England v Australia, 1st Investec Test, Trent Bridge July 9, 2013

Swann and Anderson can expose Australia's cracks

It may not matter hugely in Bangalore or Bridgetown, but in England and Australia, in cricket at least, nothing matters more than what is about to begin
29

It says much about the enduring appeal of the Ashes that, at a time of economic pressures, at a time when Test cricket's popularity is waning in many parts of the world and at time when neither team can claim to be the best in the world, just about every day of this series will be played in front of full houses and to vast audiences on TV, on the radio and on the internet.

Whatever the economic importance of series against India and the ranking importance of series against South Africa, the vast majority of players on both sides will have grown up dreaming of playing in the Ashes. Rightly or wrongly, it is performances in such series that continue to disproportionately define the careers of players and coaches. The UK government reacted to England's Ashes success in 2005 by bestowing MBEs on the whole team; no other series would have generated such rewards.

The ICC rankings were designed to provide context and interest to Test series that were struggling to capture the public imagination. The Ashes doesn't need such marketing strategies. Like Christmas and the NHS, familiarity may have bred a parasitical side-industry, but it has not bred contempt.

Conventional wisdom suggests that Australia, unburdened by expectation, go into the series without pressure. It is nonsense. The sacking of Mickey Arthur and Robbie Deans - the Australia cricket and rugby coaches - within the last few weeks suggests Australia are not so sanguine about sporting failure as some might like to suggest.

Darren Lehmann might survive an early failure, but some of the players will not. England supporters, by contrast, were weaned on unrealistic expectations and put to bed by disillusionment. They are familiar in dealing with the sting of disappointment.

Besides, England possess significant advantages. While two of their batsmen, Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook, will surely go down in history among the greatest players to have represented England, it is two of the bowlers that provide the real edge.

In James Anderson England have a supreme athlete at the peak of his career with an ability to swing, reverse swing and seam the ball allied to a control very few can match. MS Dhoni credited him as "the difference between the teams" in the series in India. If he can prove so valuable on Indian wickets and armed - or disarmed - with an SG or a Kookaburra ball, then he can be devastating in conditions offering him even a little assistance in England and with a Dukes ball.

But perhaps more relevant is the presence of Graeme Swann. It is Swann, arguably the best finger spinner either of these nations has produced since Jim Laker, who represents the key difference between these sides. Both teams have talented batsmen; both have dangerous seamers: only England have a champion spinner who has shown, against all opposition and in all conditions, that he is a match-winner at this level.

It is generally unwise to try to predict England's plans. Under Andy Flower they are guarded with a level of security that even Edward Snowden could not unpick. But the evidence has mounted in recent days that they see spin and reverse swing as their key weapons.

For a start, Swann was rested in the crucial stages of the Champions Trophy despite his willingness to play. England, however, prioritised the Ashes over the final of the global ODI tournament they have never won and refused to take any chances with Swann's strained calf.

It was interesting to note, too, that the pitch at Trent Bridge has, despite unbroken sunshine and no chance to rain, remained under covers in the two days ahead of the Test. In the current hot weather, it is unthinkable that there would be any attempt to keep the pitch green and appears more likely that a surface, already unusually dry, is being preserved to ensure it does not deteriorate too early.

While the ball rarely spins on the ground, England are acutely aware of the likelihood that the Australia side will contain five or six left-handed batsmen and at least one left-arm bowler. The combination of footholes, the off-break turning away from the bat and the fact that, on a green pitch, Australia have the bowling weapons to hurt England, is likely to see this series played in conditions more like India than any previous series in England.

There is an obvious contrast between the approach of the two camps ahead of the series. Australia, reflecting the new laid back approach that Lehmann has instilled, had an optional net session on Tuesday, while England trained as normal.

The sense is that, while Australia's mood has been lifted by recent events, the England dressing room remains just a little intense; an environment where every action and reaction is noted and analysed. It is professional, certainly, but whether it is relaxing or conducive to fearless cricket is another matter.

