Saturday, October 30, 2010

England arrive for Ashes defence

Ian Bell
Ian Bell signs autographs as England arrive in Perth

England landed in Perth on Saturday ahead of the upcoming Ashes series confident of ending their 24-year drought on Australian soil.

Led by captain Andrew Strauss, England will play their opening three-day tour match against Western Australia, starting on Friday at the Waca.

"Our greatest strength is that we are a pretty tight unit," Strauss said after stepping off the plane.

"We don't rely on one or two players. All 11 guys have been performing."

Strauss added: "It will come down to who hits the ground running best and plays the best cricket in the crucial periods.

"There is a relaxed excitement about the group. Now we have touched down on Australian soil everything is a bit more at the forefront of our minds about what lies ahead of us and what massive opportunities there are."

The 16-man squad, dressed smartly in suits and pale blue ties, had left Heathrow Airport at lunchtime on Friday ahead of the five-match series against their fiercest rivals.

England have not won a Test series down under since 1986-87 and they lost 5-0 on their most recent visit in 2006-07.

But Strauss's side arrive ranked fourth in the world, while Ricky Ponting's Australia are fifth and have lost their last three Tests.

Before boarding the plane, Strauss had urged his players to be more confrontational than they were in 2006.


"I'm not sure about not being able to say hello to them but until the end of that fifth Test there's two sides at war with each other," said Strauss, who hopes to become the first man since Mike Brearley in 1977 and 1978-79 to lead England to successive Ashes triumphs.

"Both sides know that at the end of the series there's going to be 11 guys feted as heroes and 11 guys who failed in their task. Until that final Test is over there's no point being too hunky-dory or friendly with the opposition. Our task is to go out there and try to beat them."

England have won only three of their last 26 Ashes Tests in Australia - all when the outcome had already been decided.

But the tourists are in a rich vein of form, with eight wins from 12 Tests - although four of those wins were against Bangladesh - since the 2009 Ashes success as well as victory in this year's ICC World Twenty20.

There are three warm-ups in all before the first Test in Brisbane on 25 November and the second Test in Adelaide on 3 December.

England return to Perth for the third Test, which starts on 16 December, head to Melbourne for the Boxing Day Test and finish the series in Sydney from 3-7 January.

England head out for Ashes

Former Australia wicketkeeper/batsman Adam Gilchrist believes England are favourites and are in the right frame of mind to retain the Ashes.

"Either team could win it and I think everyone is anticipating another tight series," he told BBC Radio 5 live.

"In 2009 you didn't know what the match situation was going to be at the end of each day. It will be a hard-fought, closely contested series."

Gilchrist, who scored 1083 runs in 20 Tests against England between 2001 and 2007, was part of the hugely successful Australia team that included Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and skipper Ponting.

Three of those stellar players are now retired but Ponting remains, and Gilchrist believes his former team-mate has a tough task on his hands.

He said: "Australia play the conditions well and Ricky Ponting plays particularly well in home conditions. There is going to be a lot of weight on his shoulders if they're to be successful and I suspect he'll be up for it too.

"But there is uncertainty about what their best 11 is when everyone is fully fit. The bowling has suffered a great deal of disruption and that makes it difficult. The spin bowling position has always been under question since Shane Warne left.

"The team have taken a blow in confidence with a series of negative results and I think we are realising we don't like losing and took for granted that we were winning so often."

Meanwhile, former Australia captain Steve Waugh has warned his country's under-performing senior players they can not count on experience alone to keep their places in the team to face England.

Ponting's men lost the final Test of their series against Pakistan in England during the summer and were recently beaten 2-0 in India to confirm their worst losing streak since 1988-89.

Waugh, who led Australia to 41 Test victories including eight out of nine Ashes Tests, said: "Just because it's an Ashes series it doesn't make it any different from any other series. You've got to put your best 11 players on the park irrespective of age or experience.

"I'm never a big believer of picking players by age, it's more the passion, your form and whether you're the right person for the job."

Waugh believes Australia will win a tightly-contested Ashes series 3-2 due to superior knowledge of the home conditions.

"I've watched (England) over the last couple of years and they're a good unit," he added. "They play very well together, they're hard to beat, they've got a good team spirit, they're well led and I think they'll fancy their chances of beating Australia.

"(But) we know our conditions very well in Australia, we're very confident here and we've got a quality side so there's no reason they can't win."

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