 10 wicket takers (Magoffin, Hogan, Copeland) in first class cricket this season are all Australian born, suggesting that there's a bit more depth to Australian cricket than 10-0 predictions might suggest and that there's some available talent to draw on if things go pear shaped because of form or injuries this summer

  • 5wombats on July 9, 2013, 13:28 GMT

    Don't agree with the heading. England and Australia are no more or less flawed than they have ever been. It is wholly irrelevent that these two teams are not 1 and 2 in the world. England are still only months away from their historic Test series win in India. Not many teams have ever done that and yet still people seem bent on doing England down. Amazing.

  • DeckChairand6pack on July 9, 2013, 12:39 GMT

    Nice article..., and while I cannot wait to see the Proteas again when they go to the UAE later this year, this is going to be a compelling series before that. England are deserved slight favourites but their press and public tend to talk them up a bit. Australia are in transition but always seem to find a way to compete. Pleased to have test cricket back.

  • YorkshirePudding on July 9, 2013, 12:02 GMT

    the ICC rankings are simply a statistical calculation and really bear little to no-reality in fact. the fact that tey are wieghted in terms of 'relative' position is nonsense, thats like stating Mancher United only get 1 point when beating a newly promoted team yet if the positions were reveresed they would lose points and the newly promoted team would get 7 points. (FYI This is a belief I've held since the rankings started)

    Why not just do a simple 3 points for winning a game, 1 point for drawing a game, with bonus points for winnings by an innings and +3 porint for winnings a series.

    All teams start at zero in each cycle, and points get reset, also only the first home away series against a team is counted to prevent massing of numbers.

  • GedLadd on July 9, 2013, 5:12 GMT

    On the matter of domestic cricket as the breeding ground for young test players, Dobell omits to mention the emergence of domestic Twenty20 tournaments, which surely is the main reason that County sides now struggle to find the very best international players willing and able to play for them.

    My view, as someone who watches a fair amount of first class cricket in England, is that the first division standard has been maintained in the last 10 years or so, but the quality of first class cricket between the second division sides is now significantly lower.

    The ICC test rankings are fluid right now. South Africa are certainly deserving of their No 1 ranking today but hardly with sustained confidence in the way that West Indies were top for 15+ years from the mid 1970s to the early 1990s and the Aussies for the following 15 years or so. Any one of the current top four sides might be top in the next few years. That fluidity is healthy, not in itself evidence of flaws.

  • Ozcricketwriter on July 9, 2013, 0:58 GMT

    Very good article to highlight the root causes of Australia's problems. I have a feeling that many if not all of those changes were Greg Chappell's ideas. Regardless of who is to blame, they need to be undone and go back to where they were previously as they are identifiable steps in the wrong direction.

    Australia have some very good fast bowlers and are an outside chance if they can play to their strengths. But if both teams go in with 6 batsmen, 1 keeper, 1 spinner and 3 fast bowlers then Australia have no chance. Australia have an outside chance if they go in with 4 fast bowlers, but their best chance, as I have said a few times, is to go in with 5. It is not a big chance, as it leaves them with a short batting line up; but it will give them their best chance of bowling England out cheaply consistently and winning games. The traditional 3 pace/1 spin line up is just not going to work.

  • my_comments on July 10, 2013, 4:18 GMT

    @IndianSRTfan - As you said jadeja is an all-rounder (a spin bowling all-rounder) in pitches spinning from the 1st day itself, even part time spinners would be threatening (eg. TM dilshan, kane Williamson). Similarly a batting all-rounder who is a seam/swing bowler would be considered as a threat in england (eg. mathews) so it was a 04 spinner attack on a pitch which was asked to be a turning pitch.

    Some pitches do favour swing and seam such as Bangalore, while the Brabourne and Wankhede stadiums in Mumbai and Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi never offered nearly as much turn to spinners - Source wikipedia.

    In Oz the assistance given to pace bowlers reduces when the days go by in the test matches. But a spinning track, assistance to spinners increases when the days go by.

    So as I said earlier India took the home advantage to the HIGHEST limit. Cricinfo, please publish.