Not that many in this England team play fearless cricket. With the exception of Pietersen and, to a lesser extent, Swann, England's strength is consistency. They will attempt, in this series as in so many others, to grind Australia out of the game; to build up pressure until their opposition snaps; to make fewer mistakes.

In Jonathan Trott, Cook and Anderson, they have supremely talented attritional cricketers. Lehmann and co. might be the more engaging company in a bar but, just as is the case when picking a surgeon or a pilot, substance often takes precedence over style.

The careers of England and Australia players are often bookended by Ashes series and it just might prove that way with Flower. While Flower's reputation is unquestionable - success in India might yet be remembered as the greatest achievement of the finest coach England have ever had - there seems of late, just a hint of a suspicion that he is tiring of the baggage that accompanies his high-profile position. Perhaps the players, subconsciously at least, are also yearning for a little more freedom and joy.

There is only so often any leader can repeat the same wisdom without his words blurring in the ears of his followers and there was an impression that, under Ashley Giles, the limited-overs team appeared more relaxed and less intense. Flower has earned the right to go when he feels the time is due, but nearly everything has an expiry date and Flower may feel, after the Ashes tour of Australia ends in January, that he has reached his.

Such issues can wait. There has been much talk of legacy in England cricket over the last few years and, over the next seven or so weeks, the players of both sides have the chance to build their own. It may not matter hugely in Bangalore or Bridgetown, but in England and Australia, in cricket at least, nothing matters more.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • landl47 on July 10, 2013, 1:48 GMT

    Certainly Swann and Anderson are England's key bowlers, but I hope the Enland think-tank is not going to pick Bresnan because of his ability to reverse-swing the ball. That WON'T be a big factor in deciding the series. Finn is quicker and more dangerous in all conditions than Bresnan and should be in the side.

    I see England making one change as the series goes on. I'm not convinced Jonny Bairstow's technique is going to hold up; he plays too many loose shots. The player who should come in is Gary Ballance. He's the same age as Bairstow (in fact, a couple of months younger) and has a FC average of 52 with 15 centuries, against Bairstow's 45/8. More importantly, he has a tight, compact technique which will stand up much better to test cricket than Bairstow's looser stroke-play. He's also a left-hander and England needs another left-hander in the top 6. Unless Bairstow plays well in the first couple of tests, bring in Ballance and it will instantly add solidity to the middle order.

  • Naresh28 on July 10, 2013, 14:29 GMT

    Anderson poses the most questions to all test playing nations. He is gem of a player. The Australians have done great preparatory work under their new coach. Hope to see an Oz revival in this ashes series. They have always had a bunch grafters but will miss Michael Hussey the most. If Oz can survive the initial overs from Anderson they can put up a good challenge.

  • sachin_vvsfan on July 10, 2013, 12:08 GMT

    @TheBigBoodha "Indian conditions are a pointless indicator, and if you don't know why then you don't know cricket."

    Well the indication that i got is that Aussies batting has become worse from poor by loosing Hussey and England strengthened their batting by including Root. This was the conclusion of India series. You can talk all you want about that Series against SA but you cant deny the fact that you are weaker with out Hussey. Not that he will changes the fortunes of ashes but he reduces the margin in the series result.

    Lets wait and see.

  • Un_Citoyen_Indien on July 10, 2013, 10:14 GMT

    @ Big Buddha: I'm detecting a case of sour grapes here. Just because England were able to win in India while the Australians were royally whitewashed (no one's going to forget that memorable performance by the boys from down under any time soon) doesn't mean that the Indian flavour of cricket needs to be discredited. Australian cricketers would do well to learn how to play quality spin bowling from the English.

    Anyhow, I am predicting Australia to do well this Ashes. They can't do worse than they did during their last test series in India.

    Having said that, I'm sure the Australians still have the ability to surprise me.

  • harshthakor on July 10, 2013, 8:14 GMT

    I back the Australian team to regain the Ashes in this series as they are the underdogs.The pressure of favourites will tell on England.The Aussie pacemen like Pattinson can be lethal with the support of Starc and Siddle.If Michael Clarke is in full flow he could cause a major dent to England.England has been inconsistent off late as they showed in New Zealand.England is better on paper without doubt with stronger batting.However the superior Australian fighting spirit could well play a major role in the destiny of the Ashes.This series may well spark an Australian resurgence with their talented youngsters.

