Comment - Forget The Ashes, Focus On The Here And Now
As England gears up for an incredibly busy summer of cricket, Cricket World has upped its game too. John Pennington, Daniel Grummit and John Pryor will be writing a weekly column. Editor Pennington gets the ball rolling with the first of his Monday columns. Pryor will be posting on Wednesdays and Grummit on Fridays.
The arrival of Australia for this five-match One-Day International series has elicited plenty of talking points already such as the scheduling of the series itself and what, if any pointers, it can give us for next year's Ashes contest.
I don't feel it will tell us an awful lot about a Test series 12 months down the line. I doubt the winning captain will be talking about how this series was the launchpad for Ashes success when interviewed at The Oval next August.
Form in one format of the game does not always translate to form in others, although if the nucleus of your team is the same then - like Australia in their pomp - you can dominate across the board. Should England win the series 5-0, they will sit on top of the rankings for Tests, ODIs and Twenty20 Internationals, and they've started in the right way with a pair of impressive victories at Lord’s and The Oval.
But with several high-profile series between then and now, not least the ICC World Twenty20, the Ashes is likely to be one of the last things on the players' minds, but it hasn't stopped plenty of us trying to draw parallels to two largely unrelated series.
Take left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty as an example. He might have struggled when thrown into the Ashes cauldron last time round, mainly at the hands of Kevin Pietersen, but that has precious little relevance to his performance in the limited overs game, but I have seen people immediately make the comparison.
Doherty translated his success in domestic one-day cricket to ODIs, with an average (32.24) and economy rate (4.67) that stands up to comparison with some of the best in the business. Fellow left-armer Daniel Vettori averages 31.48 and concedes 4.12 runs per over while Pragyan Ojha’s figures are 30.05 and 4.31.
In truth, he probably shouldn’t have been considered for a Test berth given his modest record in first-class cricket. That his performances against England rather proved it doesn’t mean that his ODI credentials should be written off. He is highly unlikely to be here next year in white clothing so let’s just focus on the here and now - just like the players are doing.
Australia are a team building towards the 2015 World Cup and are in transition. So are England, but they appear to be developing into a cohesive and successful unit at a faster rate and could be targeting the 2013 Champions Trophy with this set of players. We can expect a few teething problems for the men in yellow, the odd mishap along the way and even a few surprise selections.
Furthermore, they won't be helped by missing experienced players at inopportune times. With Ricky Ponting retired and Brad Haddin unavailable, Michael Hussey has left a huge hole in the batting line-up; albeit one that George Bailey, Peter Forrest and brother David are doing their best to shore up.
Bailey has begun his ODI career solidly with a brace of half-centuries and no single-figure score to date but he strikes me as a stop-gap, or a floater. He will fill in wherever he is required in addition to captaining the Twenty20 team. Without a central contract in his pocket.
Peter Forrest, however, has been identified as Ponting's replacement at number three in the order, having already scored useful runs at first or second drop. It surprised me - or perhaps, if I’m honest, it didn't - to hear some observers bemused as to why Bailey had been shifted down the order after the opening match to accommodate Forrest at three and Steve Smith being left out.
Forrest has never batted below Bailey when the two have played together and he needs to gain experience of batting where the selectors expect him to become a fixture in the side. If everybody is fully fit, Australia’s ODI batting line-up will read Warner, Watson, Forrest, Clarke, M Hussey, D Hussey, Wade with the likes of Bailey, Daniel Christian and Callum Ferguson in reserve.
Even though Australia aren't ruling the cricket world as they were as recently as 2007, they will always be a force to be reckoned with.
To win games of cricket, you must be able to bowl sides out or put them under huge pressure with the ball. One of the reasons that Bangladesh haven’t developed into a competitive Test team and that Zimbabwe have also struggled is that they haven’t been able to produce fast bowlers of the quality required. That has never been a serious problem for Australia.
From Spofforth to Thomson, Lillee, McGrath and Lee, the line has been impressive and they keep churning out the talent. James Pattinson, Josh Hazlewood, Patrick Cummins and Mitchell Starc are all impressive young performers who have recently been given their bow.
Cummins' tour-ending injury will be a huge blow for both him and Australia. It robs him of vital match experience and the chance to get used to English conditions - perhaps the only relevance this series has to next year’s Tests. Australia will hope that Cummins spends more time on the field than on the treatment table because he is clearly a special talent and one of the players who is likely to be back here next year - if his body allows him.
And wasn’t it good to see Johnson back in action? It certainly was for Ian Bell and Alastair Cook, who helped themselves to 20 runs from his first two overs before he settled a little, finishing with nought for 43 from seven. Johnson had a whirlwind start to his career, with a thrilling century against South Africa and a haul of eight for 61 against the same opponents perhaps the highlights. In the last two years, he has been a shadow of his former self, save for the odd period of brilliance, such as the Perth Ashes Test last year, where he was instrumental in Australia’s win.
I would go so far as to compare him to mercurial Italian striker Mario Balotelli, who is equally capable of following up a sublime performance with a complete stinker. There were shades of Johnson’s up-and-down Ashes series in Balotelli's Euro 2012 finale. Brilliant against Germany, anonymous and petulant against Spain, who now know how Australia felt - winning global tournament after global tournament. Winning isn’t boring. Just ask England’s women.
Andy Flower’s men have in some respects been following in the footsteps of their even more successful women's team. They won the World Cup and the ICC World Twenty20 in 2009 and it was wonderful to see captain Charlotte Edwards and Claire Taylor honoured by the MCC ahead of the opening ODI against India at Lord’s. They have joined a select band of players to have been awarded Honorary Life Membership during their playing careers that includes Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar.
A top four of Edwards, Taylor, Dravid and Tendulkar wouldn’t lose you too many matches and it was unfortunate for the pair that they were unable to celebrate with a win, Edwards falling early and Taylor - now retired - looking on as India won their first game against England in England since 1999.
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