DAVID PYE: We are favourites Down Under but there is no room for complacency
11:00pm Friday 1st November 2013 in Sport
BARELY have the clocks gone back and the yellow balls come out in the football and cricket is back on the sporting horizon.
England’s Ashes tour of Australia got underway yesterday to kick off a three-month stint Down Under as they look to record a fourth series win in succession.
And they are considered favourites after recent meetings between the sport’s two oldest enemies.
But there has to be caution – the last thing they must do is go into the series over-confident.
After an awful run against the Aussies, most cricket lovers were delirious when the team won that epic 2005 series.
Full of gusto and a somewhat misplaced air of invincibility, the ill-fated captaincy of Lancashire’s Andrew Flintoff would be summed up by the first delivery of the series from Steve Harmison that went so wide of the mark in Brisbane, it was fielded out near the Great Barrier Reef.
It went from bad to worse as England were well and truly humbled in all five Tests for a first whitewash in Australia in more than 80 years.
In hindsight, as embarrassing as that was for us Poms, it probably did us a favour.
There were inquests into the complete turnaround – a big factor being, in my opinion, the decision not to have an extensive pre-series programme.
You could also point to the fact it was one last hurrah for many of an Australia side that had dominated the previous decade – the likes of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer retiring on the highest of highs.
But England went into the series cold after their poor preparation and were not acclimatised to the differing Aussie wickets – something that has been learned from since, even if yesterday’s tour curtain-raiser was a slightly inauspicious start.
We regrouped under Andy Flower and have bounced back in fine style. But, like that series six years ago, we cannot take anything for granted.
Yes, we are the better side at present as Australia go through a transition we have endured many times over the years.
But they are always proud fighters and I expect nothing less than a tough series.
It may have been a 3-0 scoreline just a few months ago on these shores but most aficionados would acknowledge some matches were a lot closer than that suggests.
In fact, our leading batsmen – the impressive Ian Bell aside – left a lot to be desired.
I think that could be key to winning the forthcoming series. I believe our top-order is stronger than Australia’s.
The bowling department is good for both teams and the Aussies usually shine with the ball on their own bouncy wickets.
But if we can get run-making consistency from skipper Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, there’s no doubt we can win again.
I look forward to the sleepless winter nights listening to Test Match Special.