So here we go. The new Ashes series is all but upon us. It’s time for the pundits to shut up, the players to draw their three-pound blades, and bloggers like us to hide behind the sofa. I’ll probably find my old stress balls from 2013 back there.
How are you all feeling? I’m current crippled with anxiety and sweating like a Greek fund manager. But having said that, my pessimism is slowly waning. Ryan Harris’s retirement has given me a lift. I still think Australia are strong favourites, but I’m a believer in momentum and fate.
When England were murdered repeatedly by Australia in the late eighties and nineties nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, went our way. Whether it was Gough, Thorpe or Trescothick, our best players would inevitably get crocked at crucial moments.
We had no luck whatsoever during the Ashes back then. When I was a kid, I was so convinced that we’d been cursed by a malevolent Aussie hag that I recorded how many times the Australian batsmen played and missed during a day’s play. It turned out to be that famous occasion in 1989 when Mark Taylor and Geoff Marsh batted throughout day one without being dismissed. They were beaten thirty eight times without nicking it. Lucky gits.
In 2005, on the other hand, pretty much everything went in our favour after Lord’s. There was Glenn McGrath standing on a ball, Billy Bowden giving Kasper out caught behind when his hand was clearly off the bat, KP hitting top-edged six after top-edged six at The Oval, and then there was Rudi Koertzen and more borderline lbws than you can shake a stump at.
Every series since 1986/87 had belonged to Australia – but 2005 was finally our turn. The pendulum has oscillated wildly since then, but who’s to say it won’t swing back to England again in 2015? Remember, the last time we lost 0-5 we came back brilliantly to win the next three series.
Perhaps Harris’s injury (even though he might not have played much anyway) suggests that fortune is smiling upon us. I can’t think of any logical reason why this should be, but we’re not supposed to understand things like fate. Stuff just happens – and this time it’s happening to Ryan Harris’s knee and the Australian team.
I’ve also detected a little shift in the Ashes betting. Initially Harris’s injury didn’t make much difference. But today there’s been some movement in the markets. England are now 16-5 to win the Ashes, which is a slight improvement from last week’s 4-1. Australia, meanwhile, are a pretty stable 9/10. Yes, I know this still makes Australia overwhelming favourites, but we’re allowed to clutch at straws, right?
Of course, this late optimism is all pretty standard for England fans whatever the sport. Think back to the football World Cup. When the BBC interviewed scores of sunburned topless England fans drinking beer before the big games, nobody said “Suarez will score a brace and we’ll be on the first flight home”. No way. Loyalty, pride (and several bottles of beer) produced a late flowering of optimism.
Although this simply made the reality of defeat harder to take – England were always going to lose, we just temporarily forgot how crap we were – it was an interesting case study in psychology.
This time however, the dream isn’t quite so far fetched. We’re not talking about the England football team here. They always disappoint. Our footballers have never been number one in the world (not since 1966 anyway). Our cricketers, on the other hand, have occasionally triumphed against the odds. Failure might be a tradition in English cricket, but it’s not a given. Who knows what the next five tests will bring.
And so we come to final predictions. Who will win the Ashes? What will the score be? Who will be the leading run scorer and top wicket taker?
I’ll sign off by giving you a glimpse into my personal crystal ball. My head says Australia will win 3-1. Joe Root will be the leading run scorer (in a losing cause), and Hazlewood will do the most damage with the ball. Starc and Johnson will be a massive threat, but it’s often the bloke at the other end who takes the wickets.
Why do I think Australia win? I believe England’s numbers 2, 3 and 4 are too vulnerable. I like Lyth as a player but he’s facing a huge challenge. Meanwhile Ballance is out of position and Bell is out of form. That’s three weak links in a row. We really, really need Bell to magically rediscover his midas touch.
I also think that lower-order runs will be vital. Because we possess neither mystery spin nor genuine pace, we’ve consistently struggled to knock over the tail. Australia, on the other hand, have two genuine quicks who strike fear into the rats and mice. Expect to see stumps cartwheeling and bails flying.
At this point I know what you’re thinking. If I’m predicting an Australian win, why on earth was I expressing optimistic sentiments just a few short paragraphs ago?
It’s because my heart says England will win. That’s why. Like a lot of England cricket fans I’m a dreamer. Why else would I spend so much time watching this bloody game?