Australia remain favourites, says Ashes stalwart

Keith Fletcher's Ashes fortunes fluctuated wildly as he pursued the game's greatest prize for more than a quarter of a century.

After he made his Ashes debut in a drawn home series in 1968, Fletcher was a member of Ray Illingworth's tourists who surprised Australia with a 2-0 triumph in 1970-71.

Four years later, after helping England to retain the urn in 1972, he was on the receiving end of a pace bombardment from Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson as the Australians regained the big prize under the captain, Ian Chappell.

Fletcher, who scored more than 3,000 runs and averaged nearly 40 in a 59-Test career, also played against the old enemy in 1975 and in the Centenary Test in Melbourne the following year. And in 1995 - seven years after he brought down the curtain on a 28-year playing career in which he led Essex to all the domestic trophies - he returned to Ashes action as team manager of Mike Atherton's tourists, who lost the series 3-1.

"So yes, I've seen Ashes cricket from all sides," said Fletcher, 61, whose autobiography, appropriately titled Ashes to Ashes, was published recently.

"Winning the Ashes in Australia was one of the best experiences of my career. In fairness, we weren't up against the strongest side they have ever fielded but no Aussie team is easy to beat and it still went right down to the wire in a seventh Test in Sydney.

"They needed 263 in the fourth innings but Illy [Illingworth] bowled well and we got home by 62 runs. We were a strong, well-balanced side with a lot of experience and we should have sewn it up before the final match.

"The 1974-75 series was very tough, the most difficult I played in. In Lillee and Thomson they had two of the fastest bowlers in the world and prepared pitches that suited them. We didn't really have an answer.

"Like a few England players I came out of that tour with a question mark over my ability to play fast bowling but that wasn't strictly fair. Anyone would have found it tough against those two at that time.

"Thomson was a bit of a freak in that he only stayed at the top for a short time - but in that series he was a real threat. And Lillee was a truly great bowler. I rate him and Fred Trueman as the best two bowlers I faced and men of that calibre are always going to take wickets, even against the very best batsmen."

With a new Ashes series only four weeks away, Fletcher said he believed Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne could pose similar problems for an England side hoping to regain the Ashes for the first time since 1987.

"Like Lillee, McGrath is a quality performer and he's always going to get good batters out," said Fletcher, who captained England in India in 1981-82.

"And Warne locks it all together for them. He takes wickets, doesn't concede many runs and can bowl all day. That gives the captain the chance to rotate the pace bowlers at the other end. Even though they have struggled a bit in the one-dayers, Australia have to be the favourites.

"Their top four are as good as anything in the game and to have a player of Adam Gilchrist's quality coming in at seven says everything about their depth. If we're going to have a chance, we have to be firing at 100 per cent from the first ball of the series, particularly key players like Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison.

"We're moving in the right direction, though, and it will be interesting to see what happens if Kevin Pietersen gets a chance.

"He's shown in the one-day game that he can dominate and really make the opposition worry. But can he do it at Test level when there are more catchers around the bat and you have to be far more selective in your choice of shot? We'll have to wait and see."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Ukip leader Nigel Farage arrives at the Rochester by-election count
voicesIs it any wonder that Thornberry, Miliband, and Cameron have no idea about ordinary everyday life?
Sport
sportComment: Win or lose Hamilton represents the best of Britain
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Arsene Wenger reacts during Arsenal's 2-1 defeat to Swansea
footballMan United and Arsenal meet on Saturday with both clubs this time languishing outside the top four
News
i100BBC political editor Nick Robinson had a lot of explaining to do
Life and Style
Nappies could have advice on them to encourage mothers and fathers to talk to their babies more often
newsTalking to babies can improve their language and vocabulary skills
Sport
Tony Bellew holds two inflatable plastic sheep at the weigh-in for his rematch with Nathan Cleverly
boxingGrudge match takes place on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson at PS1
arts + ents
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines