A battle-hardened and experienced England side go into the five-match test series against a callow-looking Australian team as strong favourites to retain The Ashes.
While Australian preparations have been dogged by problems on and off the pitch,Alastair Cook’s England have quietly gone about their business,beating New Zealand 2-0 in a warmup series and on Saturday they named a familiar 13-man squad. Related: Michael Clarke leads from front
“This bunch of cricketers have fought a lot of campaigns and won a lot together,” England coach Andy Flower said.
“They are match-hardened – that should give them a lot of confidence. Related: Onions included in England Ashes squad
“We were pretty clear what our squad would be and what our XI will be,” added Flower.
The mercurial Kevin Pietersen has been recalled after missing the New Zealand series due to injury and his presence in the middle order gives Cook another major weapon in his first Ashes series as captain. Related: Australia batsmen hold key
“Pietersen’s got that X-factor. He hasn’t played much cricket but he’s like Shane Warne – he loves the big moments and Ashes series,” former Australia batsman Damien Martyn said.
England’s batsmen have made over 80 test centuries between them,Cook leading the way with 25 followed by Pietersen on 22. But the team’s recent success has been built around their fast bowling attack led by James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Steven Finn,Tim Bresnan and Graham Onions are fighting for the final place in the attack with off-spinner Graeme Swann certain to play.
“The English quicks are certainly as good as there are in the world at the moment and have been for the last few years,” said Australia opener Shane Watson.
“It is the ultimate challenge to be able to take on the best bowlers with a brand new ball,sometimes with bowler-friendly conditions as well,so if I can’t get up for that there’s no point in playing.”
Watson will be a key player for Australia and will open the batting with the 35-year-old Chris Rogers who has only played one test match in his career.
Clarke has struggled with a back injury this year,missing last month’s Champions Trophy,but he has looked in good touch in the warmup matches.
His form with the bat since taking over the captaincy has been outstanding and he has made 23 test centuries in total,nearly twice as many as his team mates have managed between them.
Peter Siddle,James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc will lead the pace attack,probably supported by off-spinner Nathan Lyon who is a more of a containing bowler than a genuine wicket-taker like Swann.
England have won three of the last four Ashes series including a 3-1 victory in Australia in 2010-11 but Martyn believes the appointment of Darren Lehmann as coach two weeks ago gives the touring side a better chance of reclaiming the urn.
“In Australia,there’s a huge buzz now the coach has changed,” he said. “There’s a lot more excitement.
“We’re starting to believe that we can win this,we can compete with England and pull off a win.”
The first test starts at Trent Bridge,Nottingham on Wednesday.