  • Shan156 on July 10, 2013, 0:05 GMT

    @IndianSRTfan, 4th test in Nagpur against England. India played Ashwin, Ojha, Chawla, and Jadeja. Although Jadeja is an allrounder (so is Ashwin, mind you), he still was the best India spinner on show in that test.

  • Shan156 on July 9, 2013, 17:28 GMT

    wow, India are #2 and we are #3. When and how did that happen?:-) Well, it makes sense. We barely drew a test series against #8 NZ while India, who were ranked #4 before the Aussies series at home, beat the then #3 ranked Aussie side 4-0. So, despite our home and away series wins against India, we still deserve to be ranked #3 because of our other performances especially failing to beat #8 NZ away. Still, the difference of 4 points between us and #2 ranked India seem a little high. In English conditions, I think we are next only to SA.

    However, imagine the uproar had it been the other way round. Had India beaten us home and away and were still ranked lower than us because of their performances against other teams, the ICC rankings would be considered flawed and biased:-) Cricinfo, please publish.

  • Greatest_Game on July 9, 2013, 16:10 GMT

    @ redneck. I know what you mean when you wrote, "we aussies had to put up with 4 of the most lob sided ashes tours down under ever."

    As a kid, an Aus tour was the most exciting cricket imaginable, & I saw most of Aus' 66/67 & 69/70 tours. In 66/67, Aus managed 1 win. Ian Chappell's tour ave was 21.77, & Bill Lawry managed 29.6. Five SA bowlers averaged under 24. Only Bobby Simpson & Ian Redpath averaged above 40. Aus had 2 centuries in 5 tests, & in 5 of 10 inngs they scored under 200 - less than Graeme Pollock's & Dennis Lindsey's top scores!

    69/70 was worse. No Aussie century in 8 inngs. Graeme Pollock scored more in 1 inngs - 274 - than the Aus team did in 6. Only Redpath averaged above 40, yet in 8 inngs totalled 9 more runs than Pollock did in 1. Ian Chappell's ave, 11.5, almost beat Mike Proctors bowling ave of 13.57 (SR 33!) Bill Lawry, dumped as skipper after the whitewash, averaged 24.12, Aus' 4th highest. Six SA bowlers averaged under 24! Now that is really lop-sided.

  • andybu on July 9, 2013, 15:26 GMT

    Interesting to see that 3 of the top 10 run scorers (Rogers, Robson, Allenby) and 3 of the top 10 wicket takers (Magoffin, Hogan, Copeland) in first class cricket this season are all Australian born, suggesting that there's a bit more depth to Australian cricket than 10-0 predictions might suggest and that there's some available talent to draw on if things go pear shaped because of form or injuries this summer

  • 5wombats on July 9, 2013, 13:28 GMT

    Don't agree with the heading. England and Australia are no more or less flawed than they have ever been. It is wholly irrelevent that these two teams are not 1 and 2 in the world. England are still only months away from their historic Test series win in India. Not many teams have ever done that and yet still people seem bent on doing England down. Amazing.

  • DeckChairand6pack on July 9, 2013, 12:39 GMT

    Nice article..., and while I cannot wait to see the Proteas again when they go to the UAE later this year, this is going to be a compelling series before that. England are deserved slight favourites but their press and public tend to talk them up a bit. Australia are in transition but always seem to find a way to compete. Pleased to have test cricket back.

  • YorkshirePudding on July 9, 2013, 12:02 GMT

    the ICC rankings are simply a statistical calculation and really bear little to no-reality in fact. the fact that tey are wieghted in terms of 'relative' position is nonsense, thats like stating Mancher United only get 1 point when beating a newly promoted team yet if the positions were reveresed they would lose points and the newly promoted team would get 7 points. (FYI This is a belief I've held since the rankings started)

    Why not just do a simple 3 points for winning a game, 1 point for drawing a game, with bonus points for winnings by an innings and +3 porint for winnings a series.

    All teams start at zero in each cycle, and points get reset, also only the first home away series against a team is counted to prevent massing of numbers.

