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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

An historic battle

It's less than two days until two of the greatest sporting nations on earth will go head to head in one of the most fiercest sporting contests on the planet.

It can turn the greatest sportsmen into weeping boys or it can create legends and sporting immortality, it is of course the Ashes.

Andrew Strauss will lead his men into the heat of battle at Brisbane knowing that it'll be his countries best chance to win the Ashes on Australian soil since Mike Gatting and his England side achieved that feat in 1987/88.

Many a great player has tried and failed in the past, including the likes of Michael Vaughan, Alex Stewart and Andrew Flintoff but this England squad will have the best chance to end that record and as a result write their names into history.

There will be no-one more desperate for success then captain Strauss, who was part of the side on the receiving end of the 5-0 drubbing four years ago, and will be keen to take revenge on the merciless Aussies.

Despite not being skipper in 2006/07, Strauss was badly hurt from that defeat; particularly as he was on of the biggest failures on the tour with an average of just 24.

This time around he will play a pivotal role as he will lead the side and it is vital that he contributes with the bat as he did in the 2009 series.

His average of 52.66, heading the list of run scorers with 474, was undoubtedly key to England's success and he knows that he must lead from the front once again in order to give his side the best possible chance.

But spinner Graeme Swann will probably play the most important role this time around, especially when the seamers inevitably struggle on the famous flat wickets down under. Since coming into the side in December 2008, Swann has a phenomenal record in an England shirt on any pitch he plays on.

He has taken a total of 113 wickets in just 24 matches with nine 5 wickets hauls and also chipping in with the bat at an average of 25. He has the uncanny ability to pick up a wicket in his first over and was another who played a crucial role in the 2009 success.

If Swann can continue his remarkable record for this series then it could prove to the vital ingredient that swings the Ashes England's way.

Strauss and Swann played a huge part in the 2005 Ashes success and they will again prove vital for England's chances this time around.

What will also give the three lions more confidence and belief is the recent vulnerability of the Aussies over the past six months.

So often an England side has gone down under in confident mood before ending up being intimidated and overawed by the burden of winning the Ashes.

But this time it feels different. The Aussies have certainly lost some of their aura over the past months and the reception England received when they arrived wasn't as hostile as we're used to seeing.

There seems to be an air of fear within Australian fans and it appears from the outside that their is an unease among them that the outcome of the Ashes may not be what they are so used to.

But whatever the case, England must not underestimate their oldest opponents, otherwise they will pay the price.

Even with their recent loss of form, losing seven straight matches before eventually beating Shri Lanka in the final ODI, Austrailia will never give up and will be pumped up more than ever to get their Ashes back.

They've never recovered from the loss of Warne, Mcgrath, Hayden, Gilchrist etc. But any player that has warn the Australian shirt doesn't know how to give up and they will fight until the very last.

The onus is very much on England to go there and attack, be aggressive and not be intimidated by the passionate Australians.

One thing that will haunt England is the infamous whitewash they suffered four years ago. Andrew Flintoff's side went there with so much confidence and ended up being thoroughly outplayed by a rampant Australian side.

Of course England did go onto win the ODI tournament but that was about as much consolation as seeing your house burn down then finding a fiver in your pyjama pocket.

There's only one reason you travel halfway across the world for five cricket matches and that is to win the Ashes back; something that this England side is so determined to achieve.

This time around they will go into the series much better prepared and with the confidence of an early warm-up win against Western Australia. It was their first victory over that outfit since 1990, which goes to show how confident this England side is and the self-belief amongst the players that is so often missing.

Having confidence is one thing but actually going to Australia and bringing home the Ashes is something entirely different. That is the task ahead of this England squad and anything other then bringing back the famous urn will be perceived as a failure.

Let the battle begin!

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