The Sophia Gardens in Cardiff will play host to the first Ashes test match
this year between England and Australia, and it promises to be one
exciting encounter. The previous series between these two countries had ended
in a 5-0 whitewash for the Australians, after they had lost the 2005 series 1-2.
However, this time around, it will be an under-strength Aussie team that will
take on the hosts England. Players like Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist,
Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath have all retired and replaced by some of
the new faces, while Andrew Symonds' international career is all but
over. The new guys had struggled a bit leading up to this series, having lost
to India and South Africa, before putting one across the Proteas away.
Ricky Ponting's form will be a definite worry for the Aussies, more so, given
the slow nature of the Cardiff track and the skipper's detestation of spin bowling.
Michael Hussey, on the other hand, had been going through a pathetic
run of form as well, but the 150 in the tour game against the England Lions
will do his confidence a world of good. Michael Clarke needs to start firing,
but his place is not under threat, as Marcus North, who is still learning the
tricks of the trade and yet to get his batting going.
The bowling will lie in the hands of Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and in
all probabilities Brett Lee, after his reverse-swinging six-wicket haul against
the Lions. The problem that the Ausses will have is in deciding the fate of
their fourth bowler, whether or not to go with their frontline spinner, Nathan
Hauritz. If the Aussies decide to play a fourth bowler, it will, in all probabilities
by Stuart Clark, and that may bring about an oneness in the line-up!
For England, the match-fitness of Andrew Flintoff will be well received
as he has been out of the game ever since the times of the IPL. What will be
more heartening is that Ravindra Bopara's continuous run of good form in both
international cricket and IPL. To top it all, he also ended up scoring a century
in the Warwickshire game, making him one of the English players to watch out
for despite what Shane Warne has said about him!
With Steve Harmison doing as well as he did in the game against the Australians,
it will be interesting to see whether he does get selected to the team despite
not making it to the pre-squad for the series. Graeme Swann becomes the first
English spinner in a couple of decades to get into the side knowing that he
is the better of all the spinners in both the teams, and the Cardiff pitch should
assist the slow bowlers.