Given the side they have chosen to field, the 223 runs England trail by in the first innings against South Australia should be solid practice rather then a stern test, even allowing for Strauss’ duck.
But make no mistake, the Ashes are now a genuine mystery. The sages at the Times and Telegraph and the prophets at Wisden will make their predictions, but in reality it is no longer possible to do anything more than guess.
The loss of Harmison for the first test due to ‘tightness in the side’ looks, on paper, to be a massive blow to England. He is by far England’smost experienced paceman and, on his day, he is still one of if not the best fast men in the game.
Since the decline of the Waca, the Woolloongabba is now the wicket in Australia with all the bounce. In short, this is the one test you really want Harmison in the side.
On paper that is.
On the other side of the coin; it has not been Harmison’s day for a long time. Dropped for England’s last competitive match and never a good traveller, there is no guarantee he would be more than a liability with the new ball.
Jimmy Anderson is definatly the in form bowler for the tourists and the new ball should hold no deamons for him.
Saj Mahmood is the unknown quantity. He has been steeling himself to be Simon Jones replacement all summer.
And while, like all England fast bowlers, he is mercurial to say the least, against Pakistan he showed that he can trouble the best.
In the end it is would be a coin toss trying to predict who would be in form, England now have that choice made for them.
Much more encouraging is Monty’s presence in the side today, signifying his selection ahead of the Ashley Giles of cricket for next week.
The worst of Fletcher has been the result of over caution. The drawn series against Sri Lanka was all down to a lack of killer instinct and the 1st test draw against Pakistan resulted from sheer lack of nerve in the declaration.
Monty, quod erat demonstrandum, is the more attacking bowler, the better wicket taker, the more valuable player and the right choice. His selection shows Fletcher is willing to move outside his bemedaled comfort zone, even if the lamentable Geraint is still there.
England, with Trescothick and Harmison out of form, have had most of their hard choices made for them, Monty was one they got right and Jones one they got wrong. The players are there, if the spirit comes together they can win.
Australia are a curious mix of old war horses, with half the side over 31, and untested talent.
McGrath could break down, Ponting could loose his marbles again, the new boys could underperform. Or the old guard could go out with a bang, Ponting could stay sober and the new lads could put England to the sword.
This has been described, ad nauseum, as the most eagerly anticipated Ashes in years. It might be.
It is without doubt the first time in decades there can be no clear favorite.