  • Rowayton on July 10, 2013, 8:10 GMT

    I hope landl47 is wrong. If we want test cricket to flourish Ballance should play for Zimbabwe.

  • Simoc on July 10, 2013, 6:04 GMT

    Looking forward to a good series. It would be great to win the toss and go out and put 300 runs on day one. A solid step in bringing the Ashes back to where they belong.

  • SamRoy on July 10, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    I predict England will win this series easily (unless they are overconfident) but they will not win the return series in Australia. Australians are too proud a cricketing nation to lose to England twice at home in two visits.

  • SamRoy on July 10, 2013, 5:47 GMT

    @landl47 I absolutely agree with you. I think Jonny Bairstow is the poorer version of Yuvraj Singh and we all know how Yuvraj Singh did in test cricket. Test cricket is not just about attractive stroke play, you need to survive as well. In terms of attractive and aggressive stroke play Yuvraj is probably as attractive as Lara and more attractive than Tendulkar, Pietersen, Ponting and Laxman. We all know what a failure he has been in test cricket.

  • TheBigBoodha on July 10, 2013, 3:10 GMT

    One of the problems for England is media reports like this, which virtually demand that the series play out as they expect. But what if it doesn't? It is clear that despite some claims , that the entire media and the England team are pretty much expecting to roll up and win, as if it is a divine right. As Geoff Boycott noted, they are simply not that good. They couldn't get a win in NZ, and looked far worse vs SA than did AUS. Indian conditions are a pointless indicator, and if you don't know why then you don't know cricket.

    I also have to wonder what would happen if either or both or Swann and Anderson got injured.

  • landl47 on July 10, 2013, 1:48 GMT

    Certainly Swann and Anderson are England's key bowlers, but I hope the Enland think-tank is not going to pick Bresnan because of his ability to reverse-swing the ball. That WON'T be a big factor in deciding the series. Finn is quicker and more dangerous in all conditions than Bresnan and should be in the side.

    I see England making one change as the series goes on. I'm not convinced Jonny Bairstow's technique is going to hold up; he plays too many loose shots. The player who should come in is Gary Ballance. He's the same age as Bairstow (in fact, a couple of months younger) and has a FC average of 52 with 15 centuries, against Bairstow's 45/8. More importantly, he has a tight, compact technique which will stand up much better to test cricket than Bairstow's looser stroke-play. He's also a left-hander and England needs another left-hander in the top 6. Unless Bairstow plays well in the first couple of tests, bring in Ballance and it will instantly add solidity to the middle order.

  • Naresh28 on July 10, 2013, 14:29 GMT

    Anderson poses the most questions to all test playing nations. He is gem of a player. The Australians have done great preparatory work under their new coach. Hope to see an Oz revival in this ashes series. They have always had a bunch grafters but will miss Michael Hussey the most. If Oz can survive the initial overs from Anderson they can put up a good challenge.

  • sachin_vvsfan on July 10, 2013, 12:08 GMT

    @TheBigBoodha "Indian conditions are a pointless indicator, and if you don't know why then you don't know cricket."

    Well the indication that i got is that Aussies batting has become worse from poor by loosing Hussey and England strengthened their batting by including Root. This was the conclusion of India series. You can talk all you want about that Series against SA but you cant deny the fact that you are weaker with out Hussey. Not that he will changes the fortunes of ashes but he reduces the margin in the series result.

    Lets wait and see.

  • Un_Citoyen_Indien on July 10, 2013, 10:14 GMT

    @ Big Buddha: I'm detecting a case of sour grapes here. Just because England were able to win in India while the Australians were royally whitewashed (no one's going to forget that memorable performance by the boys from down under any time soon) doesn't mean that the Indian flavour of cricket needs to be discredited. Australian cricketers would do well to learn how to play quality spin bowling from the English.

    Anyhow, I am predicting Australia to do well this Ashes. They can't do worse than they did during their last test series in India.

