Cricket, as hard as it gets

 
Andy Lloyd


IF anybody is wondering how to fit in watching an Ashes series that will take place almost entirely during our normal sleeping hours, I have some advice. If you watch nothing else, watch the first session of the first Test – it starts at midnight tonight and it’ll be absolutely essential viewing.

So many times the opening session has dictated how the remainder of the series unfolds. Whether England bat first or bowl, they’ll need to lay down a marker in the early stages.

As you read this today the England players and management will be utterly on edge because this is what they are in cricket for. There is no bigger prize for an English player.

All Ashes contests are big, but this time it’s huge, because England are in Australia with a brilliant chance of winning. They haven’t done it yet, but what a feather in their caps it would be. The Aussies, after all, have been virtually invincible in their own back yard for around the last 25 years.

It’ll also be a pleasure to concentrate on some good honest cricket again, after the suspicions which dogged Pakistan’s tour of England earlier this year. No-one in their right mind would have the temerity to doubt either side’s commitment in the Ashes. No ground will be given; it’ll be cricket as hard as it gets.

Personally I’m staggered Australia are the bookmakers’ favourites. Sticking my neck out, I expect England to win the first Test and go on to defend the urn by winning the series 3-0.


GROUNDS FOR OPTIMISM: THE VENUES THAT HOLD THE KEY TO RETAINING THE URN

WACA, Perth
Third Test: 16 Dec - 20 Dec
Capacity: 22,000
England’s Record: W 1; L 7; D 3
Pitch: A real belter. Loved by the quicks and attacking batsmen.
Famous Ashes Moment: Adam Gilchrist’s century off just 57 balls the last time England were Down Under was just about the most destructive Test match innings you’ll see.

Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
Second Test: 3 Dec - 7 Dec
Capacity: 31,000
England’s Record: W 8; L 16; D 5
Pitch: Traditionally low and slow to start but will take turn on final day.
Famous Ashes Moment: Aussie batsmen being peppered during the Bodyline series of 1932-33.

MCG, Melbourne
Fourth Test: 26 Dec - 30 Dec
Capacity: 100,000
England’s Record: W 19; L 25; D 5
Pitch: A seamers’ paradise. Normally has a
distinctive green tinge.
Famous Ashes Moment: Shane Warne chose his home ground to bring up his 700th Test wicket.

Gabba, Brisbane
First Test: 25 Nov - 29 Nov
Capacity: 40,000
England’s Record: W 5; L 10; D 4
Pitch: Normally green on the first morning. Hard toss for captains to judge.
Famous Ashes Moment: Steve Harmison’s wayward first ball of the 2006-07 series which ended up at
second slip.

SCG, Sydney
Fifth Test: 3 Jan - 7 Jan
Capacity: 44,002
England’s Record: W 21; L 23; D 7
Pitch: A Bunsen. The place to field two spinners.
Famous Ashes Moment: Steve Waugh bringing up his record equalling 27th Test ton with the final ball of the day in 2003 was unforgettable.