Well it is finally here: in less than 24 hours the first ball in a 5 test, 25 (hopefully) day odyssey of cricket between the oldest of cricketing enemies, Australia and England, will start. The weather has cleared up, Kevin Mitchell Jnr is putting the final touches on the best wicket in the country, the Barmy Army is warming up their vocal cords at the Pig & Whistle and Shane Watson’s hamstring is at 90%. All of this means: it is go time!
I commented earlier in the week that I have been somewhat nonplussed by the series coming up. I have to say though that with less than 24 hours to go my excitement levels have gone from about 2 / 10 to 14 / 10 and I can not wait now for 10am to arrive.
Australia Cricket is in a state of flux at the moment. Domestic T20 cricket is the focus of Cricket Australia as is appeasing their BCCI masters so Australia’s preparation has been less than ideal. Injuries have also again gone through the Australian bowling ranks like a dose of the black death circa the 14th century. The Australian captain has a bad back that is, apparently, being held together with the assistance of a machine developed by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personal trainer. Australia’s premier allrounder, Shane Watson, has a dodgy hamstring again. Davey Warner has a new girlfriend.
England come into this game also with injury concerns, most particularly involving their wicketkeeper and vice-captain Matt Prior. The English preparation has been chequered with an ordinary performance first up against a Western Australia XI, 5 days looking at rain in Hobart and then a solid performance against an “invitational XI”. Their precocious batter Kevin Pietersen plays his 100th test match. They come into this series having won the last two series between the two combatants.
The last time Australia and England played in Australia the result was a 3-1 win for England in a series they, frankly, dominated with the bat. England is ranked 3rd in the ICC Test Championship rankings whilst Australia is presently ranked 5th.
The Gabba is a special place for the Australian team and Australian fans. Australia has not lost a test match at the Gabba in over 20 years. This is where Australia starts its test match summers for a reason: the team plays it best cricket here. It is telling to note though that when Australia has lost at the Gabba it has run into the best bowlers of the time: Malcolm Marshall (1984), Richard Hadlee (1985), Graham Dilley (1986) and Ambrose (1988).
Shane Watson: Watson is either loved or hated by cricket fans, both from Australia and abroad. His importance to the Australian line up is clear given that he has been selected for this test match, ostensibly, at only 90 per cent fitness. I am strongly of the view that Australia rely on him most with the ball and will do so again in this test match. On what presents as both an early seaming deck and then a flat batting deck depending on the day of the game, Watson’s overs could well prove the difference between a win and a loss. Of course his work with the willow will also be important as will his catching at slip. Watson is, really, Australia’s only triple threat and if he plays well it will go a long way to an Australian victory.
Jimmy Anderson: I mentioned the names Marshall, Hadlee, Dilley and Ambrose above and Anderson is certainly a similar style of bowler to Messrs Hadlee and Dilley in that he will exploit any seam / swing bowling conditions more than any other bowler in the game. Anderson’s bowling in the first test of the series in England was heroic (or heroically irritating if you were an Australian fan) and set up the English victory. He is the cornerstone of the English attack and will have conditions made for him to exploit.
Win the toss and bat: it is as simple as that is the usual mantra for the Gabba and for England I think that is the way to go again. There will be some green grass on the pitch but they have quality openers who can get through the nasty first hour but then cash in once the pitch flattens out. For Australia, on a green top, I would be taking a risk and bowling first. Johnson is in the team to break bones it would seem and there is no better time for him to do that than with the new ball on a green wicket.
Earlier in the week it was suggested that it was going to rain / storm for the first 3 days. The forecast has improved markedly and whilst there will some cloud cover it looks like it will be fine for at least the first three days.
The Winner and Why:
I actually think that this game will be a draw. The Gabba possesses the best wicket in the country but with questionable weather coming for the last couple of days I have real concerns that this fixture could end up a copy cat to last year’s test match which petered out to a draw off the back of an epic double hundred from A Cook.
Bring on Day 1!