Old foes to renew rivalry; teams spar for tiny edge

Old foes to renew rivalry; teams spar for tiny edge

Aussies will miss Lees incisiveness

Old foes to renew rivalry; teams spar for tiny edge

Holy Grail: Australian skipper Ricky Ponting holds aloft a replica of the Ashes urn while his English counterpart Andrew Strauss carries the Test series trophy on Tuesday. Reuters

Cardiff was controversially awarded the first Test of the series, with the traditional venues of Trent Bridge in Nottingham and Old Trafford in Manchester missing out. It will also be the first Test match staged in Wales.

The match might be starting on an equal footing, but Australia have their worries mainly due to the injury-enforced absence of their pace spearhead Brett Lee.

The New South Wales pacer, who had shown good form in the warm-up match against the England Lions last week at Worcester, suffered a rib injury and his participation even in the second Test next week seems doubtful. Lee would have formed a hostile pace trio with Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle.

The absence of Lee will give paceman Stuart Clark a chance in all likelihood, but none of the three pacemen has bowled in England in a Test match. However, Australian skipper Ricky Ponting was confident about the attack at his disposal.

“If you look at our overall squad, we have got really good balance, not just in one certain area but right the way through. Our fast-bowling attack — all five of the guys feel as though they should be in the team — is a real positive for us. I think those things puts us slightly ahead of whatever England have got.”

The other headache for the Aussie think-tank is the poor form of off-spinner Nathan Hauritz, who had conceded 180 runs against Sussex for just one wicket.

His chances of playing might have improved with the withdrawal of Lee, although Australia could be tempted to play four pace bowlers, adding Ben Hilfenhaus to the mix and relying on the part-time spin of Marcus North, Michael Clarke and Simon Katich.

Uncertainty all round

Australia have some obvious glitches, but England skipper Andrew Strauss, captaining for the first time in an Ashes series, reminded about the dangers of taking the current Ashes holders lightly.

“We are not entirely sure what to expect. Both teams will go there not knowing what to expect and we can only judge when the Test match is over," he said.

Strauss’ bowling attack is a little more experienced than their Aussie counterparts, with Andrew Flintoff and James Anderson leading the way. Their only worry will be a pitch that offers no obvious advantages to the spinners and that could be a setback for in-form off-spinner Graeme Swann, expected to be in the playing eleven. Left-arm spinner Monty Panesar could get a chance only if the hosts’ management opts for two spinners.

In the batting department, both teams are evenly matched with Ponting, Clarke, Katich and Phil Jaques leading their charge. England will rely upon Kevin Pietersen, Strauss and Flintoff to resist the Australian bowlers.

However, both the skippers agreed on one point -- the team that manages to play better in the pressure situations will come on top. “Reputations and legend are generally made out of these bigger series and there is no bigger series than an Ashes series to do that,” Ponting said.

“The key to the series is how you handle those pressure moments and there are going to be plenty of them. That’s going to be a bit of a test of character, courage and technique,” Strauss said.


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