The England cricket team are flying out for the most eagerly anticipated Ashes series since, um, the last one:
Anticipated for different reasons though. Last time England were an in-form team, with the best chance in 18 years to finally win back the Ashes from the Aussies. This time the question is, 'is England's test team a force to be reckoned with in the long-term, just as Australia have been?'.
Looking at the teams:
Relatively unchanged from the last series. They will have their legendary bowlers Warne and McGrath fit and raring to go for them. I think that McGrath's freak injury during the last series was a big help to England, and England won't be happy seeing him apparently back to his best in the ICC OD tournament. Will this translate to stirling performances over 5 days over 5 matches though? Somehow I don't think so, as he is very near the end of his career. If not, Australia may have to rely on an inexperienced youngster such as Tait or Mitchell, which could be a weakness. What's happened to Stuart Clark - Aus's man of the series against SA back in March? In batting terms, it's been a while since their last series so I'm not sure which batsmen are in form. From that SA series it looks as though the openers are misfiring, but Martyn and Ponting look good. What do Aussies think about their batting?
England's team on the other hand are very much changed. For bowlers, Harmison is bang out of form and nowhere near the man who skittled the Windies a couple years ago. Panesar looks a great replacement for Giles, though Giles's batting helped a great deal in the last Ashes. If Simon Jones could stay fit he would be one of the world's top bowlers, but alas will miss the series. Chris Read will be prefered with the gloves, but I don't think will contribute the runs as Geraint Jones would. In short we've lost some batting power. However to counteract this is Ian Bell's huge upturn in form and Ali Cook's emergence as a top quality high order batsman.
For me though the deciding factor that will determine the Ashes will be our loss of Vaughan. He was a great captain and batsman, and leaves a big void to fill. Flintoff is a different type of Captain, and while he'd be the first over the trenches with everyone following, I don't think he's got the intelligence of Vaughan, and the inspiration to know how to pressure a team. In Australia's backyard I think this will show up, and I'm not very optimistic about an England series victory.
I see the series going this way: I think Aus will win the first test, as they did last time. However I can't see the rallying of the English team happening as quickly as last time, and Aus will be well ahead in the series before England know what's happening. However England are definitely a team that won't get rolled over and will come back strong. I think it will therefore end up a 2-2 draw, with England retaining the Ashes.