Ashes Betting: England 2009 Team - It may all come down to the form of Freddie...again
Having talked us through the strengths and weakness of Australia last week ahead of the 2009 Ashes, Andrew Hughes now turns his attentions to England where we find a settled batting line-up, question marks over the captain and a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of Flintoff once more.
How many of you think England will win the Ashes next year? Historically, there has been no shortage of optimists prepared to lump on England at almost any odds, particularly for a home series. But this summer the patriotic pounds did not materialise and South Africa started the series as firm favourites. With that view proven to be correct, perhaps it's no surprise that all the money on the Ashes series winners market is for Australia. They are now [1.73] with England as high as [3.05] and no-one much interested in the draw at [6.6].
But is this assessment of England's chances correct? Last week we looked at the Aussies and identified some potential bowling weaknesses as well as some monumentally fearsome batting. To complete the ante post picture, its time to ask just how good are KP's team? To help us we can use the last two Ashes performances as yardsticks. From the glory of 2005 to the ignominy of 2007, we have a scale, the sublime to the ridiculous, if you like, on which we can plot England's progress.
The first thing to say is that, despite a slump in fortunes, this remains an astonishingly stable team, certainly by English standards. Of the top six who finished this summer's Test action at the Oval, five were present at the same ground for the 2005 triumph and, with the addition of Cook, the same five were there in Sydney 2007 as the Ashes were duly handed back. Harmison, Anderson and Panesar were all present on that day too.
It would be fair to say that a repeat of the 2006/07 debacle is unlikely. Bell, Cook and Panesar are more seasoned professionals these days, Strauss and Harmison have recovered from their own personal struggles, Flintoff without the burden of captaincy is running in hard again and Anderson's improvement is phenomenal. Only Collingwood seems to have gone backwards, though that hasn't led to his eviction from the Team England house.
However, compare the current England team to that of 2005 and the picture looks less attractive. Only Pietersen has remained a consistent force. Neither Strauss nor Harmison have recaptured the imperious form of that summer and Flintoff's batting at the moment is a mockery of his glorious biffing in that most memorable of summers.
And it is Freddie himself who remains at the root of one of England's two significant weaknesses. His bowling is as fiery and relentless as ever and with Anderson, Harmison, Broad and Sidebottom in support, it is possible that England have the depth of bowling, particularly in English conditions to outgun the Aussies. Not quite up there with 2005 but close enough.
However, with Collingwood out of sorts at five and Freddie looking like a fish out of water in the pivotal number six position, the England batting looks dangerously lightweight. It is precisely to address that weakness that I believe Matt Prior is being lined up to come into the team, possibly as high as number six. Significantly, he was ranked alongside the current incumbent Tim Ambrose when contracts were handed out earlier this month and his return to the team at the expense of his former Sussex teammate is the only change I can envisage in the England line-up before next summer.
But England's other significant weakness is harder to resolve. Their new captain is an admirable cricketer but he is not captaincy material and it is hard to see him outwitting Ricky Ponting as Vaughan did in 2005. The hope that his charisma and energy will make him a good captain is misguided. Charisma is not the same thing as leadership and energy is no substitute for knowing the job. He needs to acquire patience, subtlety in handling his teammates and concentration. He also needs to learn a thing or two about tactics.
What is particularly fascinating about this Ashes build up is that these are teams in transition and that means there is an opportunity for the informed cricket punter to get an edge. With both sides touring India this autumn, there will be clues aplenty so while you follow the action on the subcontinent, be sure to keep one eye on the Betfair Ashes markets.