|Who’ll get to keep their hands on the urn?|
The last time England retained the Ashes on Australian soil was in 1986.
England had won the 1985 Ashes at home under the leadership of David Gower, who was named player of the series, before Mike Gatting captained the side to a 2-1 series win Down Under a year later.
20 years on, England’s defence of the diminutive urn is on again in Australia, also under a change of captaincy with exciting all-rounder Andrew Flintoff taking over from the injured Michael Vaughn.
England’s form since winning the 2005 Ashes has been lacklustre, losing 2-0 when visiting Pakistan in the months following the triumph over Australia, and drawing 1-1 over three matches in India.
Then back on home soil, England again drew 1-1 in three Tests, this time against Sri Lanka, before recording a 3-0 series win over Pakistan which included the controversial forfeited fourth Test at The Oval.
Although they hold the coveted Ashes trophy, the England touring party arrived in Australia with the underdog tag, and their first match against the Prime Minister’s XI in Canberra didn’t help their cause when they were beaten by 166 runs.
Pressure builds on reshuffled order
Cracks have started to appear with opening batsman Marcus Trescothick already back in England after spending less than a fortnight in Australia, yielding just 10 runs from two innings.
Trescothick, who scored 431 runs at an average of 43.1 in the 2005 Ashes series, continues to suffer from depression that also saw him sit out his side’s tour of India earlier this year.
To make matters worse for the England top order, new number three Ian Bell is under an injury cloud for the first Test in Brisbane after being struck on the left wrist by paceman James Anderson during a net session.
Bell is in fine form, scoring centuries in his past three Test matches, and also hitting 132 in the three day practice match against South Australia in Adelaide.
Trescothick’s departure sees Alastair Cook move from number three to open the batting with Andrew Strauss, and Paul Collingwood come into the side at number four.
Collingwood has exhibited enough batting ability in the one-day form of the game, along with a fine 80 against South Australia last week, to show that he can handle the pressure of the Test arena.
Should Bell miss the first Test, 28 year-old Middlesex batsman Ed Joyce will make his Test debut at first drop.
Pietersen could be key
Away from the injury worries, glimpses of the bravado and confidence shown in the Northern Hemisphere summer of 2005 are starting to emerge, especially in the batting of South African born Kevin Pietersen.
Batting at number five, Pietersen, who was the top scorer in the ’05 Ashes with 473 runs at 52.55, is in fine form, top scoring for England in Canberra, and also thumping 122 in the practice match against NSW at the SCG against an attack that included Glen McGrath, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Nathan Bracken.
A great deal of pressure will be lifted from the shoulders of new captain Flintoff if Pietersen can fire in the series at number five so that the skipper can concentrate on his bowling and the leadership of the team.
England will look to go with a bowling attack of Stephen Harmison, Matthew Hoggard, Anderson, Flintoff and either Ashley Giles or Monty Panesar, although Harmison’s recurring left side-strain flared up again in Adelaide.
Geraint Jones comes in as wicket keeper, replacing Chris Read due to superior batting prowess, although his glovework left a lot to be desired during the last Ashes series.