Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The End of the Beginning

The 'Phoney war' started at around 8pm on the 12th September 2005, outside the White Bear in Kennington Park Road, SE11, when two Australians impressed on me (and my very drunk friends) that we would 'seriously cop it' next winter Down Under...

The same 'Phoney war' ends in around 24 hours time in Brisbane when Steve Harmison will steam in and remove either Justin Langers head, or his off-stump... either will suit!

To say the atmosphere at the Gabba will be intense is a serious understatement - I'd guess that the intensity will reach levels never before attained in Test Cricket. (In passing, I'm happy for any witnesses to an India/Pakistan test to contradict me here, but I'd remind you that a full house on such occasions is pretty much a pre-requisite...)

It's the intensity level that needs to be borne in mind when you consider Duncan Fletcher's attitude to team selection during this series.

Go back and watch the DVDs of the 2005 series again (go on, you know you want to!) From the word go, England were in the Aussies faces - and stayed there throughout the entire series. In fact, it all started in the ODI beforehand when Simon Jones faced up to Matthew Hayden. Hayden gave Jones some verbals, and Jones - plus half the England team, gave it back the Hayden in spades. Hayden backed down, genuinely shocked - and things were never quite the same again.

It's got to be like that again - only more so.

Ashley Giles has been there, done that, and got the (mis-spelt) T shirt. Monty Panesar hasn't - and that's the bottom line as far as Fletcher sees it. Panesar's time will come - maybe as soon as the second test, but Fletcher recognises just how lethal and critical the Brisbane Test will be - so Giles will get the nod - assuming he's not overruled by the other selectors.

The same goes for the Jones/Read debate. Yes, Read is the better keeper, and his batting has improved to the extent where he's just as likely to unveil a 50 as Jones - but the bottom line here is 'attitude'. Jones has it bigtime, he gets under the Aussies skin to an extent that Read can only imagine.

So it's Jones & Giles.

Obviously, serious predictions are a total lottery - especially in a game with so many variables as cricket. But here goes...

Top English Run Scorer
- Andrew Strauss, but only by a whisker ahead of KP.

Top English Wicket Taker - Freddie - Let's hope it's something like 25, rather than 15.

Top Australian Run Scorer - Ricky Ponting - Say what you like about his captaincy (and 'worst Australian skipper since Graham Yallop comes to mind) but you can't deny that he's one of the top five Australian batsmen ever. Hussey as a wildcard here.

Top Australian Wicket Taker - Shane Warne (Going out on a limb with that one...)

Series Prediction - My head says 3-1 Australia but my heart says 2-2 -so let's follow the heart! Unlike previous England touring teames, this one will not take a backward step. For the first time since the Botham Era, we have the best all-rounder - and there will also be sufficient numbers of England fans present to ensure that the MCG and SCG will be, at the very least, neutral venues.

Bring it on!

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