    Having said that, I'm sure the Australians still have the ability to surprise me.

  • harshthakor on July 10, 2013, 8:14 GMT

    I back the Australian team to regain the Ashes in this series as they are the underdogs.The pressure of favourites will tell on England.The Aussie pacemen like Pattinson can be lethal with the support of Starc and Siddle.If Michael Clarke is in full flow he could cause a major dent to England.England has been inconsistent off late as they showed in New Zealand.England is better on paper without doubt with stronger batting.However the superior Australian fighting spirit could well play a major role in the destiny of the Ashes.This series may well spark an Australian resurgence with their talented youngsters.

  • Rowayton on July 10, 2013, 8:10 GMT

    I hope landl47 is wrong. If we want test cricket to flourish Ballance should play for Zimbabwe.

  • Simoc on July 10, 2013, 6:04 GMT

    Looking forward to a good series. It would be great to win the toss and go out and put 300 runs on day one. A solid step in bringing the Ashes back to where they belong.

  • SamRoy on July 10, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    I predict England will win this series easily (unless they are overconfident) but they will not win the return series in Australia. Australians are too proud a cricketing nation to lose to England twice at home in two visits.

  • SamRoy on July 10, 2013, 5:47 GMT

    @landl47 I absolutely agree with you. I think Jonny Bairstow is the poorer version of Yuvraj Singh and we all know how Yuvraj Singh did in test cricket. Test cricket is not just about attractive stroke play, you need to survive as well. In terms of attractive and aggressive stroke play Yuvraj is probably as attractive as Lara and more attractive than Tendulkar, Pietersen, Ponting and Laxman. We all know what a failure he has been in test cricket.

  • TheBigBoodha on July 10, 2013, 3:10 GMT

    One of the problems for England is media reports like this, which virtually demand that the series play out as they expect. But what if it doesn't? It is clear that despite some claims , that the entire media and the England team are pretty much expecting to roll up and win, as if it is a divine right. As Geoff Boycott noted, they are simply not that good. They couldn't get a win in NZ, and looked far worse vs SA than did AUS. Indian conditions are a pointless indicator, and if you don't know why then you don't know cricket.

    I also have to wonder what would happen if either or both or Swann and Anderson got injured.

  • heathrf1974 on July 10, 2013, 2:23 GMT

    The key for this series is the Australian batsman. We know England should perform well as they are well coached and highly consistent. If the Australian batting goes well we might have a competitive series. If not England should win the series comfortably. My prediction is England 3-1.

  • on July 10, 2013, 0:47 GMT

    I got this funny feeling that Aussie might pull a rabbit out of the hat and win Ashes.Complacency if there is any is going to be England's biggest worry.I'd include Steven smith in the playing 11 as he is on par with Michael clarke in negating the spinners.

  • Rowayton on July 10, 2013, 0:11 GMT

    Interesting how cricket theory changes over time. When I was young (back before they invented the wheel) it was regarded as an advantage to have left handed batsmen to combat an off spinner. Now they say it is in an off spinner's favour to have a lot of left handers in the other team. Then again, can't think there'd be too many offies who were keen on bowling to a team with Sobers and Lara. I think the truth is that good batsmen play off spinners better than not so good batsmen. Who would have thought that?

  • 2.14istherunrate on July 9, 2013, 23:41 GMT

    Another highly enjoyable article full of information and analysis. Always as at these moments there is an air of suspicion. Usually these were dispelled in the past by australia grabbing the bull by the horns and laying the first killer blows-eg 2002-3. Here it should be an early England assault on the vitall parts of Aus, like 5 down before lunch or 100-0. Thank God the waiting is over. I would play Bresnan here and Finn at Lords as horses for courses.

  • poms_have_short_memories on July 9, 2013, 21:41 GMT

    If the wicket in the first test is dry and we see Graeme Swann bowl England to victory I get the feeling we will not see a wicket that assists Australia's pace attack all summer. It's a shame that we may well see a lop sided series due to doctored pitches.

