Monday, July 18, 2005

Ashes Series 2005 - Preview

From: "The Emirates Evening Post"

The Ashes series 2005

On Thursday this week the most eagerly awaited cricket contest since the last World Cup will start in earnest at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London when the first Test match of the 2005 Ashes series begins. The build up to this match has been intense not least because of the late start to the series caused by the cricket authorities’ wish to raise revenues with an interminable sequence of 13 One Day Internationals over the past month. But now all that is behind us and the serious business of the summer can at last begin.

ICC Test Championship
1 Australia 132
2 England 111
3 India 107
4 Pakistan 100
5 Sri Lanka 100
6 South Africa 100
7 New Zealand 97
8 West Indies 75
9 Zimbabwe 41
10 Bangladesh 5

The significance of the series (aside from the obvious one that this is one of the oldest rivalries in sport) can be seen from the ICC’s Test Championship table which shows that the battle will be between the two best Test sides of the moment. But the table also reveals what cricket lovers around the world know, and that is that although England may (just) be Australia’s closest rival the gap between the two sides is pretty large.

Australia’s hegemony in world cricket is unparalleled in cricket history. Since they last toured England in 2001 they have played 15 series against other Test nations and their series record is Won 13; Drawn 2; Lost 0. These series have comprised 46 Test matches of which Australia has won 33 and lost only 5.

England’s record over the same period is good, and in 2004 and 2005 it is excellent - 18 Tests played, won 14, Drawn 3, Lost 1. So it is not too much of an overclaim to say that the Ashes series is a contest to decide who really the top Test nation is at the moment.

The two sides are very different in character and experience. The likely England XI on Thursday will have 326 Test caps between them; their Australian opponents will have no fewer than 730. And the average age of the Australian team is 31 to England’s average of 27, truly a battle between experience and promise.

Nowhere is “promise” more obvious than in the selection of the South African born and bred Kevin Pietersen in the England side. Pietersen burst on the international scene in South Africa earlier in the year with some blistering innings in the One Day series but his Test debut will be when he walks out against Australia this week. In some respects the timing of his arrival at the crease may be crucial to the outcome of the first match, and possibly the series. If England are 25-3 when Pietersen takes guard it will be the tyro’s wholly untested powers of application and resolve which will be to the fore. If, on the other hand, the England upper order have fired on all cylinders then a platform of (say) 300-3 may be just what Pietersen needs to give him the confidence to launch a match winning assault on a tiring Aussie attack!

In their top six England have three players who are out and out attackers (Trescothick; Pietersen and Flintoff) and three who are more balanced in their methods (Strauss; Bell and Vaughan). The bias for attack (characterised by the preference of Pietersen for Thorpe) is commendable – whether it is foolhardy we will soon find out.

The experienced Australian side have strength in depth and there are no visible chinks in their armour. England’s best hope is that the bowling attack of McGrath (age 35); Warne (35); Gillespie (30); Kasprowicz (33) may be just past their best – although the younger (28) Brett Lee, who was in good form in the One Day series, will certainly play in place of Gillespie or Kasprowicz. Australia’s batting line up is formidable; any side which has Adam Gilchrist, who averages 55.65 in test matches, at number 7 has to be pretty awesome!

By far the key moments in the first Test will be the first 40 overs of each side. If England can weather the storm of McGrath and Lee and lose no more than one wicket over this period then they could have a platform to build a decent score (if they can master Warne!). If Australia are troubled by the pace of Harmison and the accuracy of Hoggard and lose some early wickets then England might just be able to apply the screws. Strauss, Trescothick and Vaughan versus McGrath and Lee and Hayden, Langer and Ponting versus Harmy and Hoggy are appetising battles to look forward to!

Key Players


(1) Glenn McGrath. One of the greatest bowlers of all time whose nagging accuracy has been such that he averages only 21.22 runs for each of his 499 test wickets. Is he past his best or will England fire him for one last effort?

(2) Brett Lee. Has not played a Test match since January 2004 when the Indians hit him for 276 runs in the fourth Test match at Sydney. His pace and aggression may unsettle the England upper order.

(3) Shane Warne. Warne is 35 going on 16 and to see whether (like McGrath) the challenge of one last go at the Poms will bring out the best again will be a delight to watch.

(4) Adam Gilchrist. Gilchrist is a phenomenon, completely without fear and with an eye unequalled in modern cricket he can turn a match in a few overs.

(5) Ricky Ponting. This will be Ponting’s first Ashes series as Captain and he will be determined not only to follow successfully in Steve Waugh’s footsteps as captain but also to keep his place close to the top of the Test batting rankings.


(1) Steve Harmison. Which Harmison will turn up to play? The one that destroyed the West Indies and New Zealand in 2004 or the shadow that had a miserable tour of South Africa in 2004/5?

(2) Michael Vaughan. By far Vaughan’s biggest challenge in cricket awaits him. Whether he continues where he left off in his last battle with the Aussies (633 runs at 63.3) or whether the burdens of captaincy will affect his form is a key question.

(3) Andrew Strauss. Intelligent and likeable Strauss is unflappable and has made a dream start to his Test career (Averaging 55.12 in 26 innings). The Aussies will be by far his biggest test though.

(4) Ashley Giles. Under-rated, but in form, spinner who took 31 test wickets at home in 2004. Will be needed to stem the flow of runs and force mistakes from the strong Aussie batting line up.

(5) Andrew Flintoff. Lord’s will be his 48th Test match, but his first against Australia. His economical bowling and destructive batting could turn a match.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Letter in "The Observer" 10th July 2005

Letter published in "The Observer" 10th July 2005


Sadly, after more than 100 years, I feel that we must now accept that the concept of the British Isles Lions touring team has no place in the modern game of International rugby. The first two Lions tours of the professional era, under two of the world’s best Rugby managers (Graham Henry and Clive Woodward) have proved beyond doubt that a team of players, however good, thrown together just for an overseas tour, will be no match for a fully professional National team. In the amateur rugby days of the past it was the case that there was far less team building than is the norm in the modern era. So whilst New Zealand, Australia and South Africa were somewhat more familiar with one another as a team than their Lions opponents, there was not the focused permanent squad system that characterises the modern professional age. So the Lions could often compete on almost equal terms with their opponents. Today, as the events in New Zealand have proved beyond doubt, a scratch team such as the Lions will be no match for a fully professional top International team like the All Blacks who are totally familiar with one another.

Clive Woodward I think did his utmost to try and create both team awareness and a sense of unity in his Lions squad. He should not be criticised for failing because (with the benefit of hindsight perhaps) it was never going to be possible for him to match the All Blacks as a team. The same would apply to any future tours and I would envisage that the Springboks or the Wallabies would have as little trouble in beating a Lions team as the All Blacks did.

The future of Northern hemisphere rugby has to be based only on the National teams. It is Wales, Ireland, England and Scotland who should in future be the standard bearers for British Isles rugby not the Rag, Tag and Bobtail combination of players unfamiliar with one another and gathered together only for a few weeks every four years, that is the Lions.

Patrick S Briggs