  • whatawicket on July 9, 2013, 11:10 GMT

    forget about rankings they are simply a way of saying at this point in time a side is playing better than the others. 18/24 month age for a year England were top of the pile. then the saffas took over if India win in saffa land end of year i suppose they may go back to the top, even though England had beaten them 6 out of the last 8 tests. but that will not stop the Indian supporters saying they are # 1. so most teams need to make hay while you are top, is my motto.

  • whatawicket on July 9, 2013, 10:56 GMT

    meety don't always agree with you but the rod marsh hiring was one of the best appointments England ever made, picking him was not to every ones likes but he gave those young players the right attitude and set in stone how we would run the various teams through the age groups

  • anshu.s on July 9, 2013, 9:34 GMT

    @PrasPunter and couple of Aussie fans are always ready to undermine Indian cricket no matter how many convincing arguments you put forth , so nothing new really, I just wonder weather this bias was always there from the start or only when BCCI started flexing it enormous financial muscle .India thanks to it millions playing the game an@PrasPunter d with better Indian u-19 players not averse to playing in bouncy conditions time is not far when Indians will start dominating in overseas conditions also. likes of Praspunter instead of undermining Indian cricket should better take a look at popularity of Cricket in Australia, NRL and AFL are leagues ahead of cricket in popularity stakes and rise of A-League and popularity of European football leagues or what Aussies like to call it as Soccer is equally disconcerting..

    However I have too much respect and affection for Australian cricketers and wish them all the best for Ashes ...

  • liz1558 on July 9, 2013, 9:18 GMT

    Rankings schmankings. Even when England were officially numero uno, they weren't the best side in the world - SA were; they simply hadn't played enough Test cricket to earn the points. Also, how can India be above England when England have beaten India home and away? England are definitely 2nd and Aus are 4th.

  • ADquelch on July 9, 2013, 9:07 GMT

    Dont set much store by the rankings...England 3rd behind India? When we gave them a thrashing in India...I would say England are the 2nd best test team at the moment behind the Saffers....

  • backwardpoint on July 9, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    "They have changed their coach, their keeper, their opening batsmen and their new ball bowlers in recent months and, since the retirement of Shane Warne, have given a Test cap to every spin bowler in Australia with a pulse and bladder control." LOL. Now I wonder, did any Aussie spin bowler miss a chance because he didnt qualify for the above reqts? Rolling on the floor laughing at this line of the author though.

  • PanGlupek on July 9, 2013, 8:37 GMT

    @electric_loco_WAP4: Dad's army of England vs Aus' Raw young guns? Most of England's players still have scars from constant thrashings? Not sure why I'm even taking those remarks seriously, but I think you'll find Haddin & Rogers are older than any of England's squad. Clarke, Watson, Cowan & Harris not exactly kids either.

    Also, how many of England's squad have taken pastings at the hands of the Aussies? Let's see, Cook played in 2007 when England got stuffed - his "scars" obviously affected him when he got 750+ runs next time he was there. KP? Yep, clearly a mentally weak guy still quivering from that 2007 series. Bell? Series vs Aus: 4. Won: 3, lost 1.

    Or did you think it was the 1999 series about to start?

  • IndianSRTfan on July 9, 2013, 8:31 GMT

    @my_comments: We never played 4 spinners. That's stretching the facts a lot. Jadeja wasn't supposed to be a frontline spinner and even though he bowled well, he's not considered anything more than a bowling allrounder in India especially where test matches are concerned.

    You say pitches spun from day one because Dhoni asked them to be like that. Mate pitches in India either aid spin or are flat tracks where nothing happens for days. Only reason why MS asked for spinning tracks is because those are the only ones that provide result here.

    And every single team prepares pitches which aid the home team. I never complain when at WACA, Australia goes in with four pacers nd no spinners. If a team is allowed to have all pace attack, when pitch is suitable, why then is it a problem when on a spinning track, India goes in with two frontline spinners and a slow bowling allrounder?

    Saying only India prepares pitches that suit their strength at home is in neither correct nor fair.

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on July 9, 2013, 8:28 GMT

    Rankings and stats are pretty useless in cricket anyway. Even if both England and Australia were the worst two teams in the world, fans like me would still enjoy the game.

