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Ashes optimism blooms afresh in England

June 30, 2009 13:44 IST

Glowing memories in England of the 2005 Ashes triumph in a series unanimously acclaimed as the greatest ever cannot obscure an unpalatable statistic for the nation's fans.

England's 2-1 win over Australia four years ago represents the only time they have beaten their oldest enemy in a series in the past 20 years, since Allan Border's 1989 side reclaimed the urn.

At a media day in the Sussex town of Hove the current Australia side, who open their Ashes defence in Cardiff on July 8, expressed wry bemusement at the constant references to 2005.

There was also, they reminded the British press, the little matter of a 5-0 whitewash in the return series in the Australian summer of 2006-7.

The template for a series of successful Australia sides has been essentially the same since Border and coach Bob Simpson brought their own work ethic to the 1989 side and returned to the basics which had put Australian cricket at the pinnacle in the first place.

Under Border and his successors, batsmen seek to dominate, the bowlers put attack before containment and the fielding is uniformly excellent.

Since 1985, Australia have also had just four captains plus Adam Gilchrist, who filled in briefly for the injured Ricky Ponting. England fielded four in the 1988 series against West Indies alone.

Still there are good reasons for optimism among England supporters after the highly entertaining aperitif served up at the Twenty20 World Cup.

Since Australia took such emphatic revenge in the last Ashes series for the 2005 upset, three great cricketers and two very good ones have retired.

Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist now ply their talents in the Indian Premier League (IPL). The left-handers Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, who opened the batting in contrasting styles, have also quit.

Ponting, who inherited one of the great Australian sides from Steve Waugh, has been rebuilding his team for the past 18 months. Although he remained non-committal in Hove to any suggestion that he is burning for revenge after the 2005 reversal, there is no doubt that retaining the Ashes with a new side would give him immense satisfaction.

Ponting has been understandably buoyed up by Australia's triumph in South Africa this year when, with new opener Phillip Hughes and fast bowler Mitchell Johnson to the fore, his team beat the South Africans after losing to them at home.

"To take that group of players over there and win as well as we did was very satisfying and I tried to take as much as I could out of that result," Ponting told Reuters. "It was a good feeling for me and that's why I've got a really good feeling around this group of players.

"When you're putting new openers in and new fast bowling combinations in your side I guess it is almost a total rebuilding. Everything is heading in the right direction."

England made a good start to their summer by beating West Indies 2-0 in a two-test series, although the visitors showed little interest after regaining the Wisden trophy in the Caribbean earlier in the year.

Andrew Strauss has responded to the captaincy after Kevin Pietersen's abrupt resignation by regaining his best batting form. Pietersen and all-rounder Andrew Flintoff, who were such influential figures in the 2005 series, are both expected to be fit for Cardiff after recent injury scares.

Among the new generation, Ravi Bopara has made the number three spot his own after scoring three successive centuries against West Indies and pacemen James Anderson and Stuart Broad bring youthful zest to the attack.

Man for man, Australia still look the superior side with deeper batting and more pace bowling options although they have little in the way of spin. But if England play to their potential and summon the spirit of 2005, a similar result is not beyond them.

Source:
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