But where are we?
Logistically we are two days from the start of the most anticipated Ashes series since the last one. England have named their 13 already and have thankfully included the uninspiring and talentless batsman, Ian Bell. Although Bopara will certainly retain the number 3 spot it is amusing that Bell still gets his name thrown around. The selectors are making a point in leaving out Harmison after one of his best bowling efforts for a long time. James Anderson and Alistair Cook have stood up while Flintoff and Pietersen have the opportunity to enact revenge.
Perhaps a comparison down the line is the best way to summise the situation.
Top and Middle order
Hughes, Katich, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey and North VS
Strauss, Cook, Bopara, Pietersen, Collingwood and Flintoff
The first thing that stand out is 4 lefthanders (Aus) vs 2. Ponting has looked ordinary at times recently but if there's one guy who you want at the crease when you're 3 for 75 it's Steve Waugh. Failing that Ponting will have to do. I am yet to be convinced he's the man for when chips are down but I'm open to persuasion. Katich: enough said. Hughes: I don't think South Africa was a fluke and I rate Steyn and Ntini as highly as the Eng attack. Clarke: still has brain-fades at odd times (particularly against innocuous spin) but makes runs when they're needed most these days. This could not have been said of him 2 years ago. Hussey: you lucky bastard. Talk about making runs when you need to - he hasn't. Noone will be talking about his 150 if he fails at Cardiff. North: this guy has waited a long time to be here and I don't think he'll throw it away like Damien Martyn.
And England: Strauss is a classic English opener - priding his wicket like it's his livelihood. Cook: has impressed over the last year but I'm keen to see how he handles pace outside off stump. Bopara: like Hughes has had one great series so not much to say. Seems to have a bit of flair which can make you look awesome but can show you to be ordinary. Collingwood: best losing 200 ever but a solid bat overall. The rock of the top 6. Pietersen: have never liked him and unlikely to change. Can be the best hitter in the world, can be a thoughtless and selfish batsman. Has played some restrained innings in the last 6 months so perhaps he's changed his tune. Flintoff: if fit essential to Eng getting the Ashes back. Great bowler and good batsman. I think his role (in his and Eng's mind) is that he's a bowler first so will be interesting if he bats ahead or behind Prior.
Haddin VS Prior
Closest match up all things considered. Prior: sounds (haven't seen him) decent with the gloves and has made some valuable runs for Eng in the last year. Haddin: makes invaluable runs and I think he's improving with the gloves. Both ensure teams bat to 7 solidly, but Aus has Johnson at 8.
Clarke, Katich, North and Hauritz VS
Swann and Panesar
It didn't feel good to include Hauritz. Hauritz: well there's not much to say. He looked very good against Pakistan in the ODIs but hasn't looked good at all since. At least he hasn't done a McGain but that may be on the offering. Clarke: can be effective as can hit good areas but not often enough. Good players of spin won't be too troubled by him. He'll probably just get through overs to rest the others. North: why do so many people rave about him? Admittedly I haven't seen him bowl too much but what I have seen has been nothing special. Katich: the best for mine. Wrist spin part-time will generally beat occasional finger-spin. Unless part-timer offies have a very good stock ball, great pace and flight variation (ie like Vettori) they can only be so effective. Katich has a great wrong-un but he'll go for a few runs. If Aus can buy wickets then he should bowl 12 overs an innings.
Swann: most talked up bowler in the squad. We'll see how good he really is but remember that tall left turner from South Africa - did nothing but got some. Big gamble for Eng here: if he's not effective they'll be wishing they picked Harmison instead (or Rashid). Panesar: my god what a joke. Why would you pick someone who bowls darts?
Johnson, Siddle, Lee, Clark VS
Anderson, Onions (hee hee), Broad, Flintoff
Wow, this is where it gets interesting. I think Johnson, Lee and Siddle onsong will blast Eng out of any test match. Onsong I said. Anderson looks the real deal, we know what Flintoff can do (if 75% fit or better) but I'm not sure about Broad or Onions (hee hee). Johnson: can be lethal and close to unplayable. Consistency will be the key as fast wide outside off stump may get Ponting out but I'm not sure about Strauss and co. Needs to get the new ball but should be used intelligently: let Siddle do the hard yards. Siddle: absolutely the man. Will give you 15 overs straight at the same pace and close to the same spot. Will provide the backbone of the pace attack. Clark: yeah he's back. And he's still that good. Hitting a nagging line and length will annoy any batsman - and possibly team mates due to boredom. Lee: yeah, um, well yeah. Forget his record in England: I'm so sick of reading about that. You try facing 150 kmph curve balls coming to break your foot. We'll see at the 37 over mark of the first innings where Lee is at. Ideally it won't take that long. Sorry Hilfenhaus: he's got you at this stage.
Onions (hee hee): has bags of wickets at County but I think Ian Bell might too. He'll swing the ball at medium pace so better hit the right length alot or he'll be the achilles heel of the attack. Most pressure is on him. Broad: still not convinced of his temperament but a genuine bowler. Will have to take a lion share from Flintoff and Anderson. If Strauss dosn't open with Flintoff then Broad can expect the new ball in his hands. Anderson: the barometer for the England attack to me. If he can produce 8 good overs (two for ideally) in the first session with the new ball then his job is greatly done. I'm not convinced he's the stike bowler but if he can prove he is Eng's attack looks alot better. Overall he has probably improved more than any of the England 11: certainly their bowling stocks. Flintoff: this guy can be rediculously good. Can work out where to bowl to a batsman and just fire it there over and over. Has a heart as big as Siddle's and probably a little more talent. He may prove to be the difference. However, there is no Simon Jones at the other end.