Leading article: Sporting chance

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The Independent Online

The Ashes are here again. This venerable Anglo-Australian sporting fixture has not been kind to the old colonial master in recent years. Well, OK, the past two decades have been a disaster. Contests between the two sides have tended to follow a familiar pattern: humiliating England batting collapse, dominant Australian run total, series defeat for England, much agonising about how we can be so thoroughly trounced at a sport we, after all, invented.

And this year, as usual, people have found plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about England's prospects. By scheduling a one-day series in advance of the Test series, the England Cricket Board helped the Australians rediscover their form after a three-month break. England have selected five players for the first Test who have not faced Australia before at Test level. What is more, the first Test, which begins today, is at Lord's where England have not beaten Australia since 1934...

Yet this year things feel different. The England players are confident. And with potential match winners such as Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Kevin Pietersen in the side, this is justified. Even the formidable Australian bowler Shane Warne reckons Australia might not win. Doubt from an Australian cricketer is about as rare as snow in the Outback. Something strange is going on.

According to George Bernard Shaw, "The English are not a very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity". An eternity of losing to Australia was not what they had in mind. Let's hope Michael Vaughan's team can do something to change all that.