    "Since the retirement of Shane Warne, [Aus.] have given a Test cap to every spin bowler in Australia with a pulse and bladder control." Very funny George! But after the axing/retirement of Collingwood, one could argue England have been doing similar for a suitable replacement of late...

  • Meety on July 9, 2013, 8:21 GMT

    @Ozcricketwriter on (July 9, 2013, 5:58 GMT) - the WIndies pace battery operated in a different era, the only thing that can be compared is that by the end of their dynasty - they had produced about 10 of the best pacers to have played the game. That CANNOT be said of Oz, as the crop of pacers we have a good but not durable enuff to post proud records (YET)! IMO - Harris & Siddle have differing styles, (both give 110%), but Harris is much more a swing bowler with a fuller length whereas Siddle is much more likely to bowl short aggressive stuff. @ jmcilhinney on (July 9, 2013, 4:29 GMT) "...It's only recently that people like you started whining about it because England is winning." NOPE - we LAUGHED about it when England were crud the likes of Mullaly & McCague - cracked me up. Nowadays - (my POV), is that its fine - just don't brag about your domestic competition as it is not FULLY responsible for the rise in rankings!

  • PrasPunter on July 9, 2013, 8:16 GMT

    @fatier, exactly my point mate. this shows how flawed the ranking system is.

  • electric_loco_WAP4 on July 9, 2013, 7:58 GMT

    The dad's army of Eng vs the raw young kids that are the Aus team . The young Aus youngsters can play w/o fear but the Eng team ,most of them still be having scars of the successive thrashings and W/washes dealt to them by that Great Aus team past. World's best pace battery of Patto and co. look to inflict some more and Eng bats are up against it. Who won't be vs 95mph in fav. conditions??

  • Narkovian on July 9, 2013, 7:56 GMT

    I don't understand the article's aim. What has the current so called "ranking" got to do with ENG/AUS Test series ? Did anyone care what the rankings were in 1981 ? Or 2005, or any other time they play. Its just a stupid number dreamt up by journalists and ICC marketing men. Cricket fans don't give 2 hoots what the rankings are. Do IND/PAK care what the rankings are when they play?.. course not. And they never will. Did Andy Murray, or Bartoli care what their rankings were on Sunday ? Nope.

  • fatier on July 9, 2013, 7:54 GMT

    The ratings are flawed.No way is India better than England or Australia.They get white-washed by Australia and England at their home and then get beaten by England only to prepare spinner friendly pitches and beat Australia that too in one of the worst series of all time.I swear,India vs Australia Test series was one of the worst series I've seen in the last 10 years.I mean,spinners starting the proceedings???,that is simply ludicrous and shows how India forcefully prepared spinner friendly pitches and,if,the same were used against Pakistan or South Africa,they would have been decimated.

  • mukesh_LOVE.cricket on July 9, 2013, 7:53 GMT

    I think people are underestimating Australia based on their India tour , Aussies were clueless against sustained spin bowling on pitches which turned from day 1 but they are a completely different team under different conditions , in fact they dominated for the most part of SA series , just couldn't finish it off , this should be a very closely fought series if hughes and watson step up to Anderson and co

  • Ozcricketwriter on July 9, 2013, 7:50 GMT

    @redneck - The all pace attack is not guaranteed to work, and simply cannot work if you include both Harris and Siddle in the side. But it is a better chance than going in with our weaknesses, like batting and spin bowling, and especially going in with Lyon. The well balanced pace bowling attack should get England all out for 200-250 or, on their day, perhaps 150, and, while the batting is weakened, they would hope to be able to chase that. The problem is that if England can find a way to dominate them, there is no spinner to bring that variety, and instead they will be relying on the different kinds of pace bowlers, as well as part time spinners.

    And, by the way, West Indies were not the first team to try all pace successfully. They just did it for the longest period of time because they had the best and most varied pace attacks, and they worked out that the key was variety. There is a blueprint there and it can be followed.

