>The Ashes – Will England stand up down under?

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We are nearly there. The old enemies are set to do battle. This evening marks the return of the Ashes, and confidence in the English camp is high going into the historic tournament. In what should be five gruelling tests out in Australia the selected Englishman will have the chance to something that has not been done since 1986-1987 – to win the Ashes down under.

Andrew Strauss’s men head into the first test in Brisbane on the back of a hard and detailed period of preparation. The England squad appears to be fairly settled, and they go to Australia knowing they will be taking on a team that has struggled to re-establish the aura of dominance that they have enjoyed going into so many of the previous contests.

There will be key battles throughout the tournament that will have many twists and turns. We all remember Brett Lee and Andrew Flintoff having a memorable dual throughout a previous Ashes tournament that typified everything the competition has to offer; quality cricket, competitiveness and sportsmanship.  There is no doubt the sportsmanship and banter will have already begun between the two sides, and the contests will be just as much about the mental aspect of the game as it is physical. Batsmen such as Alistair Cooke and Ian Bell who have suffered a crisis in confidence at key points in their career now have the opportunity to show their experience, and steer England through to glory.

Captain Andrew Strauss is in superb form, and appears to be the calm presence that will help shoulder the inevitable pressure that will be on the tourists throughout the series.  Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pieterson in particular will have to learn to deal with the barrage of vocal treats that the Aussies will provide, and that could affect their decisions when batting if things do not initially appear to be going their way.  Graeme Swann has rightlydeveloped the reputation as the world’s best spin bowler at this moment in time.  His rise to prominence has happened in a relatively short space of time, and he can easily be a match winner on his day.  Anderson, Broad, Prior, Collingwood and the newly called up Steven Finn, all have a massive part to play in making sure England can win the Ashes. As has often been the case in recent contests, England’s tail end ability with the bat could prove to be the match winner.

In return, Australia will field the all too familiar faces of Ponting, Katich, Clarke, Watson and Johnson.  Michael Hussey has struggled for form recently, and needs a strong performance early in the competition to boost his confidence.  Caution must be taken with the aggressive wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who can turn in the runs quickly as well as being a brilliant catcher.  The Aussies will welcome back Peter Siddle from injury, and will need to draw on every ounce of experience that they have if they are going to gain the much coveted trophy.

However, with England being in the form they are in, only a nightmare start in Brisbane would cause concern, and even then the spirit the English have demonstrated time after time would not rule out a comeback. Therefore, the next several weeks will provide much entertainment, but VN predicts England will return home clutching the little urn.

By Oliver Holmes

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