Can this England win down under?
Company directors should prepare for a lot of bleary-eyed faces amongst their sporting personnel over the next few weeks. Their staff will be stocking up on Red Bull and installing a duvet in front of the TV as they prepare for the most eagerly anticipated England tour to Australia in 24 years.
The Ashes is about to start.
How good are England's chances?
On paper, England appear the team on the rise, whereas Australia find themselves in the usual situation of poor form with lots of question marks over their best eleven.
However, nothing is as dangerous as an Aussie team cornered in their own back yard. They are going to attack England from the word go and this is going to be a mighty close series.
Can England win?
Yes, but here's what they need to do...
England to Bat First?
Australia like to bat first and dictate games, but they also do not like to chase.
It is often the best course of action to do what the opposition least wants you to do. For this reason, England should bat first wherever possible and put up 350+ runs. Australia have got to realise they have a fight on their hands from the start.
Can Trott be the glue in the England order?
Australia think Strauss and Cook are vulnerable outside off stump. They think Trott does not score enough runs and he scores too slowly. Australia will be chomping at the bit to get at Pietersen and Bell in the middle order.
England's top three need to see off the new ball. If England can get to 100-2 before KP comes to the crease, then England's long batting line up can start to turn the screw on the home side
Shane Watson should not be allowed to settle
In the last Ashes series, England went after Shane Watson whenever he came on. More of the same is required, as is targeting whichever Aussie spinner is picked. This forces the Australians to keep rotating their main three seam bowlers, who will eventually tire.
More runs from the Broad bat please!
England have been among the most prolific teams in recent years of scoring runs from the lower order. Prior-Broad-Swann is an excellent 7-8-9 and England need these guys to keep chipping away. It would be demoralising for the Aussies, and could mean scores of 250-5 can become 400+.
Can England get early breakthroughs?
Katich and Watson are perhaps an unlikely opening pair, having both started their life in the middle order, but they are currently one of the best partnerships in world cricket.
The Australian middle order are currently under pressure—Ponting and Clarke for their leadership and Hussey for form. On their day, there is no better 3-4-5 in Test cricket, but if England can get stuck into these three with the new ball, they may start to open some cracks.
Will Mr Cricket be Mr Ashes?
Mr. Cricket has been a thorn in England's side in recent Ashes series. He has had a prolific Test career and is one of the most talented batsmen on the last 10 years.
However, his recent record is not great, and a few early failings will mean the Aussies may take a look at Ferguson. On the other hand, if he gets a start, he could score 500+ runs in the series and take it away from England.
Beware of Mike Hussey at all costs
Swann has been England's key weapon
Graham Swann has had an amazing few years in Test cricket, rising as high as number two in the rankings. He is an aggressive spinner and will look to attack the Aussie batsmen.
However, the Australians will not just let him "sit in" and bowl at them. They will try to put him under pressure to stay on by scoring at 3+ runs an over off his bowling.
If England can win this matchup then they can rotate their quicks from one end whilst exerting pressure from the other.
Expect fireworks—Swann is the key man.
Catches win Matches?
There is a saying that "Catches Win Matches," but the truth of the matter is probably more close to the mark—dropped catches lose matches.
England have been much better of late at taking their catches, particularly in the slips. This must continue if the visitors are to have any chance.
Aussie fans unsure of the result?
The first test is not yet a sell out. This would be unheard of in England, and is a sign of the fact that the Australians have either got bored of beating the Poms, or are not convinced about their own side. Either way, England need to use this.
England should not go into a cocoon, they need to embrace what Australia has to offer. Graham Gooch has already stated that England have come for one thing and one thing only—the Ashes urn. However, the inside of hotel rooms can get very boring and insular. This has been the bane of many England teams and not just the cricket ones.
England have started well as they arrived early and seem relaxed. They must keep this up and not fall in on themselves when the flak starts to fly
Can England conquer the Gabba?
Australia have had England "warm up" in chilly Tasmania for a game in the near tropical conditions on Brisbane. Australia has an outstanding record at the Gabba and the whole series could depend on the first five days.
The Gabba is likely to be a lively "result" wicket, meaning one team will be 1-0 going to Adelaide. With Australia's recent poor form and the local media baying for new blood, a loss in Brisbane would heap huge pressure on Ponting and his men.
Doubts may creep in and crack will appear. It will also give England a huge boost. A win in Brisbane and England must be favourites to at least retain the Ashes.
On the other hand, an Australian victory at the Gabba would mean normal service has been resumed and England may start to doubt themselves all over again.
Going 1-0 up in a five match series does not sound much, but psychologically it could be hard to overcome for the losers.
England to take the Urn back home again?
This is going to be an epic series. The Gabba test will be gripping. Will Mitchell Johnson's first delivery bring back memories of Steve Harmison four years ago?
Buckle up and get your duvet ready—this is going to be some series.