Ashes Series 2009—the Build up Begins

Mark TrippContributor IJune 3, 2008

In 2004, in the build-up to the 2005 series, Michael Vaughan's England were in great form, winning 7 out of 7 tests in the 2004 summer and becoming the only country to remain unbeaten throughout the year.

It was this form that Michael Vaughan was able to build upon, and with a hungry young side, England and Vaughan had the beginnings of a team that would eventually win back the Ashes for England.

However, such a rosy picture cannot be painted this time around. Fitness doubts over 2005's player of the series Andrew Flintoff, combined with an out of form middle-order makes for unpleasant reading for an England fan.

However, some sparkle of optimism for England can be found when looking at the rare frailties arising for their Australian counterparts. Leg-spinner Stuart MacGill's retirement leave Australia without a proven front line spinner in their ranks, just 12 months before the contest begins. 

Considering Shane Warne's 40 wickets in the '05 encounter kept the Australians afloat at times, the likes of Beau Casson or wildcard 36 year-old leg spinner Bryce McGain are likely to be called upon at some stage.

Unfortunately for England, despite a key weakness in the spin-bowling department, the rest of the Australian side still look like a team capable of maintaining their no.1 spot in the ICC test rankings that.

From the side that whitewashed England 5-0 in 2006/07, Australia have lost Justin Langer, Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist. Brad Haddin has already had an impressive start to his international career in one-day internationals. 

Langer's replacement, Phil Jaques, has made a steady to his test career (averaging 45 after 10 games). Despite playing in the 2006/07 series, Stuart Clark seems a ready made replacement for McGrath, continuing McGrath's legacy of making 'line and length' bowling fashionable again.

However, Stuart MacGill's inability to recreate the form that led him to becoming the 5th quickest bowler to 200 test wickets has led Australia into panic. One possibility is to play four seam bowlers, with Michael Clarke (who has a growing reputation of possessing a 'golden arm') and batting All-rounder Andrew Symonds providing the spin bowling option.

If England are to regain the Ashes, they have to attack the Australian seam bowlers, which they did so successfully in 2005 (Kevin Pietersen hooking Brett Lee into the stands for 6 springs to mind).

Not only that, but the somewhat untouchable middle-order needs to fire. Since the beginning of 2007, only Andrew Strauss averages over 40. Worries continue when considering that Kevin Pietersen has made only one score over 50 in his past 8 test matches and Paul Collingwood has not hit a Test century in his past 4 series.

A major quandary of England's is where to fit Andrew Flintoff in.

Considering Flintoff's precarious fitness state, Flintoff's participation as part of a 4 man bowling attack is unlikely - Flintoff's ability to bowl 25 overs a day seems unlikely. However, the 5 man attack that helped win the 2005 Ashes allowed captain Michael Vaughan to rotate his bowlers, keeping them fresh, firing and ready to take wickets at important stages.

The main problem with using Flintoff as part of a 5 man attack is his presence in the batting order. Since the 2005 Ashes, whilst his bowling seems as hostile as ever, the pressure of batting in the top 6 may prove too strong for Flintoff.

Flintoff at no.7 seems perfect for England, though whilst aiming to field a 5 man attack, a wicket-keeper with the ability to bat at no.6 seems a likely option. ]

Despite an impressive showing in his debut series in New Zealand, question marks remain over the ability of Tim Ambrose, especially if asked to bat at no.6. One realistic option is the re-emergence of Matt Prior, who despite impressive showings with the bat, dropped one too many catches, and was duly dropped himself.

Prior is the current highest run scorer in the County Championship - no mean feat considering the amount of talent participating in the division.

Should any change take place, it has to be taken soon. What England needs in the run up to the Ashes series is continuity, and with 13 test matches between now and then, England need to make the changes necessary sooner rather than later.