  • my_comments on July 9, 2013, 7:04 GMT

    @IndianSRTfan - how ever you term it, India played 03/04 spinners in their side against Australia and MSD insisted the pitch to be spinner friendly so from the 1st day itself it spun. we can say it as taking home advantage to the highest limit.

  • redneck on July 9, 2013, 6:34 GMT

    @Ozcricketwriter mate last time i checked australia didnt have any barbadians in their squad yet alone a 7 foot tall one and a 5 foot one both masters of their craft!!! no doubt you want a variety in the attack but the west indies cant even emulate 1 of those 4 greats now. australia finding all 4 of them might be a bit hopeless!!! for me harris, pattinson and starc with a bit of watson and maybe falkner will do suffice! you need a spinner and naming the only team to ever dominate in the history of cricket without one as the blueprint to follow is a bit of a streatch!!!

  • andrew-schulz on July 9, 2013, 6:26 GMT

    Dalboy12, England did not win in NZ. They drew and were thoroughly outplayed. This article, as many, gives too much credence to the abysmal ranking system. Both of these sides should be ranked ahead of India on any intelligent analysis.

  • Ozcricketwriter on July 9, 2013, 5:58 GMT

    @redneck - If you paid attention to West Indies in the 1970s and 1980s with their all pace all pitches attack, you would have noticed that the key was not that they had 4 bowlers that were all the same but rather that they had 4 very different fast bowlers. And this has been a problem that Australia has had. When they have gone in with 4 very different fast bowlers that complement each other, they have done well. But the problem is that they have bowlers like Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris - both very similar kinds of bowlers - and then they put them both in the same side - and then wonder why it doesn't work. They need to play different kinds of bowlers. In this squad, we have Pattinson, Starc, Bird and Faulkner who are all very different kinds of bowlers who will complement each other - and then have 1 of Siddle or Harris as the other one. Then there is no need for a spinner. But if they play both Siddle and Harris then it is never going to work.

  • IndianSRTfan on July 9, 2013, 5:44 GMT

    @PrasPunter: Well rankings do matter although they're not always correct indicators as to which team is superior. Reason India lost those two test series 0-4 nd 0-4 was simple, that we didn't perform at all well, were outperformed and were underprepared. But we managed to improve rankings because we accepted the defeats, made new selections, gave youngsters a chance at the same time backed our captain and generally have moved on rather than getting stuck and blaming pitches and conditions for defeats like you. Thats why we won the series mate. Keep consoling yourself that Australia's 4-0 drubbing was simply because of conditions and the team was 'weak'. But the fact is that the Aussie team lost because, similar to India's loss down under, they were simply below par in alien conditions.

  • manishwa on July 9, 2013, 5:42 GMT

    What do they know of Ashes who only Ashes know?

  • redneck on July 9, 2013, 5:31 GMT

    @Ozcricketwriter kind of agree but kind of disagree. 09 ashes tour playing 4 quicks at headingly was a master stroke. keeping the same 4 pronged quick attack for the oval was an absolute failure. if we go for a all out pace attack in say nottingham and chester le street which can both favor the seamers then im all for it, however im dead against it at lords, the oval and old trafford as these grounds all favor batsman and take spin. lyon is a bit like watson in that hes good when he has the confidence. dropping him for one match then picking him for the next is not going to instill confidence and may be more trouble than any percieved advantage of playing all quicks. however falkner does offer austraila a 4 quick option but still with lyons spin if we pick falkner at 7 play haddin at 6 as our batsman cant bat anyway falkner could probably make the same amount of runs as whoever is the 6th batsman anyhow but with the added advantage of giving clarkey another quality bowling option.

  • Sir_Ivor on July 9, 2013, 4:52 GMT

    As always Rowayton's views are absolutely spot on. He has obviously watched this game for a long long time and it shows in his assessment. England look more settled but they justify only their own ranking considerin how they have played against Pakistan in the desert, Sri lanka in Sri Lanka,New Zealand in New Zealand, South Africa at home. Merely beating India in India may not be that relevant in the background of their performance against others. The Australian team on the other hand is coming after having hit its nadir in India. They have likely pace bowling future greats and an under-rated spin bowler. Clarke Watson and others can be a formidable batting lot in the present weather conditions in England. That apart, it is no secret that England's bowlers perform best when the conditions are in their favour. That apart England's skills in reversing the ball will be under constant watch. So we cannot count on that being their trump card. I believe Australia will win the series.

