Ashes 2013: Alastair Cook's England can bank on experience for hat-trick
Comparison between the two sides shows that England should have the batting strength to win a third series in a row
The captain of Australia said it for everybody. "We've spoken about a lot but I think the talking is done for us as a team now." The captain of England was not far behind. "There is excitement and a few nerves floating around – I think those are the two favourite words that are going to be used come tomorrow morning – nerves and excitement."
And there it was for Michael Clarke and Alastair Cook in the Long Room at Trent Bridge. Test cricket is the acme of the sport but within that the Ashes holds a special place because it was the first of all international contests. It is, 131 years later, still what every kid from both countries who has ever held a bat wants to take part in.
This is a particularly special moment because the match is the first of 10 to be played in the next seven months. Whichever side loses this series in England will have an immediate chance to recapture the Ashes in Australia starting in November.
In some eyes, this may all be too much of a good thing but the manner in which Clarke and Cook presented their cases emphasised how significantly deep the Ashes runs in the psyches of both countries. If it is to continue to have such meaning it is probably important that the terracotta urn that is the object of all the fuss (which may or may not contain the original ashes of a burnt bail) changes hands from time to time.
Now, it must be said, is not that time for England. They may have won three of the last four series, including the last two, but that hardly constitutes the sort of monopoly that Australia were operating in winning eight consecutive series between 1989 and 2005. When 2005 came round it was definitely the appropriate moment for England to win because there was the suspicion that Australia were becoming fed up, if not complacent.
It has been natural to talk this series up but England will never have a more substantial opportunity of winning three Ashes series in a row. The last time they managed that was in 1981.
Any man-for-man reckoning of the teams brings England out on top. They are more experienced, more accomplished and wiser. Australia, for all their protestations, are living in the shadow cast by their legendary forebears.
The composition of the teams, while not confirmed, will certainly show an immense disparity in Tests played. England could have a total of 611 caps with almost 100 Ashes matches between them, Australia may have a team with 299 Test appearances with 52 in the Ashes. Crucially, nine of England's players have featured in the Ashes before, six of Australia's will not have.
Everybody has to start somewhere – as the Yorkshiremen Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow will testify – but Australia seem to be too vulnerable in too many areas to resist England for an entire series. Australia's bowling is much their stronger suit and while that may also be true of England, there is not much in it.
England's top six have 81 Test hundreds between them and five have scored at least one century in the Ashes. Australia's top six have made a combined total of 35 Test hundreds, but only Clarke and Brad Haddin have scored centuries against England.
If Australia's bowlers, especially the fearsome James Pattinson, brother of a man (Darren) who once played for England, are capable of toppling the cream of England then that is also patently true of England's bowlers in regards to Australia's batting line-up. England's probable quartet of bowlers has taken 812 Test wickets, Australia's likely foursome has 296.
The Americans have a saying: "Do the math." It goes well beyond that of course and as Cook was at pains to point out it was still important not to get it out of proportion. He said: "You have to keep yourself very true to what you are and remember that it's another game of cricket and that this is what we have been doing all our lives."
But he knows that this is the Ashes. It simply does not come bigger. He spoke of people approaching him in the street to wish him well which simply does not happen with other Test series. The last Ashes, when he scored 766 runs, changed his life.
"I think you are remembered for your Ashes performance," he said. "What happened in 2010-11 did change me as a cricketer, gave me a lot of confidence that I could perform at the highest level against a very good side. I think it can change lives and careers and luckily I've managed to kick on from that moment and I see no reason why that can't continue.
"In eight weeks' time, I'd love to be sitting at The Oval having won the Ashes. That's the ultimate aim as an English captain. You join a very elite band of cricketers who could say that."
By the end of the Oval Test in late August he could be saying it to the tune of at least 3-1.
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