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Australia go into Ashes in a groove, England not so much

Australia ready for 1st Ashes test in Cardiff, still question marks hanging over England

Australia go into Ashes in a groove, England not so much

The biggest question for many going into the Ashes is: How soon will Australia win the series?

The third test at Edgbaston? The fourth at Trent Bridge?

Naturally, the Australians don't care if it takes until the last scheduled ball on the last day of the last test at The Oval in late August, as long as the urn is theirs.

But the odds are it will be theirs long before then.

There are no glaring weaknesses in their team heading into the series opener at Cardiff on Wednesday. The batsmen plundered runs in the two warmup games, and the seamers took wickets. Offspinner Nathan Lyon toiled but captain Michael Clarke put it down to benign pitches.

They also appeared to resolve the two most competitive places: Shaun Marsh and his little brother Mitch could make their Ashes debuts together, as opener and allrounder respectively.

Shaun opened both tests with David Warner in the West Indies last month after Chris Rogers was concussed in training. After a fluent century by Shaun in the first warmup game in England, Australia gave Rogers more chances to shine, and he produced one half-century in four innings.

Mitch appeared to do enough in the warmups to usurp Shane Watson for the allrounder's No. 6 spot in the lineup, as Mitch outscored Watson, and was expensive bowling his medium-pace but took wickets, whereas Watson claimed none.

The rest of the bowling spoke for itself: Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Lyon and Jason Hazlewood, man of the series against the West Indies.

The sudden, enforced retirement of fast bowler Ryan Harris, who rehabbed his dicky right knee for months only to break his tibia after 30 overs in the first warmup game, could be felt by Australia later in the series. He was replaced by Pat Cummins, restricted by a bad back to limited-overs cricket for two years.

For now, the squad that was tagged "Dad's Army" by Jason Gillespie, the former Australia fast bowler and England coach candidate, for featuring nine 30-year-olds, was in a groove.

Unlike last month's visitor, New Zealand, half of whom came straight into that too-brief test series from the IPL, the Australians won't start underdone. They beat the West Indies in three days and four days respectively, and ticked the boxes in the warmup games.

Unlike New Zealand, too, the Australians will not play nice.

The English embraced the aggressive-but-magnanimous Kiwis in a tour they will long remember, and fast bowler James Anderson was one who said England was willing to continue in that spirit. But the Australians have made it clear normal service will resume: They will be ruthless, and they will sledge.

"I don't think anything is going to change," said Mitchell Johnson, who took 37 wickets in the 2013-14 Ashes whitewash in Australia. "He (Anderson) is just trying to get it out there to make himself look better."

Anderson failed to make any impact against New Zealand, but England remained over-reliant on its all-time leading test wicket-taker. Stuart Broad also bowled too short, Mark Wood's slingshot was still in the promising stage, as was allrounder Ben Stokes as a bowler.

England is persisting with the same team which drew the series with New Zealand. Gary Ballance and Ian Bell, both of whom couldn't buy a run, will remain at No. 3 and No. 4, followed by the in-form Joe Root.

Moeen Ali was also confirmed by new coach Trevor Bayliss as the first-choice spinner, even though he has lacked control and confidence since a side strain at the Cricket World Cup. He's played two county games lately for combined figures of 1-137 off 45 overs.

Meanwhile, legspinner Adil Rashid debuted in the one-day international series and was a revelation, taking eight wickets, and prompting observers to say he should make his test debut on Wednesday. But Bayliss, also enraptured of Rashid, who can move the ball both ways, said: "At some stage during this series I'd see him playing a part."

Ali or Rashid will still have to be used right. Alastair Cook's bowling strategy against New Zealand was criticized, and while his place as an opener was set in concrete, his conservative captaincy was considered a weakness by the Australians, especially after Eoin Morgan's assured touch in the ODI series with the Kiwis.

"I'm not sure if that's exactly in Alastair Cook's DNA to be really able to put a game on the line," Shane Watson wondered.

Cook, the rest of the slips cordon, and even wicketkeeper Jos Buttler, were also a concern for dropping a ton of chances this year.

Will they drop an Ashes series at home, too, for the first time in 14 years?

Updated : 2021-09-19 11:36 GMT+08:00