Ashes tours are funny things. While I tend to watch all of a home series, and remember them to the very smallest details (Graham Thorpe dropping Matthew Elliot on 29 when he went on to (jolly nearly) a double hundred; Robin Smith being the first batsman given out stumped by the third umpire; Peter Such’s batting making Brian Johnston giggle) away tours only stick in my head via little snapshots of despair – snippets I very often never see. I’ve still never seen footage of David Gower slapping Merv Hughes to deep long leg, but it’s there in my memory, just like Phil Defreitas getting pummelled by Michael Slater, or Warren Hegg playing for England. In fact, the only tour I have no memories of whatsoever is the 2006/7 tour. Funny that. But the upcoming tour is a strange one for a number of reasons. The first is that, as of today and for the first time, England perch one place higher in the world rankings than Australia. The unprecedented nature of such superiority is only slightly dented by the fact that the ranking process only dates back to 2003 – the last time England toured Australia as anything other than rank outsiders was 1986/7, and even then they were considered definite second-favourites. The last time England toured as favourites was 1978/9.
England also, at present, aren’t encumbered by injuries. Vaughan, Trescothick and Jones missed the 2006/7 series; Thorpe, Flintoff, Gough and Jones missed the 2002/3 series. England are used to putting out sides missing their best batsmen and best bowlers for Ashes series. So far, and touching wood, there’s nobody but Trescothick that the selectors would like to pick but can’t.
Australia are looking fragile too – three straight defeats for the first time since 1988. The middle order looks shaky, the back-up pace attack doesn’t yet look test class, and they don’t have a spinner worth his place. This isn’t to say England don’t have vulnerabilities: Alistair Cook and Paul Collingwood are still fighting flawed techniques, and Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen are fighting perceptions of a flawed temperament. Morgan and Finn are unproven, Anderson has been poor overseas, Bresnan isn’t test class, and a lot depends on Graeme Swann. Still, for the first time since I can remember, it’s Australia who look to be the side in more trouble.
All we need now is for Mitchell Johnson to deliver the first ball of the series to second slip…