WINNING the Test series in India during the winter, England’s first for 27 years, was a monumental achievement and one that can never be taken away from Alastair Cook.
But it is Ashes series that will truly define his captaincy. It is the prize that England players crave the most, the wins that taste the sweetest and the defeats that hurt the most.
A home Ashes, especially one in which you begin as such clear favourites, brings its own unique pressure. Yet I don’t think Cook will be feeling a burden. He will not doubt that he has the better team.
Steve Waugh, who led Australia to 4-1 victories in both of his Ashes series as skipper, as well as 15 consecutive Test wins, is often cited as a fantastic captain. But he was only as good as his bowlers.
Waugh was lucky to have Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. These days, however, England can boast a fast bowler as good as McGrath in James Anderson, while Graeme Swann is a very potent spinner, if not quite the equal of Warne.
Australia will put up a fight, but the fact is England’s bowlers will exert pressure, eventually it will have an effect and wickets will fall in clusters. On the other hand I cannot see the tourists taking 20 wickets.
The Aussies do have inspirational cricketers. Michael Clarke and Shane Watson are worthy of places in the England team, but, over five matches, to my judgement that is clutching at straws.
If England win the first Test toss this morning I think they will opt to bat, aiming to stay in for two days and rack up 600-plus. It will reverse swing at some stage, which should suit Anderson and Stuart Broad well.
An England batsmen to watch, not just in this Test but the whole series, is Jonathan Trott. He may not be the most glamorous but I know how determined he is to win these matches. I think he’ll get millions.
Andy Lloyd is a former England Test cricketer who has also been captain and chairman of Warwickshire.
KEY MEN: ANDY LLOYD’S PICK
Alastair Cook’s go-to paceman is to this England side what Glenn McGrath was to the dominant Aussie side of 15 years ago. Fully expect him to take advantage if Trent Bridge offers reverse swing later in the first Test.
At one stage it looked as though an elbow injury was threatening to rob England of their best spinner, but they cleverly did not rush him back and, judging by his displays in the warm-up matches, the signs are that he is in excellent nick.
The stoic Warwickshire player might not be the most celebrated or flamboyant of England’s batsmen, but they don’t come any more determined, and I strongly fancy Trott to finish as the top run scorer in this Ashes series.
Australia’s fortunes revolve around those of their captain, who looks to be over the niggling back problems that troubled him until as recently as last month. The tourists need him to get big hundreds to be competitive.
A talented opener and a powerful batsman, Watson is perhaps one of only two men from Australia’s current crop, along with his skipper Clarke, who could justifiably fancy their chances of winning a place in the England team.
The paceman is the only man in his team to have bowled more than 100 overs against England, so should know more than his team-mates about the opposition. Will carry most of the tourists’ slender hopes of taking 20 wickets.