  • CiMP on July 9, 2013, 4:38 GMT

    Improving domestic cricket standards needs involving national players play in then as often as possible. However that creates a challenge in terms of keeping these players fresh for international engagement. Balancing both becomes a tough act. Root cause? Too much international cricket these days - though England is relatively more protected from it unlike India, Australia or Sri Lanka. Unless cricket admins can agree to put a cap on the number of matches a team plays in a year we will continue to stumble from solving a problem to creating another in the process.

  • jmcilhinney on July 9, 2013, 4:29 GMT

    @krishkrish on (July 9, 2013, 3:10 GMT), African-born players have been playing for England for a long time as many people from all over the Commonwealth want to return to the "mother country". It's only recently that people like you started whining about it because England is winning.

  • dalboy12 on July 9, 2013, 4:29 GMT

    Good article --- SA clearly a better team than these two - As unlike India, Australia and England (i know they won in NZ n India but they were terrible against Pakistan) SA have shown they can win home and away. Which is what the top ranked team needs to do. That said this should be a very close and entertaining series. PS....when do India next play SA in a test series that will be a goodie.

  • PrasPunter on July 9, 2013, 4:26 GMT

    Well I wouldnt care much about the rankings - the contests involving india in Eng in 2011 were supposed to be played by the so-called No 1 team then , but that team got drubbed 0-4 in an one-sided contest. Same happened when india went to Aus. And they improved their rankings only after a win against a weak Aus team at home on doctored wickets. So the rankings wouldnt matter much.

  • on July 9, 2013, 3:58 GMT

    The single most important reason for England's success is their importance on Test cricket. They looked at bowlers who destroyed them in 1980s and 90s... Tall, nippy, super fit like Ambrose, McGrath, Walsh, Donald ... they also saw Flintoff replicate that success briefly. so now we have Broads, Finns, tremlets, Andersons, etc. Also playing 15 tests in a year means players in good form can blast records in 5-6 years where it used to take over a decade for players like Sobers, Boycott, Sachin, etc.

    Fitness, youth and most tests is the key for England success.

    all others are swept by T20 tide.

  • heathrf1974 on July 9, 2013, 3:28 GMT

    England will be favourites and rightfully so. They should win about 3-1. However, the one in Australia should be closer with the home advantage and hopefully Australia will be a more stable side. So the series later in the year could be a beauty. It's been a long time since Australian fans have seen a closely contested Ashes series.

  • Greatest_Game on July 9, 2013, 3:25 GMT

    The most honest writing I have seen from George Dobell. With so much Ashes hype - like "Trott, the world's best test batsman" - it is refreshing to see this series examined from a global context. I appreciated the information on the County & Sheffield structures, & how this has influenced the national teams.

    Looking at the current squad, it isto believe that, as Dobell wrote, " County cricket is currently awash with ... regulations that render it increasingly hard to register non-England qualified cricketers." This will have a profoundly detrimental long-term impact on the South African economy & the future prospects of the England team!

    Dobel's best observation was on Aus' search for a new Shane Warne. It puts a new spin on the baggy green!

    The photo accompanying the article is rather odd. The perspective, shadows, & his expression make it seem as if the helmet is not to shield him from lethal bouncers, but rather to keep him from injuring himself...

    The best Ashes article yet.

  • krishkrish on July 9, 2013, 3:10 GMT

    Importing players from Africa (as player and coach ) is the greatest of all moves to improve English cricket.

