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Ashes 2010: Jonathan Agnew column

First Ashes Test, Brisbane
Dates: 25-29 November Start time: 0000 GMT Coverage: Listen live to Test Match Special on BBC 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW and online (UK only). Watch live on Sky Sports 1, highlights on ITV 4

Andrew Strauss and Ricky Ponting

Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent

Has there ever been such a feeling of anticipation before a Test series before? This is my sixth Ashes tour, and I certainly have never felt anything like it.

This huge excitement has been generated by the optimism amongst England supporters who genuinely feel that Andrew Strauss's men have a real chance of defeating Australia.

At the same time, there is serious trepidation in the Australian media and the general public that their great run of two decades without a home Ashes series defeat is finally coming to an end.

A great deal has been made of England's preparation for the tour. I've watched it, and it has gone well. I would have liked Kevin Pietersen to have made a big score - he, Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior have all looked in nice touch, but got out too early.

TOM FORDYCE'S BLOG

This series will not be won by breezy half centuries. The batsmen have to go on and make the big scores that really make the difference in Test cricket.

England are also lacking a genuinely fast bowler; someone to come on and bowl a blistering, intimidating spell of four overs in the heat and when the pitch is flat. Someone like Andrew Flintoff!

Australia don't have one either, mind you, and both teams have the scope to add annoying lower order runs as a result.

In many ways, though, the preparation will not count for much come the start of play, when the nerves and adrenalin kick in.

We all remember the ghastly opening hour here four years ago when poor Steve Harmison was so wretchedly nervous that he fired the first ball straight to a startled Flintoff at second slip. Ricky Ponting states that his team knew they would regain the Ashes as early as that first drinks session.

True, England's build up contributed to their downfall but it is the cricket on the Test field that matters in the end, and England know that they have an awful lot of history to bury, and poor starts at the Gabba to overcome if they to succeed.

The last time England won here at the Gabba, they won the Ashes.

Graeme Swann
Will the Australians take the obvious strategy of getting after Swann to force Strauss to take him off, or will they simply keep him out?

If they do win here, it will be fascinating to see the reaction of the Australian selectors who are already under pressure to bring in new faces in place of Mike Hussey and Marcus North in particular. There is even talk of Ponting's career being in the balance should he lose his third Ashes series.

However, should Australia win this opening match, I can see them regaining their confidence - which has taken quite a battering recently - and combined with an inevitable feeling of 'here we go again' from the England perspective, they could become very difficult to beat. So much depends on this first game.

A key battleground for me is Australia's batsmen against Graeme Swann. England will be playing only four frontline bowlers so, particularly in the first innings, Swann will have to play a containing role while the pacemen are rotated at the other end.

Will the Australians take the obvious strategy of getting after the spinner to force Strauss to take him off, or will they simply keep him out?

Both have risks attached - over aggression in the first approach while the Umpire's Review System gives Swann quite an advantage against defensive left-handers in particular.

Predictions always come back to haunt you, but I will repeat mine of some months ago that England will win 3-1. It is based on wins here, Perth and Sydney. Let's see.


Listen to the Ashes live on Test Match Special on BBC 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW and online (UK users only) - series starts 25 November 2010.
Archive: Relive past Ashes series



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see also
Strauss focused on Gabba opener
24 Nov 10 |  Cricket
Clarke passed fit for Ashes Test
24 Nov 10 |  Cricket
Johnson fired up for Ashes series
23 Nov 10 |  Australia
England will win Ashes - Flintoff
22 Nov 10 |  Cricket
Watch BBC Sport's Ashes trail
19 Nov 10 |  Test Match Special
England in Australia 2010-11
08 Oct 09 |  Cricket
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket


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