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The Ashes: Big fight over little urn

cricket Updated: Nov 25, 2010 00:20 IST
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This Ashes tour has been like no other in living memory. While England have gone on their serene way in Test match preparation, with scarcely a hiccup to upset the progress, the Australians have been floundering with issues of form, fitness, and confidence, each as yet not fully resolved.

But everyone knows that when the teams arrive at The Gabba on Thursday, none of this, not England's controlled build-up or Australia's flapping, will count for a hill of beans.

In Australia, there is no such thing as an uncompetitive Australian cricket team. Australia know that since Len Hutton's 1954-55 England side lost by an innings but won three Tests thereafter, no visiting side has come unstuck at The Gabba and recovered to win the series.

In order then to win the series, or even draw it, England need to overturn history for unless the weather interferes in its tropical intensity, The Gabba does not do draws. Andy Flower is a keen student of statistical analysis so will be aware of the most fundamental of these: that Australia have lost only three of the past 26 matches played between the sides in Australia since Mike Gatting's 1986-87 triumph and each of those after the destiny of the Ashes had been decided.

All this of course is part of the intimidatory factor of an Ashes series. It extends further: to the notion that the series will be decided on the first day, or the first hour, first over or even first ball and that beyond that, should they not come out on top, there can be no comeback. This is to underestimate the resilience of the England team under Flower and Strauss who between them coaxed an Ashes win at home and a drawn series in South Africa against the odds.

Crucial to the game is the pitch. It promises to be a typical Gabba Test surface, with good pace and carry, some help for the seamers early on, but settling down thereafter. Later, as Shane Warne's record here would suggest, it can help spin. The toss, of course, will be a big factor for both sides.

The biggest stumbling block that England may come across is the Australia captain himself, a driven man and supreme batsman, but one who stands on the brink of becoming only the third captain of his country to lose three Ashes series. Of late, Ponting has had a lean time with the bat, but he excels at The Gabba averaging over 66 against a career average of 55.

England's bowling is key. The performance of Anderson, one of the most improved bowlers in cricket, will set the standard. If he swings the new ball he can be devastating. But Graeme Swann will have a crucial role, too. On a seamers' pitch Swann can still play a part. He will benefit from the extra bounce and the use of the Umpire Decision Review System.

Clarke fit for opening bout
Reuters adds from Brisbane: Michael Clarke was declared fit on Wednesday to play in the first bout of what promises to be a titanic Ashes tussle as Australia finally caught a break.

Badly hit by injuries, Australia named a bumper 17-strong squad nine days ago, then a slimmed down 13-man version at the weekend before being forced to supplement that with Usman Khawaja as cover for the injured Clarke.