  • HatsforBats on July 9, 2013, 1:37 GMT

    Firstly, I'll ever understand the rankings system employed by the ICC. I don't think this series is a mismatch and with it being the most prestigious of test series it should rightfully be spruiked far and wide. And as the only 5 match series it should be celebrated as true "test" cricket. As for the differences in English & Australian cricket, Dobell is spot on. England were desperate to improve and made smart decisions. CA have seemingly made mistake after mistake and we have suffered for our successes. A generation of talented players have played state cricket in the knowledge that they'll never play for Australia and I think that has brought a level of apathy into our domestic cricket. I would like to see at least two more shields teams, the BBL rescheduled (preferably returned to state only teams, or scrapped entirely), and a post-Argus review implemented (decisions like the Quiney/Maxwell/Doherty selections should not be happening). Sutherland has to be held to account.

  • Rowayton on July 9, 2013, 1:11 GMT

    Frankly, having watched cricket for a long time, I think all this stuff about who plays in second XI competitions, who goes to academies and stuff is of limited relevance. The fact is that the difference overall is not that great - have a look at how the England Second XI went in Australia last southern summer. The main difference in the test arena is that England currently have a few very high level players, and Australia apparently not so many. But as I said the difference is not great. If Australia took Cook, Trott and Pietersen, and you took any three Aussie players in reply (including Clarke), I'd be fairly confident about Australia winning. Just as if Warne and McGrath had been English, you would have won a lot more back then.

  • redneck on July 9, 2013, 0:19 GMT

    you poms should be so lucky australias ranked 4th and capable of beating anyone still. when aus were at their peak we aussies had to put up with 4 of the most lob sided ashes tours down under ever, thanks to a england team that reached depths even australian cricket now, at its lowest of lows would still consider a nightmare! aus will be a handful at the very least from the 1st test where as england all through the 90's and 00's had already lost the series before boxing day the biggest day of the series!!! (even aus didnt do that in the last series) and its worth remembering there is no happier sight in australian sport than a bunch of over confident poms, our history is littered with victories against such foe. even in soccer they wont give us a freindly after we beat them at full strength last time!!!

  • Meety on July 9, 2013, 0:01 GMT

    Glossed over the contribution that Rod Marsh made to English cricket (in fact no mention). IMO the biggest positive change for England was when the County reverted back to a 4-day competition. Stopped all those contrived 3-day results.

  • the_blue_android on July 8, 2013, 23:20 GMT

    Let the fight for the mid -table superiority begin! Should be interesting to see which of these average teams make it on top!

  • landl47 on July 8, 2013, 22:58 GMT

    Well, let's start by saying that the ICC rankings are flawed. India are above England by virtue of the other series they've played, since England have shown in head to head series both home and away that they are a better side than India. Australia lost badly in India, but handed out a similar beating in Australia, so there's really nothing between those two sides. For practical purposes, in English or Australian conditions, these are the #2 and #3 teams in the world.

    I think young players in England have an advantage in that, because the British season doesn't conflict with other domestic seasons, the county championship can feature top players from around the world as role models. England also opens its doors to its rivals- in the last 2 seasons many of this Aus squad have played in England, including Cowan, Starc, Hughes, Khawaja and Rogers, for whom England is a second home. No cause for whingeing about the conditions when so many of the side has spent seasons here.

  • 2.14istherunrate on July 8, 2013, 22:38 GMT

    It does not mater how one looks at these contests now-only 11/2 days to go and all the buzz is there. It's enormous! How the psyche is supposed to cope with 10 in a row yet remains to be seen.Awesome! Just hope Botham's 10-0 prophecy is not far wrong.

  • 2.14istherunrate on July 8, 2013, 22:38 GMT

    It does not mater how one looks at these contests now-only 11/2 days to go and all the buzz is there. It's enormous! How the psyche is supposed to cope with 10 in a row yet remains to be seen.Awesome! Just hope Botham's 10-0 prophecy is not far wrong.

  • landl47 on July 8, 2013, 22:58 GMT

    Well, let's start by saying that the ICC rankings are flawed. India are above England by virtue of the other series they've played, since England have shown in head to head series both home and away that they are a better side than India. Australia lost badly in India, but handed out a similar beating in Australia, so there's really nothing between those two sides. For practical purposes, in English or Australian conditions, these are the #2 and #3 teams in the world.

