Cricket’s most enduring rivalry resumes on Wednesday when England and Australia meet in the first Test of the Ashes in Cardiff. And 10 years on from one of the most thrilling series between the two great foes, there is reason to believe that another enthralling spectacle could be in store over five matches and six weeks.
Certainly there is ample motivation beyond the always present quest to take hold of one of the smallest trophy in sports -- the Ashes urn. For England it is a chance to avenge a humbling 5-0 series defeat when the sides last met in Australia 18 months ago. That result ended a run of three-straight series victories for England -- their best run for more than 30 years and precipitated a tumultuous period for the team.
Andy Flower left as coach in the wake of the defeat, while arguably the country’s most talented player of his generation, Kevin Pietersen, was exiled from the team, despite top-scoring for England in the series. More recently there was a dismal showing at the World Cup earlier this year and a drawn Test with the West Indies that saw coach Peter Moores sacked as part of a wider overhaul in English cricket.
Expectations then were low coming into this summer. But they have been raised by a thrilling one-day international series win over World Cup runners-up New Zealand. Test captain Alastair Cook wasn’t involved in those matches, having been stripped of the one-day captaincy ahead of the World Cup, but he is adamant that there are reasons for optimism heading into the Ashes, despite the result the last time the sides met.
“We cannot keep harping on about that,” he said, according to The Guardian. “If you went back five more months before that, we won the Ashes 3-0 in our own conditions. It is a brand new challenge and a fresh start. Both teams have new faces. Cricket’s not played on paper, or what happened two years ago, it’s about what happens tomorrow and the next 25 days from there.”
Yet Australia have an imposing and vastly experienced team, coupled with the motivation of trying to win in England for the first time since 2001. It is an unwelcome streak for a country that had previously dominated the rivalry, winning eight straight Ashes series, four of them away from home.
And there is plenty of reason for confidence that the drought can be ended. Australia won the World Cup on home soil, before emphatically defeating the West Indies in a test series, helped by the phenomenal run-scoring of Steve Smith and wicket-taking of Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson. However, the team has suffered a major blow on the eve of the Ashes, with veteran bowler Ryan Harris forced to retire through injury, leading to the call-up of Pat Cummins.
It is an unwelcome headache for captain Michael Clarke, who is looking to win for the first time in England in what is likely to be his final Ashes series away from home. The buildup to the series has also featured much discussion about the animosity between the teams, which has often spilled over in the past. Indeed match officials have even warned the teams about their conduct ahead of the first Test. Clarke is adamant that Australia need to maintain their tough edge, although while reining in some of the more extreme antics he himself has displayed in the past.
“In the last Ashes series if anyone overstepped it, it was me so I have to make sure I set my standard and have the discipline to stay there as well which I know I will,” he said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
"I've learned from what's happened in the past, and the boys know how we play our best cricket. This Australian team and any Australian team I've been part of has always played tough cricket on the field but also understood and respected there's a line there. As long as the boys respect that I'll be happy.”
Schedule (all times EDT)
First Test (Cardiff): July 8-12, 5:30 a.m.
Second Test (Lord’s): July 16-20, 5:30 a.m.
Third Test (Birmingham) July 29-Aug 2: 5:30 a.m.
Fourth Test (Nottingham): Aug 6-10 5:30 a.m.
Fifth Test (The Oval): Aug 20-24, 5:30 a.m.
TV channel: One World Sports (USA)
Live stream: ESPN3 (USA)