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By Nick Gill on 8.7.2023

From Ashes to dust

Four years is a long time for any sporting team, but none more so than for England’s cricketers. As I write this the first ball of the Ashes 2009 has been bowled (I daren’t look at the score) – but it has not been the recent present that has been the focus during the build up, rather a particularly fruitful summer in 2005.

If somehow you haven’t heard or been reminded, yes England managed to beat Australia for the first time in 18 years that summer and just for a short time the country became cricket crazy, with the masses of football fanatics either converted or quieter than usual. So, as the Ashes finally returns to these shores, will it happen again?

Well England’s fall from grace in the four intervening year has not been as dramatic but certainly consistent: since 2005 they’ve gradually slipped from second in the world to fifth in the Test rankings with series wins few and far between. England’s most successful captain ever, Michael Vaughan, has now retired and it is the task of Andrew Strauss to repeat Vaughan’s tactical master-class of four years previous. Admittedly Australia has not been as dominant in the recent past and although they still hold the number one spot, failure to beat England in the Ashes would see South Africa replace them as the world leaders in Tests.

This makes for an interesting dynamic with both teams seemingly having something to prove, albeit one more than the other. Yet whether England can recapture the kind of form that saw them win six consecutive series in a year (as well as that all important little urn) remains very much in doubt. Little has been mentioned about the embarrassing 5-0 Ashes whitewash Australia inflicted Down Under the following year, and surely home support cannot be expected to make such a significant difference to the score-line this time around.

I say ‘home’ support in the loosest possible term as, despite England hosting this year’s two month showdown, the First Test is taking place at Cardiff, Wales. It seems a curious decision by the England and Wales Cricket Board (note the inclusion of two countries here) to award Cardiff their first ever Test for the biggest series of them all. However, with muted support at best expected, it will be up to England to play good cricket – which they will certainly need to produce if they hope to win – in order to gain support of the new Swalec Stadium crowd.

One cause for optimism from an England perspective is Brett Lee’s rib injury. The Australian fast bowler will miss the opener and is a doubt for the Second Test at Lord’s, and despite their strong squad, the Aussies are likely to suffer both in the bowling department and may miss Lee’s occasional flurry with the bat too.

Nevertheless, it will not be one individual from either side that determines who will be triumphant in the latest Ashes series, and instead will require big performances from all the players at some point – whoever manages to do this more consistently will surely run out winners.

Oh, and as a final point, if England win 5-0 they’ll go above Australia in the Test rankings – although this is something they have never done in over a century of five Test Ashes series. ‘How’s that’ for a statistic? But of course, all this talk of the past – 2005 or otherwise – must cease now and only on August 24th will more history be made. So with that, I’m off to check the current score. Wish me luck.

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