  • ScottStevo on July 9, 2013, 21:37 GMT

    @Shan, considering he's done well in 2 out of the 10 tests he's played against Australia, and in 09 his figures akin to those of Hauritz, even though Hauritz didn't even play on the spin friendly deck that Swann enjoyed, I wouldn't be talking up THE most overrated of all of the English players. He's a decent player and has something about him, but forgive us when a 1 in 5 bloke doesn't really send shudders down the spine...In this case, I agree with RandyOz. Also, what does Warne's average against India have to do with Swann's p poor showings against Aus? If your point is, you can still be rated as a good bowler whilst being rubbish against a certain side, then I agree. Swann is a good bowler, just ordinary against Australia. Maybe this will be his break out series where he lives up to the unheralded hype...

  • Shan156 on July 9, 2013, 20:36 GMT

    @5wombats, he was dissing Jimmy too in the past but Anderson's performances in the last few years have been so good that even @RandyOZ considers him as a threat (in his words, the only decent bowler that we have). Swann has been unlucky in most of his tests against Aus. in that either conditions have been unkind to him (Cardiff, 2009) or the Aussies have folded so quickly and cheaply to the seamers that he missed out on cheap wickets (Melbourne and Sydney 2010-2011). I think, in this series he will prove to the Aussies that he is one of the best spinners in the world at the moment.

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on July 9, 2013, 19:47 GMT

    @RandyOZ (post on July 9, 2013, 16:51 GMT): Because those 1208 test runs at an average of over 23 is better than some of Australia's so-called batsmen. His bowling's not too shabby either...

  • UndertheGrill on July 9, 2013, 19:40 GMT

    Swann and Panesar to play at Old Trafford and the Oval if this weather keeps up (which it probably won't).

  • 5wombats on July 9, 2013, 18:36 GMT

    @Shan156 mate you are absolutely right - I told him already on another forum where he said "Swann would pose no threat" LOL. But he's just another one of those who never bothers with the facts. He'll get his comeupance as the series unfolds methinks.

  • whatawicket on July 9, 2013, 18:12 GMT

    keep those referrals intact swanny with so many lefties in the oz side the lbw decisions will come aplenty. they could not play the Indian spinners which were the same as England were playing blindfolded

  • on July 9, 2013, 18:03 GMT

    Anderson is dangerous but i don't think Swan will be as like as Jimmy!!! Eng must have chosen Monde in squad to give back up for Swan!! Eng performed well against India in home and away other than that their performance was below average thats why they pushed to 3rd spot in icc test ranking!! Eng has cook nd KP who can perform well in any condition. It will be real test for Eng to beat Aus than Aus to beat Eng!!! Can't write of ozz as they have good and balanced side.

  • Shan156 on July 9, 2013, 17:45 GMT

    @RandyOZ, if you are going to post #s, at least bother to check the facts on cricinfo before posting. Swann averages 40 against Aus. That is high, no doubt, but not 50. Care to check Warne's average against India? It is bad too when compared to his career average but Warne is still a superb bowler. Swann is not in the same league but he is dangerous against left handers and Aus. possess plenty of them. Swann, despite his poor average against Aus., has starred in two match winning contributions against them; check out Oval 2009 and Adelaide 2010-2011.

  • on July 9, 2013, 17:44 GMT

    I would hope - as an australian at least - that there will be a few surprises for England in this series. Cowan to find his feet and produce some big scores, Watson to work out how to make it to a hundred, Rogers to show the selectors what they've been missing, Lyon to prove that he is the real deal (I think he is but it takes time and he's been learning how in Test cricket and with some odd selection decisions around him). Swann should prove his class or risk being one of those good test players rather than a great one (no shame in that). What are the odds on Broad getting as petulant as a ten year old within the first two tests?

  • Homer2007 on July 9, 2013, 17:39 GMT

    They use the SG cricket ball for Tests in India. the Kookaburra is used for ODIs and T20s.

