IT’S not quite the end of an era, but this Ashes series in Australia represents the end of a cycle that coach Andy Flower and selectors have long been gearing up for.
A number of players who make up England’s spine are the wrong side of 30 and will know that this could be their last Ashes Down Under, if not the last time they face Australia in Test cricket.
By the time the Aussies visit for the next series in 2015, I expect the England team to look significantly different, with at least four changes to the regular XI.
Kevin Pietersen, now 33, might want to play until 2016 but that will depend on how he bats. The same goes for others showing signs of wear and tear, such as wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior, 31, and 34-year-old spinner Graeme Swann.
So while they are not quite fighting for survival, several players are out to show they deserve to keep their place, and that will only make them more determined to defend the urn.
The other source of great motivation is revenge. Cricketers have long memories and vividly recall the stranglehold Australia enjoyed throughout the 1990s. England hardly won a game, and now the boot is on the other foot they want to reassert their superiority.
I am sure England will win a fourth consecutive Ashes series very comfortably. To recapture the urn Australia must win three matches, and I just cannot envisage that happening.
Having said that, this match in Brisbane looks likely to be England’s hardest. The first Test is important in any series but this one is even more vital, especially for the hosts. If England win at the Gabba, I don’t see any way back for Australia.
Andy Lloyd is a former England Test cricketer who has also been captain and chairman of Warwickshire.
ANDY’S ONES TO WATCH
Two players will have to play well for Australia to have any chance: captain Michael Clarke, who will need to score masses of runs, and Test newcomer George Bailey. He has been on fire in one-day cricket for the last six months, averaging 95.6 on the recent tour of India. Test cricket is very different but Bailey will be brimful of confidence and England’s bowlers will be focusing on preventing him building a head of steam. Among the Aussie attack, Mitchell Johnson appears to be bowling straight now and is the main threat.
You can rely on James Anderson to take 10 wickets in two matches, which England will win. The main concern is that he stays fit. Alastair Cook will be under pressure as the Aussies always try to unnerve the captain, but he has consistently risen to the occasion, as his record attests, and I would back him to do so again. Fellow batsman Ian Bell, meanwhile, has had his ups and downs and taken time to blossom on the Test stage but has had a lovely 2013 in which he has been England’s best player. I’ve known him since he was 15 and it’s great to see him fulfil his talent.