Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Have England's opponents been hot enough preparation for The Ashes?

Tomorrow brings the fourth and final Test between England and Pakistan this summer, with the hosts taking a 2-1 series lead into the match at Lord's. Having already cleaned up in a series against Bangladesh earlier this season, Andy Flower's men need just a draw to claim a second summer series. But with The Ashes just around the corner, have the opposition really tested England enough ahead of the crucial winter Down Under?

Bangladesh, whilst improving vastly since their introduction to the Test scene just 10 years ago (it's that old friend Wiki again!), are still a second-rate nation when compared to other Test sides like South Africa, India and Ponting's lot. So, fair enough for a warm-up series before the heavy stuff kicks in. Afterall, it was only 2 matches and with a 'bigger' nation still to visit. England, for the record, won by 8 wickets and an innings and 80 runs in the respective Tests - fairly hefty victories.

But that anticipated visit from a 'bigger' Test nation has yet to really materialise. Ok so Pakistan managed a deserved 1-1 draw with Australia in their series hosted in England last month, but their erratic and often schoolboy form (with the fielding making Rob Green's hands look watertight) when facing England has only really served to confuse poor Alistair Cook, who couldn't manage a decent innings if his life depended on it when Pakistan were awful, then when they finally got their act together in the last Test, managed a superb 110. Go figure!

Overall, the series can't be considered great preparation for the tour of Australia where, despite their average form against Pakistan, Ricky Ponting's lads are guaranteed to hit the peak form, on their own turf, dictating the way they want the matches to go.

With England probably reaching their best, most consistent form for many a year, experts say we should return from Down Under with the little urn tucked safely in Andrew Strauss' blazer pocket. The cricket fans among us, however, think it'll be the same old story, the same old 5-0 series whitewash.

Certainly, it should be our best chance to come back home with heads held high, even if not having retained The Ashes. But with stiffer competition leading upto the tour to really test our mettle and get heads focussed, maybe the odds would be that bit shorter on an English victory.

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