  • Big_Maxy_Walker on July 9, 2013, 17:23 GMT

    Yes Swann may average over 40, but he has tendency to get the right wickets at the right time. Remember the 2009 ashes where he had the highest wicket takers and run scorers but still lost? England are successful when it matters

  • thebatsmansHoldingthebowlersWilley on July 9, 2013, 17:14 GMT

    SWANN, SWANN WILL TEAR YOU APAAAART AGAIN Looking forward to seeing the much heralded Aussie pace attack, but not as much as i'm looking forward to seeing the Aussie left-handers struggling against Swanny's off-breaks

  • Bockee on July 9, 2013, 16:53 GMT

    England have rarely been favourites for a major series in recent years. When they have been (Pakistan, South Africa, in NZ), they have crumbled under the pressure.

    So far, all the attention has been on Australia and their internal problems. Once the blowtorch of attention focuses back on them, I fully expect them to crumble.

  • RandyOZ on July 9, 2013, 16:51 GMT

    I still dont understand why Swann gets so much praise, he averages 50 aghainst Australia!!

  • RandyOZ on July 9, 2013, 16:51 GMT

    I still dont understand why Swann gets so much praise, he averages 50 aghainst Australia!!

  • Bockee on July 9, 2013, 16:53 GMT

    England have rarely been favourites for a major series in recent years. When they have been (Pakistan, South Africa, in NZ), they have crumbled under the pressure.

    So far, all the attention has been on Australia and their internal problems. Once the blowtorch of attention focuses back on them, I fully expect them to crumble.

  • thebatsmansHoldingthebowlersWilley on July 9, 2013, 17:14 GMT

    SWANN, SWANN WILL TEAR YOU APAAAART AGAIN Looking forward to seeing the much heralded Aussie pace attack, but not as much as i'm looking forward to seeing the Aussie left-handers struggling against Swanny's off-breaks

  • Big_Maxy_Walker on July 9, 2013, 17:23 GMT

    Yes Swann may average over 40, but he has tendency to get the right wickets at the right time. Remember the 2009 ashes where he had the highest wicket takers and run scorers but still lost? England are successful when it matters

  • Homer2007 on July 9, 2013, 17:39 GMT

    They use the SG cricket ball for Tests in India. the Kookaburra is used for ODIs and T20s.

  • on July 9, 2013, 17:44 GMT

    I would hope - as an australian at least - that there will be a few surprises for England in this series. Cowan to find his feet and produce some big scores, Watson to work out how to make it to a hundred, Rogers to show the selectors what they've been missing, Lyon to prove that he is the real deal (I think he is but it takes time and he's been learning how in Test cricket and with some odd selection decisions around him). Swann should prove his class or risk being one of those good test players rather than a great one (no shame in that). What are the odds on Broad getting as petulant as a ten year old within the first two tests?

  • Shan156 on July 9, 2013, 17:45 GMT

    @RandyOZ, if you are going to post #s, at least bother to check the facts on cricinfo before posting. Swann averages 40 against Aus. That is high, no doubt, but not 50. Care to check Warne's average against India? It is bad too when compared to his career average but Warne is still a superb bowler. Swann is not in the same league but he is dangerous against left handers and Aus. possess plenty of them. Swann, despite his poor average against Aus., has starred in two match winning contributions against them; check out Oval 2009 and Adelaide 2010-2011.

  • on July 9, 2013, 18:03 GMT

    Anderson is dangerous but i don't think Swan will be as like as Jimmy!!! Eng must have chosen Monde in squad to give back up for Swan!! Eng performed well against India in home and away other than that their performance was below average thats why they pushed to 3rd spot in icc test ranking!! Eng has cook nd KP who can perform well in any condition. It will be real test for Eng to beat Aus than Aus to beat Eng!!! Can't write of ozz as they have good and balanced side.

  • whatawicket on July 9, 2013, 18:12 GMT

    keep those referrals intact swanny with so many lefties in the oz side the lbw decisions will come aplenty. they could not play the Indian spinners which were the same as England were playing blindfolded

  • 5wombats on July 9, 2013, 18:36 GMT

    @Shan156 mate you are absolutely right - I told him already on another forum where he said "Swann would pose no threat" LOL. But he's just another one of those who never bothers with the facts. He'll get his comeupance as the series unfolds methinks.