Uncertainty as Aussies struggle to win back Ashes

The swagger has gone from Australian cricket replaced by uncertainty as to whether Ricky Ponting's jittery team can win back the Ashes from England in this summer's five-Test series.

cricket Updated: Nov 10, 2010 11:25 IST

The swagger has gone from Australian cricket replaced by uncertainty as to whether Ricky Ponting's jittery team can win back the Ashes from England in this summer's five-Test series.

Australia lost the traditional urn in last year's series in England with Ponting earning the dubious distinction of becoming the only Australian captain in 119 years to lose two Ashes series in England.

Once-mighty Australian cricket is in an indecisive state of flux and in painful transition after the keenly-felt retirements of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer over the last three years.

Warne and McGrath were among the all-time top four bowlers with a total of 1,271 wickets between them and Gilchrist remains the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman of all time with 17 centuries with his batting pyrotechnics down the order.

Ponting has been likened to inheriting the family business on the slide as Australia finds itself below England at an unaccustomed fifth on the ICC Test rankings and sliding to seven straight international defeats in all forms of the game.

Even the fans are gloomy about the Australian team's chances with almost 57 percent of 6,000 polled in a newspaper this week believing Ponting's team will not retrieve the Ashes from England.

Critics have also questioned Australia's less than ideal buildup to the Ashes with three 50-over matches against Sri Lanka, while England get battle hardened through three first-class tour games in preparation for the opening Test.

But the optimists point to the difficulty Andrew Strauss's men will have to keep their hands on the urn in the coming five Tests, getting underway at Brisbane's Gabba ground on November 25.

It has been almost 24 years since England last won an Ashes series in Australia under Mike Gatting when they claimed a 2-1 series victory.

In those intervening years, England have won just three of the 25 Tests played on Australian pitches and all coming in the final Tests when the series was virtually decided.

Yet to win back the Ashes, Australia must possess the bowlers who can take 20 England wickets in a match, which has been become something of a burning issue.

Australia's failure to bowl out Pakistan and India in July and October is the underlying cause why Australia have lost their last three Test matches for their worst losing Test run since 1988.

From accumulating records for success, Australian cricket now finds itself acquiring records for losing and it has been draining confidence in the team and building pressure from disgruntled critics and fans.

Australia will be relying heavily on the experience of Ponting, second only to Sachin Tendulkar with most Test runs (12,250) in 148 matches at 54.69.

Modern-day batting great Ponting will again be the wicket English bowlers will prize in the Ashes series, but if Australia are to get the runs to put pressure back on to England they will need big series from Shane Watson (1518 at 39.95), Simon Katich (4091 at 45.97), Mike Hussey (4080 at 49.76) and Michael Clarke (4549 at 48.91).

The home attack is to be spearheaded by unpredictable left-arm paceman Mitchell Johnson (166 wickets at 29.06), with likely supporting roles from Ben Hilfenhaus (48 wickets at 31.06) and Doug Bollinger (49 wickets at 23.80).

Australia have struggled to unearth a consistent spinner since Warne's retirement three years ago, and it is likely to be down to offie Nathan Hauritz (63 wickets at 34.98), rookie leggie Steve Smith, part-time off-spinner Marcus North or left-armer Xavier Doherty.

Tasmanian Doherty took 4-46 on his international one-day debut against Sri Lanka this month.

First Published: Nov 10, 2010 11:18 IST