A peculiar event happened in England during the summer of 2005. The Premier League began on August 13. And it wasn’t reported on the back pages. Instead, the country was gripped with cricket fever. Every English newspaper and media outlet was focused on the third Ashes Test at Old Trafford, which ended in a defiant last-wicket stand by Australia, to draw the match. I was 11 at the time, and had never seen England win the Ashes. They hadn’t even come close.
The previous series Down Under, in 2003, had seen England comprehensively thrashed 4-1 by an Australian team which was possibly the greatest side ever assembled under one flag. In 2005, however, with a bowling attack which combined raw pace with devilish swing, and a solid batting line-up, there was a chance that England could finally win the Ashes. They took that chance in arguably the greatest Test series of all time.
Yet, with the first Ashes Test of 2015 on the horizon, that feeling of excitement and adrenaline has disappeared and has been replaced by the old, depressingly familiar feeling, of dread and embarrassment. As Australia march into Wales off the back of a sparkling run of form, England, whilst performing well in the recent One-Day International series against New Zealand, will be not so much marching as tip-toeing into Cardiff, in the hope of avoiding the kind of complete humiliation that was handed to them by their Australian counterparts in the last Ashes series in 2013-14.
The difference in class between the sides is stark. Australia’s bowling attack is fearsomely loaded in depth. In Steve Smith, they have the world’s number one Test batsman who scores centuries for fun. England, on the other hand, are to put it mildly, short on options in the bowling department. Yes, Stuart Broad can be a world-beater, but only when the mood takes him. Steven Finn is too inconsistent with his length, while Ben Stokes is yet to convince me as a bowler. Yes, there is the raw pace of Mark Wood, but both he and spinner Adil Rashid lack Test pedigree. The one saving grace is the form of Alistair Cook and Joe Root — their batting will be the key to any England success this summer.
While England may have the ability to mount a serious challenge to Australia’s grip on the famous urn, I would be kidding myself and the readership to bet on their success. Still, if things get really bad for England fans, at least the football starts soon.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2015.