So here we go. The hype ends here. Bring on the action. Whatever the strength of the sides – relative to each other, to their forebears, or to other nations – England v Australia will always be regarded, in this country at least, and rightly or wrongly, as cricket’s definitive contest. And this morning we get underway.
We welcome all your thoughts and reaction as the day’s play progresses, on the comments board below. If you’re new here, don’t be shy – just get stuck in. There is no pack drill here. And you’ll also find a very lively thread over at Being Outside Cricket.
To start things off, here are a few quick thoughts.
The withdrawal of Ryan Harris, even though he was always unlikely to play here at Cardiff, truly represents a paradigm shift. The series will now be much closer.
Mitchell Johnson is one thing, Harris quite another – his nagging persistence, at pace, always asking questions outside off stump, is exactly the kind of bowling most likely to have undone England. Even in 2010/11, where he played, he brought the sides nearer to parity. His contribution alone in 2013 made the series vastly more competitive. And the pressure he applied in 2013/14 created much of the opportunity taken by Johnson and Nathan check Lyon.
His retirement is the best thing to happen to England since the 2013 Durham test. It may well be the most significant event in the entire career of Alastair Cook – who’s exactly the kind of batsman especially vulnerable to Harris’s style of cross-examination.
Beyond the teams’ composition, this series will ruthlessly challenge the English cricketing public’s appetite, energy, and goodwill. This may well be a stamina test which supporters pass. But by the end of August we will have witnessed fifteen Ashes tests within less than twenty six months. Fatigue may set in. There is only so much Anglo-Australian combat we can absorb without getting indigestion. An Ashes series demands emotional intensity, and you can only maintain intensity for so long.
This is also the first genuinely marquee series since the crises of 2014. Many of the wounds are still red raw. Some never cared, but of those who did, few have forgiven and none have forgotten.
The unique allure of the Ashes cannot disguise the fact that the ECB want England to win this series, not for you, not for the players, but for themselves. And whatever the result, the board and their press cheerleaders will talk glowingly of “building for the future” with an “exciting core of young players”. Even if England lose 0-5, Andrew Strauss will promise jam tomorrow.
But enough of me. It’s over to you.