Michael Clarke's Australia look to win their first Ashes series in England after 14 years while Cook & Co are desperate to maintain winning momentum at home
London: The last time Australia won the Ashes in England, 9/11 was just a proper fraction, and Michael Clarke was still three years away from donning the baggy green. Fourteen years later, in this summer of 2015, as the first Ashes Test gets underway in the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff, the 11-year veteran Clarke and his band of merry men aim to reverse the trend and banish the memories of heartburns and excruciating series losses of 2005, 2009 and 2013.
England captain Alastair Cook (left) and Australian skipper Michael Clarke pose with the Ashes trophy and urn in Cardiff yesterday. Pic/Getty Images
Australia come in to the series confident on the back of a World Cup victory at home and 2-0 romp over the West Indies while England tentative with a pair of 1-1 series draws against West Indies and New Zealand. But England have a new coach — Trevor Bayliss — and have regained some faith in their game through the performances of some of their younger players and would look to close the gap between them and their long-standing rivals.
Australia had to deal with a rude surprise when Ryan Harris had to retire from the game as his knees were in no condition to take part in the series but Clarke is confident that the three frontline pacers — Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson and Josh Hazelwood — backed up by Peter Siddle and the new addition to the squad, Patrick Cummins would be able to do the job for Australia. Clarke indicated that Harris wouldn’t have played in the first couple of Tests anyway as he seemed a “bit underdone” without any active cricket in the last 4-5 months.
So both teams begin the arduous 7-week trek around UK with England looking to stick with the same XI they featured in the last Test before the Ashes, while Australia will have Chris Rogers coming back in to the side and have to make a choice between all-rounders Shane Watson and Mitchell Marsh. Australia’s fortunes would heavily depend on Mitchell Johnson showing some of the form from down under during the 5-0 shellacking of England while England would rely on their senior pacers — James Anderson and Stuart Broad — exposing the fragility of the Australian batting line up. Cook said he was glad that he has “regained some (batting) form in the last couple of months” and will be instrumental in setting the tone early and making the Aussie pacers earn his wicket.
The pitch bore a green tinge two days before the Test but the grass has been cut since then mildly disappointing the Australian captain whose pack of fast bowlers would have enjoyed the support from the track, while Alastair Cook, the English captain, looked visibly happy with the pitch and called it a “good wicket”.
The weather around has been generally pleasant after the heat wave of the past week with occasional drizzle adding a bit of chill to the air. The forecast is set “Fair” for most of the Test with a possibility of some rain only on the fifth day, with temperatures in the low 20s throughout the Test.
Team winning the toss would look to bat first but overcast skies on the morning of the Test would make the choice not an easy one. In 2001, after a gap of 11 years for repairs to stop it from falling over, the Leaning tower of Pisa was reopened. In 2015, after a gap of 14 years, Australia will be looking to regain their mastery and ownership of the urn away from home yet again.
Did you know?
Michael Clarke played his first Test three years after Australia won its last series in England in 2001
Total matches played - 68
Australia - 32 wins
England - 31 wins
Draws - 5
Most runs overall - Don Bradman (5,028)
Most wickets overall - Shane Warne (195)