First test: Brisbane
There is always some encouragement for bowlers in the first three hours of the Gabba Test, but you must pitch the new ball up a bit more than you generally think you need to. You don't want batsmen being able to leave the ball on length and getting their sights set with the help of deliveries that are too short.
The new ball should swing, especially if it is humid, but for how long is the big question. Not long, probably, so bowlers can forget about the luxury of a settling-in period – they need to be bang on the line and length straight away because all too soon the pitch is likely to be very good for batting.
Yes, there have been some low scores in domestic cricket at the Gabba this season and Cricket Australia are very keen to get their team back to winning ways. But like any set of chief executives around the world they don't want the match finishing too soon. So perhaps this Test pitch will be a bit spicier than most of the others but I don't think we'll see anything untoward.
Second test: Adelaide
It could have been a bit of propaganda but Shane Warne thinks the Adelaide Oval pitch isn't as flat as it used to be – which was the flattest of Australia's five Ashes venues and extremely hard work for all bowlers.
Warne tells me that on days four and five it will definitely take big spin. But despite that, and provided the sky is clear and blue to offer the seam and swing bowlers little encouragement, it is hard to see it being anything other than a batting paradise, so I would have thought if there is to be a draw in the series it may well be here.
Slightly more defensive fields than normal are generally the order of the day. Although the ground has been rebuilt there are still very short square boundaries and you must get your angles right as a captain to try to protect the backward point and third man area – making sure the man on the fence is in the right place to cut off the four.
If Warne is right, or even half right, then Swann should have a more successful time in Adelaide than Brisbane.
Third test: Perth
The WACA wicket used to be the fastest in the world without a doubt. But since they slightly changed the angle of the square some time ago a lot of the pace seems to have gone and it has become a pretty comfortable pitch for batsmen.
Even so, I would like England to consider giving Finn the new ball here because if he gets into his stride and starts bowling the faster side of fast-medium then the extra bounce he'll get with the new ball could make him a real handful.
One factor never to be discounted here is the "Fremantle Doctor", the wind which gets up in the afternoon. Before the angle change, it used to blow straight down the wicket whereas now it is more over the bowler's left shoulder. What is for certain is that Swann will have to bowl a lot of overs, because Anderson may be able to climb up the cellar steps, as we used to say, but you can't see either Broad or Finn bowling effectively against the wind for any length of time.
The good news is that the "Doctor" can help Swann to get drift and dip even if there is no spin.
Fourth test: Melbourne
The MCG was fairly bowler-friendly 20 or so years ago. But post World Series Cricket, and with the art of drop-in pitches having been perfected, it is a pretty placid batting strip for Test cricket. In fact, the one problem I see with these drop-in pitches is that they don't deteriorate.
Much less predictable here is the weather: they talk about having four seasons in a day there, and they're not wrong. I seem to remember when they started the last Ashes Test there on Boxing Day 2006 it was 9C. But it is just as likely to be up to 43C with the wind coming off the desert, so you have to be pretty adaptable.
Calcutta's Eden Gardens and the MCG were the two most awe-inspiring places I played in terms of crowd numbers – not always entirely comfortable for the visitors, though, because the Victorians really get behind the home side and give the opposition fielders a bit of a going over.
The team whose seamers are most accurate will have the best chance.
Fifth test: Sydney
This is the place where England could play two spinners. Yes, it would be tough on Panesar to have to step up to the plate and deliver a big performance after mostly carrying drinks and sitting on his backside for four or five weeks. But if they were 2-1 down and had to win at the SCG to square the series and retain the Ashes I hope they would have the courage to pick two spinners and leave out a batsman. I don't think England could get away with using only two seamers to accommodate a second spinner so a batsman would have to be sacrificed.
Over the last 30 years the pitch has always turned pretty dramatically on days four and five – and sometimes as early as day three – so England would need to look at their options.
The SCG is nowhere near as big as the MCG but the atmosphere inside the ground can still be fairly intimidating. And if the destiny of the Ashes is at stake – which I think could be the case – it will be no place for nervous cricketers. Or nervous watchers for that matter.Reuse content