Warning: Ashes fever is sweeping the country. Symptoms include mouths gushing predictions of English victory, fingers furiously tapping tweets, and arms rotating rhythmically to a craze known simply as the ‘Sprinkler’.
Since the final ball of the series clinching Test at the Oval last summer, all talk has been of whether this new and improved England side can retain the mighty urn in the notoriously difficult Australian environment. After all the build up, the preparation, and the excitement, the first Test at the Gabba is now a matter of days away. England haven’t been better placed to win the Ashes in Australia since, well probably since the last time they won the Ashes in Australia (1986/7 for those of you that didn’t know!). Their preparation, team spirit and individual performances are, on the whole, as good as they will ever be. The Australians on the other hand, have lost some of their best, and most intimidating, players since England were last down under, and their expanded squad is a mixture of players on their way out, and youngsters with little experience of a stage as prolific as the Ashes. The mood amongst the England players and fans is buoyant to the point of giddy. A positive result for England seems to be in sight. But don’t take my word for it. Below are the comments and predictions from recent interviews that I have done from, amongst others, England players past and present.
I’d love it to be 2-1 to England. If we start well we could win out there. The first Test match is huge, if we can come away either winning or drawing, it sets the series up very well. If we start well it will grow and grow and the pressure will be more on Australia. If we don’t start well then I think the momentum in Australia starts to become very hard to play against.
Last time we had great hopes, everyone was expecting us to do really well, and we lost 5-0. So if we can improve on that certainly it would be a start! I’d like to think that this squad will push them a lot closer this time and that we are strong enough to do it.
We had massive belief going last time and it got knocked out of us pretty quickly. But I do believe that, in all forms of the game, we are starting to believe in ourselves. I think having won the World t20 and the Ashes, people are starting to believe that we can win big games, and starting to believe that we can beat Australia. Eight years ago I don’t think anyone believed that we could beat them, so thinking about playing Australia probably isn’t quite as bad as it used to be.
It’s a really great series to be involved in, even last time. Playing at grounds like the MCG with 100,000 people, that’s just unbelievable. You don’t see that in England.
The last time we were out there, there were probably a few grey areas. I think this time around we’ve really been solid in the way we’ve played over an 18 month period and the good thing is we are growing all the time, getting better and better, and we are ready for this challenge ahead. The guys are fit and mentally should be pretty refreshed after this little break that we’ve got as well. So we are in the best situation that we possibly could be considering the amount of cricket that we have played.
It all revolves around the first test match. If we leave Brisbane with the score at worst still 0-0, I think we’ll keep the Ashes. If you go 1-0 down then they gain the momentum. You don’t escape from Ashes fever in Australia. When you are losing to Australia, it’s not just the 11 players, it’s the whole country. You go out for a meal and it’s the waiter and people sitting around you. It was my favourite place to tour but it is also the toughest place, because you do well to get away from the cricket environment and the passion that the Australians show.
I think the series will be drawn and England will retain the Ashes. 2-all will be the score. It’s a sensible decision to take Panesar. He’s the second best spinner in the country and if they need two spinners in Adelaide or Sydney he’s definitely the right choice. They’ve got to get more out of Tremlett than we’ve seen before and he’s got to stay fit and be ready to go if he’s asked to play.
It won’t be easy for any of the reserves because going on tour these days with no other cricket; it’s very difficult to get into any sort of nick. The old cliché ‘he’s looking good in the nets’, but if you are not getting any competitive cricket it’s quite a tough ask, but I think it’s about the best job the selectors could have done.
I’d say England will win 2-1 with two drawn. They’re settled and confident, Australia, for a change, are completely the opposite although still dangerous enough at home to win one.
I think Stuart Broad will be key for England. He is emerging now as the authentic all-rounder every good team needs. Ricky Ponting is the key player for Australia, one way or the other. He’s fighting for his reputation, and his future as captain.
As a boy I saw the Lord’s Test in 1961 when I was in England on a short British government scholarship for Caribbean journalists, and recently the last two Test’s in 2005 when I was on the way home from the West Indies tour of Sri Lanka.
Tristan Gemmill (star of BBC1’s Casualty and life long cricket fan)
I predict 2-1 to England. It should probably be 4-0, but being England we are bound to make it harder than it needs to be.
Granted, a lack of Australian voice here helps make England appear favourites, but I don’t think many Antipodeans would argue that a repeat of the 5-0 whitewash of four years ago is likely this time around. My prediction? We will get some hard fought, entertaining cricket over the next seven weeks. And England will come home with the Ashes!