Sport

Much ado about the Ashes

By Antoinette Muller 3 July 2013

The Ashes is just one week away from kicking off and already it’s had the perfect script for the build-up to a perfect summer. Even the weather has come to the party with warm sunshine predicted for at least the next two weeks. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.

It’s been one of those build-ups to The Ashes; the perfect script for a movie, with something for everyone. A punch-up, injury scares, a citizenship accusation and a protagonist drafted in at the eleventh hour because the person who was meant for the lead role was underperforming.

There is much about the Ashes that is unnecessary and built on sentiment. However, once you manage to all the showmanship, it’s true that there’s a juicy Test series about to begin.

Selection is the big talking point for both sides. Picking openers has been an issue for both sides, and Australia has made the first definitive statement as to who’ll be leading their batting attack. Rookie Chris Rogers was given a surprise spot at the top of the order alongisde Shane Watson, when Darren Lehmann confirmed the news on Monday. Rogers has only played one Test before, but he’s got plenty of experience playing in England. Currently the captain of Middlesex, the 35-year-old averages 50.38 in first-class cricket. He tops the run table for the County Championship with 790 runs in eight games at an average of 65.83 this season.

That means the usual opening pair of Ed Cowan and David Warner are left to scrap for other spots. Warner, who was in hot water for his punch-up with Joe Root, has been given a “clean slate” by his new coach and Cowan was one stable at the top of the order during a tough series in India. Anything could happen, and while Phil Hughes is the most likely casualty, the rest of the batting line-up is anyone’s guess.

England, meanwhile, has seemingly decided to do away with Nick Compton as an opener and hand that privilege to youngster Joe Root. The 22-year-old was impressive during the Champions Trophy and against New Zealand. He’s used to opening and does so on the county circuit. Compton scored two hundreds against New Zealand in New Zealand, but hasn’t quite managed the consistency England would want at the top. Compton, although talented, seemingly struggles with a few mental cobwebs that result in irresponsible batting. Root will most likely walk out with Alastair Cook at Trent Bridge next week, with Kevin Pietersen returning lower down the order.

Australia also has to ponder its bowling options. Their pacemen need to be carefully managed, as they are a contingent prone to injury. But the Aussies also have a spin option to ponder. Pakistan-born leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed has been granted his Australian citizenship, meaning that if it is required, the Aussies can call upon him to nurse their spin bowling wounds. He returned home from the Australia A tour in England last month with sparse returns. In his two outings, he took just two wickets. It looked like that was the end of that, but with his citizenship now on his passport, talks have been reignited that he could be ushered back into the side.

While Ahmed is talented, it would be foolish to ostracise Nathan Lyon. The 25-year-old has shown plenty of promise in the 22 Tests he’s played. Lyon has also showed fruitful returns in his two warm-up games. Lyon is and most likely will remain the first choice spinner for the first Ashes Test, and to cast him aside even after one sparse outing would be foolish.

The warm-ups have been in full and entertaining flow, with Watson scoring 109 in Worcester. Rogers managed 75 opening the batting, Cowan managed 58 at number three and skipper Michael Clarke added 62 with the Ashes just one week away from kicking off.

In Chelmsford, England’s warm-up match lost its first-class status after two of Essex’s bowlers were out through injury and England’s players were drafted in as back-up. It means that Tim Bresnan’s unbeaten 105 from the first innings and Graeme Swann’s effort of 94 will count for nothing. But that shouldn’t matter; cricket is a team sport and the team effort was to get as much game time as possible. Steven Finn picked up three wickets in the first innings and Root bagged four as a replacement for Swann, who was hit on the elbow while batting.

Swann and all the other walking wounded are fine, though, and as it stands, the stage is set for one heck of a curtain raiser next Wednesday. DM

Photo: England’s Kevin Pietersen kisses a replica of the Ashes urn after England won the series and beat Australia in the fifth Ashes cricket test at the Sydney Cricket Ground January 7, 2011.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

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