    I think young players in England have an advantage in that, because the British season doesn't conflict with other domestic seasons, the county championship can feature top players from around the world as role models. England also opens its doors to its rivals- in the last 2 seasons many of this Aus squad have played in England, including Cowan, Starc, Hughes, Khawaja and Rogers, for whom England is a second home. No cause for whingeing about the conditions when so many of the side has spent seasons here.

  • the_blue_android on July 8, 2013, 23:20 GMT

    Let the fight for the mid -table superiority begin! Should be interesting to see which of these average teams make it on top!

  • Meety on July 9, 2013, 0:01 GMT

    Glossed over the contribution that Rod Marsh made to English cricket (in fact no mention). IMO the biggest positive change for England was when the County reverted back to a 4-day competition. Stopped all those contrived 3-day results.

  • redneck on July 9, 2013, 0:19 GMT

    you poms should be so lucky australias ranked 4th and capable of beating anyone still. when aus were at their peak we aussies had to put up with 4 of the most lob sided ashes tours down under ever, thanks to a england team that reached depths even australian cricket now, at its lowest of lows would still consider a nightmare! aus will be a handful at the very least from the 1st test where as england all through the 90's and 00's had already lost the series before boxing day the biggest day of the series!!! (even aus didnt do that in the last series) and its worth remembering there is no happier sight in australian sport than a bunch of over confident poms, our history is littered with victories against such foe. even in soccer they wont give us a freindly after we beat them at full strength last time!!!

  • Rowayton on July 9, 2013, 1:11 GMT

    Frankly, having watched cricket for a long time, I think all this stuff about who plays in second XI competitions, who goes to academies and stuff is of limited relevance. The fact is that the difference overall is not that great - have a look at how the England Second XI went in Australia last southern summer. The main difference in the test arena is that England currently have a few very high level players, and Australia apparently not so many. But as I said the difference is not great. If Australia took Cook, Trott and Pietersen, and you took any three Aussie players in reply (including Clarke), I'd be fairly confident about Australia winning. Just as if Warne and McGrath had been English, you would have won a lot more back then.

  • HatsforBats on July 9, 2013, 1:37 GMT

    Firstly, I'll ever understand the rankings system employed by the ICC. I don't think this series is a mismatch and with it being the most prestigious of test series it should rightfully be spruiked far and wide. And as the only 5 match series it should be celebrated as true "test" cricket. As for the differences in English & Australian cricket, Dobell is spot on. England were desperate to improve and made smart decisions. CA have seemingly made mistake after mistake and we have suffered for our successes. A generation of talented players have played state cricket in the knowledge that they'll never play for Australia and I think that has brought a level of apathy into our domestic cricket. I would like to see at least two more shields teams, the BBL rescheduled (preferably returned to state only teams, or scrapped entirely), and a post-Argus review implemented (decisions like the Quiney/Maxwell/Doherty selections should not be happening). Sutherland has to be held to account.

  • krishkrish on July 9, 2013, 3:10 GMT

    Importing players from Africa (as player and coach ) is the greatest of all moves to improve English cricket.

  • Greatest_Game on July 9, 2013, 3:25 GMT

    The most honest writing I have seen from George Dobell. With so much Ashes hype - like "Trott, the world's best test batsman" - it is refreshing to see this series examined from a global context. I appreciated the information on the County & Sheffield structures, & how this has influenced the national teams.

    Looking at the current squad, it isto believe that, as Dobell wrote, " County cricket is currently awash with ... regulations that render it increasingly hard to register non-England qualified cricketers." This will have a profoundly detrimental long-term impact on the South African economy & the future prospects of the England team!

    Dobel's best observation was on Aus' search for a new Shane Warne. It puts a new spin on the baggy green!

    The photo accompanying the article is rather odd. The perspective, shadows, & his expression make it seem as if the helmet is not to shield him from lethal bouncers, but rather to keep him from injuring himself...

    The best Ashes article yet.

  • heathrf1974 on July 9, 2013, 3:28 GMT

    England will be favourites and rightfully so. They should win about 3-1. However, the one in Australia should be closer with the home advantage and hopefully Australia will be a more stable side. So the series later in the year could be a beauty. It's been a long time since Australian fans have seen a closely contested Ashes series.