The Australian angle: Hughes can get Australia off to a flying start

The tourists are vulnerable after a gamble on recalling players from injury backfired, but their gifted young opener may rapidly change the mood, writes Peter Roebuck

And so it begins, and in Cardiff. During his trial Thomas More informed a treacherous assistant giving false testimony whilst suddenly wearing the medallion of the Principality that "It lll-behoves a man to betray his God for anything... but for Wales?!" Over the years Englishmen have rarely crossed the Severn with any optimism but this time their hopes are high. They come in search not of coal or five-pointers but in pursuit of a disrupted Australian cricket team. They come seeking the Ashes.

Nor has anything been left to chance. Four years ago the first Test was played at Lord's, where visitors raise their games and England usually loses. Now the teams meet not at an historic venue but on a ground with blue bucket seats and stands that seem to have come from a DIY store. Apparently it's a ruse to stop the Australians bolting from the gates whilst at the same time placating the Welsh lobby, an altogether stiffer task. Meanwhile Trent Bridge, the best ground in the country, lies empty.

Although lacking the messianic zeal that gripped the population last time around, the hosts are desperate to put the visitors in their place. More than is sensible, and much more than their opponents, English cricket measures itself by results in Ashes series. It is an odd obsession that tells of respect, fear and parental regret.

Anticipation is rising because local supporters know their team can win. England has an astute leadership combination and a notably cosmopolitan squad. Apart from its two contrasting and conflicting champions, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, the rebel king and the bluff musketeer, the hosts field a lively attack containing more swingers than a jazz club, a spinner (a species under threat Down Under) and a boisterous batting order. Form has been patchy but signs of improvement have been detected and a full-strength side has been named. Now England expects every man to do his duty.

Clearly the visitors are vulnerable. Australia's gamble on including proven players returning from long-term injuries has backfired. It was a risky strategy that undermined the team that so recently subdued the South Africans in their own patch. Moreover it affected the balance of the party. The Australians brought a glut of speedsters and all-rounders but no spare batsmen. Upon arrival, the focus on Brett Lee, Shane Watson and Stuart Clark denied the rest an opportunity to prepare.

Now Ricky Ponting and his think-tank face the task of putting Humpty Dumpty back together. It's not going to be easy. To prevail, Australia needs to be on top of its game. That has not always been the case. Most particularly the tourists need to win the battles of the new ball. If Phillip Hughes and Mitchell Johnson succeed then all is not lost. Hughes can pave the way for a powerful middle order. Australia's distinguished opening pair failed in 2005 but they faced a formidable bombardment. These days England's bowling is frisky as opposed to ferocious.

If Johnson salvages his rhythm – he is a notoriously slow starter – then the attack will not appear as threadbare. Once he locates his best form he can generate speed, bounce and cut. Above all he needs to get his inswinger working. Peter Siddle deserves to be his main ally anyhow, so nothing has changed on that front. Presumably Clark will provide the back up, though he may not appreciate the benign pitches generally provided at Sophia Gardens. Alas, the spin department is weak but Australia ought not to forget about flight and guile.

In any event the time for speculation has passed. England has enjoyed a better preparation and begins as favourite. Australia has some superb players but appears disjointed. But things can change, an inspired moment, a great innings and suddenly the bubble is back. Let's just hope the first ball does not go straight to second slip.

A former Somerset captain, Peter Roebuck is now a regular cricket columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Miracle muffin: chemicals can keep a muffin looking good at least a month after it was bought
food + drinkThe alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
News
business
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
An 'Einstein cross', just above the multicoloured cross, shows four spots of yellow light, where the light from a distant supernova is distorted by 'gravitational lensing'
science
Voices
A recent rise in net migration has been considered bad news for the Government
voicesYet when we talk about it, the national media goes into a frenzy, says Nigel Farage
Sport
Johnny Evans and Papiss Cisse come together
footballI don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
News
people
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The beat is on: Alfred Doda, Gjevat Kelmendi and Orli Shuka in ‘Hyena’
filmReview: Hyena takes corruption and sleaziness to a truly epic level
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

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable