The Light Roller: Ashes predictions
England will surely retain the urn but it won't be a thrashing; and Ian Bell is a man in need of Test match runs
England to win but the Aussies will not be a pushover
On Ashes Eve it is customary to make a few predictions, if only in the hope that five Tests is long enough for everyone to have forgotten by the end how wrong they were. So, here goes.
An England victory seems the most likely series outcome but, if Darren Lehman refocuses his side - and if anyone can, Lehman can - then it won't be a thrashing by any means. 3-1 to England sounds about right, although that's only in the expectation of rain since the chances of these two teams batting each other to a stalemate seem slim.
It's vital that England don't start dozily. Australia's best chance of regaining the Ashes lies with their seamers (injuries permitting) and Trent Bridge may, therefore, suit them rather nicely. If Anderson has a poor first test, Pattinson, Starc et al could get the Aussies off to a flyer.
The rejuvenation of Kevin Pietersen
For the personal bragging rights, a rejuvenated KP could well be tough to top. At his best, he can't be matched either by his team-mates or by the opposition batsmen. After the disintegration, then re-integration, of last summer and the fitness problems of the winter and spring, Pietersen will surely want to remind the world that he still has the capacity to be a great of the game.
More prosaically, a long dry summer and an inexperienced attack will have Jonathan Trott licking his chops. He won't thrill like Pietersen but he will run his compadre close to be leading run-scorer.
In the bowling stakes, the conditions ought to be ideal for Graeme Swan - sun-baked pitches, a multitude of left-handed batsmen and a left-arm quick to create footholes outside the remaining right-handers' off-stump. England's pace attack is top-notch but in a comparison of the two teams, they are further ahead when it comes to spinners. There will be two in the playing XI by the end of the summer - pencil Simon Kerrigan in for a big haul at the Oval.
For the Aussies, Pattinson will bag a bundle of wickets if he can stay fit.
Boom or Bust for Watson and Bell
There are question marks against any number of Australian batsmen - and there are a few knocking about in relation to England's top and middle order too. Root and Bairstow will most obviously be hoping for early runs.
However, the top Boom or Bust candidates are Shane Watson and Ian Bell, both of whom are established and talented figures but who could potentially come under pressure.
Watson has been more sulk than hulk in the last six months but Lehman may offer him just the fresh start he needs. He has the power and skill to take apart even England's excellent attack. On the other hand, there are plenty of openers in the Australia squad and if Watson does not pull his considerable weight he'll find himself for the high jump.
Bell has such grace and ease at the crease that it often comes as a surprise when he is dismissed - and this might just be his series. Yet one test century in two years - and only one ever in 18 Ashes matches - suggest that several soft dismissals could force the selectors to consider the alternatives.
Call for the intern
Quite who is next off the rank among England's batters isn't clear. Compton won't come back in unless as an opener - and his recent mini-mard about being dropped won't help in any case. Morgan and Bopara have both had myriad chances.
Perhaps the selectors should go for youth and plump for Samridh Agarwal, who last week scored a remarkable triple century in the annual Varsity match. It's always good to offer students real work experience after all.
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