WITH little more than a week until the first Ashes ball is bowled, the two teams could not be on more different trajectories. Preparations have gone as well as they could have for England, while Australia are a side in chaos.
Australia’s shambolic state was summed up this week when they named a huge 17-man squad for the first Test. I have never heard of anything like it and find it absolutely amazing. It’s evidence that they don’t know their best team and, to me, a sign of weakness.
Their recent results have also been woeful. They haven’t just been getting beaten – they’ve been getting hammered – and I can’t remember them going through a run like that for a few years.
On top of all that there are doubts about Ricky Ponting as a captain, and whispers about whether Michael Clarke, the vice-captain, is the real deal. He has been around in Test cricket for a long time but hasn’t scored as many as some had hoped.
I have spoken to Australian friends who are close to the team and they have identified the first Test as being absolutely crucial. They are desperate to win, and, I’m told, if they don’t then they feel England will hold the advantage for the rest of the series.
One of the matters they seem undecided on is which spin bowler to favour, Nathan Hauritz or newcomer Xavier Doherty. We don’t know much about Doherty, he’s the new kid on the block, but I do know that England wouldn’t be too dismayed to be facing Hauritz.
Doherty is an unknown quantity, which always forces batsmen to be a little more circumspect, at least to start with. And while I don’t mean to say that Hauritz is a complete pie-thrower, I think England would be rubbing their hands at playing him.
As it stands, and as long as there are no injuries we don’t know about, I’d have no hesitation in backing England to win the Ashes. There is nothing to read into their final warm-up game as they have done their preparations.
Of course, you would be crazy to write off the Aussies, who always come out fighting when they’re down. Whichever XI they pick, I’m sure they won’t leave anything in the dressing room.