We are now on the eve of what I have to say is easily my favorite sporting event in the calendar. I love the ashes and everything that it stands for, great history, intense rivalry and mutual respect for the opposition. I feel that in a lot of sports in the modern era there is too much hate being banded around. If you look at the way football has been over the last few decades you could argue that sporting rivalry has gone too far when a police presence is needed to separate fans, but this is a story for another day.
I find that the banter that runs through the ashes has to be one of the highlights as it still shows that sportsmen, fans and pundits can enjoy a good ribbing but still finish the day with a beer in hand to reflect together on how their teams have faired in battle. I couldn’t imagine a series without a Glenn Mcgrath 5-0 prediction running through the air, or Geoff Boycott lambasting pretty much everyone for not being as good as he was but its all in good jest.
Anyway now my romanticism for a utopian sporting world is over let’s get down to the real business, who will win this time down under. England has one goal and that is to come home with the urn but for Australia this series seems to mean so much more than that. Australia’s illustrious cricketing history over the past 25 years is as unprecedented as the great West Indies teams of the 70’s and 80’s so it is remarkable to see that their standards have declined so rapidly. It is understandable that you cant replace players like Gilchrist and Warne but the gulf has been so dramatic it makes you wonder where the youth coaching has been when Australia were dominating the world. Sadly it seems that they were so preoccupied by their successes that they didn’t plan for the future. Maybe this is a little presumptuous but there talent in the Aussie ranks is sadly not what it used to be. As Michael Atherton wrote this week “from baggy greens to saggy greens” seems apt. If they do not win this time around or even get off to a good start then the status of cricket in Australia will fall further and that can only be bad news long term for this great sporting nation.
As far England the changes in the last 4 years since the 5-0 drubbing down under are incredible, following England has been a real joy since the Strauss and Flower regime took charge. The sleek and professional approach that they have brought to the set up is now paying dividends as I can see a team now pushing to be the very best in all formats of the game. There is even a strength in depth which is rare for England as a couple of injuries would usually prove fatal to any chances of a series win but now you see that they have multiple back up bowling options and if Eoin Morgan cant get in the test side and rightfully so then you have got to be happy with the guys that are out there.
So with England almost at the peak of the world game and the Aussies having slipped from the summit where will the urn be come the end of the winter. If you look on paper it is almost a no contest of Haye vs Harrison proportions but of course we all no it is not as simple as this. Australia may be in a state of disarray and there is a feeling around the country that this generation doesn’t make the grade but I wouldn’t rule them out just yet. They are a patriotic bunch and wont let the Poms just come in and take what they claim to be there own. Also England hasn’t won down under in so long I can barely remember it and you can’t underestimate the powers of psychology in professional sport. So I can see 5 tough and hard fought test matches but with England having the edge with the superior talent and they also now come possessed with a mentality of winners rather than the fall guys I will give them the series by 1 or 2 tests.
The person who will suffer most for this will be Ricky Ponting, a man I can only sympathize with because if England walk away from this tour with the urn in hand he will go down in history as the captain who lost the ashes three times and was at the reigns when everything went wrong. This is a shame because in my opinion he is Australia’s finest batsmen since Bradman and his loyalty to the cause has been outstanding. Unlike his predecessors he hasn’t has the luxury of just being able to give Warne the ball when things were not looking too good and letting him save the day.