Australia eye England swing with interest
Michael Clarke knows his men will enter the Ashes as underdogs but they have taken some heart from the way England's batsmen struggled against New Zealand's swing bowlers in last week's Lord's Test. A group of Australia's Ashes and Champions Trophy squad members gathered in Sydney on Wednesday for a farewell event ahead of their departure for the one-day tournament and the battle for the urn that follows in July and August.
Among the group were several key members of the pace attack, including Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Ryan Harris, upon whom Australia's Ashes hopes will largely rely. Starc said that during an Australian training camp at Brisbane's Centre of Excellence over the past couple of weeks the team had discussed the right lengths to bowl in England, and had noted the way England were knocked over for 232 and 213 at Lord's by Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and Tim Southee.
"I think most of our guys actually watched that Test, so some good signs for the quicks over there," Starc told reporters in Sydney. "It was nice to see the Pommies struggle against the left-arm bowlers, I can tell you that much. There's some things we can take away from the English batsmen and the way they got out there.
"Obviously, the ball is going to swing a bit more in England ... but the key we can take out of that Test was the length the bowlers bowled and the length that troubled the batsmen most. So that's something we looked at closely as a group and spoke about in Brisbane."
However, the Australians could also be forgiven for some trepidation at witnessing the destruction wreaked by Stuart Broad and James Anderson, especially the 7 for 44 that Broad collected on the final day as New Zealand were skittled for 68. Australia's recent history against the swinging and seaming ball features some catastrophic innings, including their 47 in Cape Town, 88 against Pakistan at Leeds, and 98 on the first day of the 2010-11 Boxing Day Ashes Test at the MCG.
"If somebody bowls an amazing spell, you can get knocked over but if you've trained and prepared as well as you possibly can, you're giving yourself the best chance," Clarke said. "It seemed that Stuart Broad in the second innings bowled a pretty good spell so England deserved a lot of credit. We've got to try and find a way to combat that. I think [time of year] definitely makes a difference. I saw a forecast the other day that said it was 14 degrees in London. I'm hoping it's not 14 degrees there when we're playing our first Test match."
All the same, the Australian batsmen have plenty to prove after their dismal showing on the Test tour of India in February and March, when Clarke and Steven Smith were the only specialist batsmen to average better than 35. Notably, there was a worrying lack of runs from David Warner, Phillip Hughes and Shane Watson, all of whom averaged less than 25 and all of whom are part of the Ashes squad.
Not surprisingly, given Australia's miseries in India and England's current ranking as the No.2 Test team in the world, Alastair Cook's men will enter the series as firm favourites. There is a growing feeling that the series could be closer than it appeared it would be a few months ago, although that will largely come down to the way Australia's batsmen handle the conditions.
"I think it's a fair indication of where both teams are at," Clarke said of England being favourites. "England have a lot of experience. A lot of the guys have been involved in Ashes series before and they're playing some really good cricket. Our recent series in India wasn't nearly as good as we would have liked so I accept that we are the underdogs but we'll be doing everything in our power to have success.
"Our goal is to win the series, we know it's going to be tough, but we're going to have a red-hot crack at hopefully winning the Ashes for the Australian people. The batters know we didn't perform as well as we needed, we didn't make enough runs and we are certainly accountable for our performances. We know that if we can bat well as a unit, that will give our young, talented fast bowlers every opportunity to take 20 wickets."
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here