As the Ashes commenced this year, I was having a discussion with my Cricket buddies Tugga and PK (who by the way are an absolute authority over this game) as to who stood a chance this year to win the Ashes. A common conclusion was that this was a war between equals – not in terms of strengths but weaknesses.

In my 15 years of watching this game I haven’t seen an Aussie team this weak in terms of grit, talent, sporting spirit and strategy. Ponting is by far the worst captain I’ve seen. He is lost without the talented Gilly, Warne, McGrath, Langer & Hayden. I’ve not doubts on his credentials as a batsman, but he has serious flaws as a captain. He is not sporting enough to accept defeat, he is not brave enough to accept his side’s weakness, he fails to instill any kind of discipline in his team and he himself being such a sore loser is passing on that quality to his team. I’ve been an ardent supporter of the Aussie team since the days of Allan Border and the respect only increased when Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh ran this outfit. That is steadily vanishing with displays of Ponting’s Team, in terms of the game they play and the way they play it. His team sorely misses the stalwarts who hailed from Tugga’s school and kept the side in balance. Apart from a Clarke and Ponting himself , I cannot see a person who can turn the match around. I’ve watched very little of the new Aussie players in action but of the little I’ve seen I do not see this class coming of age soon.

England for long has been a weak test outfit but the one under Michael Vaughan showed some signs of improvement with some overseas wins and the much watched Ashes 2005 win. Flintoff and Pietersen could pave their way into any world outfit and are match-winners in their own right; making all the difference, in my opinion, to the English outfit. If the same side were to play a South African or the Indian team they would struggle. But playing a weak Aussie side gives them all the edge to play it at equal levels and give themselves a chance to regain the Ashes. There was this interesting article that PK passed on where Michael Artherton compared the two sides man-to-man and I agreed with most.

This is probably the first time that I’ll be supporting the Poms whole-heartedly against an Aussie team. I enjoyed the 2005 series and shifted my loyalties between both teams, but that was purely for the way both teams displayed outstanding cricket; not because I did not like the Aussie team. It was delight for a cricket lover and I can recall every moment of that series.

This time around it’s different and I’m hoping England wins this one. They have sustained the edge as of now. The 1-wicket draw in the first test at Cardiff set the tone for the series where the Poms have begun to believe that they can get this one right while Aussies are being shaken time and again by whom they thought were the lesser teams.

In the last 2 years they have played a total of 23 matches: Won 11, Lost 7 and Drawn -5. That is still a decent record but of the 11 wins – 6 are against the much weaker test teams SL/WI/NZ while Eng (1-0) & Ind (3-2) lead the Aussies in terms of total wins and SA tied with them at 3 wins each. The Aussies are losing more often than before and that is definitely a good sign for other teams and test cricket as well.

I’ve not seen a ball being bowled in this match and hence the shortened version on what I thought of the match. I thought England played exceedingly well to thwart the Aussies and put them under pressure. I fully support Strauss’s decision of not enforcing the follow-on, not many teams have dared after the most influential innings of the decade. Any smart captain would opt the safer way out rather than dig his own grave at the start of the Ashes and plunge his team to further depths.

I read in the cricinfo bulletin about Australia’s aspiration for a world record chase. 526 is any day an improbable target considering in the last decade only 6 times have teams won chasing 340 up , the maximum being 418. With 5 wickets gone on day 4 for 128, not even half the target on board; expecting Australia to chase this one was expecting a wee bit too much or alleviating the Aussie batsmen to heights they are currently not capable of.

Strauss led the way in the first innings and I was quite disappointed that the Brits had only managed 425 when they were at one stage 255/2. Nevertheless the bowlers made up with Anderson starring in the first and Flintoff completing his first fiver in 2 years aided by Swann. I cannot fathom why Flintoff is quitting test cricket but will continue to play ODIs and T20. That will make up for another blog post.

I heard Swann bowled quite beautifully and will catch up the highlights later in the day. Until the next one, England enjoy this one, but not too much because there are still 3 tests to go! Aussies can and will fight back. (I hope so too, at the end I’m a true cricket lover at heart and there is nothing more one wants than a hard fought battle between equals) The battle is won but the war is not yet over lest the Poms forget that!

Go England Go. I’m keen to read Ponting’s reactions now!

And to end, Dubai’s cable service is split into 2 program options– E-Pehla and Orbit Showtime. I’ve subscribed to E-Pehla Silver which is a sports package especially for cricket and now the Ashes are being telecast on Orbit. I cannot subscribe to both simultaneously, so you can imagine my frustration currently! I hate following the game on the internet. I cannot comment on how well or badly the teams played as I cannot see them play live. And if you cannot watch a match live, then you are pretty much banking on the opinion of others and building your analysis of the game on someone else’s view point. As a huge fan of the game and someone who loves to have an opinion on the game, it can get increasingly irritating! Either ways I’ll try to catch some glimpses on the net and put in my own views!

Hope you all are as glued in as I am!