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2013 Ashes Preview

Right up until just a week ago, former England cricket greats and media pundits were falling over themselves to predict a whitewash over Australia in the upcoming Ashes series, while the Barmy Army were fine-tuning their victory songs and punters were licking their lips at the prospect of a summer getting money for nothing.

Michael Clarke, their captain and best player, was nursing a troublesome back, David Warner had been disciplined for chinning Joe Root in a Birmingham bar and, out in the middle, they were looking a pretty ordinary outfit in the 50-over ICC Champions Trophy.

Well, there’s been a bit of a change. England are still expected to win the Ashes – they are 1/3 with Coral – but there’s not quite as much crowing going on now as Australia (9/2) begin to get their act together, both off the pitch and on.

Last Monday Darren Lehmann was unveiled as the new Australian coach, replacing South African Mickey Arthur, who, by some accounts, had lost a significant section of the dressing room. The change was seen as very positive by Australian commentators, not least because the no-nonsense Lehmann is liked and respected enough to command unconditional support from the likes of legends Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist should he request it.

It looks better on the pitch, too. Strike force James Pattinson (3/1 to be leading Aussie Ashes bowler) and Mitchell Starc (7/2) took 13 wickets between them against Somerset last week, while Clarke, 15/8 to be their top batsman in the series, looked in pretty decent nick on his eagerly awaited comeback.

Australia’s improvement in performance and morale apart, there is also a niggling suspicion that England might be a little over-confident, an accusation levelled at the management team when they didn’t bother to scout Australia in Somerset. Coach Andy Flower dismisses such claims, but does point out sensibly that England aren’t as good as some are saying, nor Australia as bad.

When all the talking stops and the action begins at Trent Bridge ten days from now, it will be down to who plays the better cricket and few would argue that England have the stronger side on paper and deserve to be hot favourites. In Alastair Cook (11/4 to score most runs for England) they have not only an increasingly astute captain, but also a match-winning batsman, who took the Aussies for 766 runs in the last Ashes series Down Under, while in James Anderson (13/8 to be England’s leading wicket-taker) and Graeme Swann (3/1), they can boast two genuinely world-class bowlers.

But all this whitewash talk has died down now – you can get 12/1 with Coral if you still believe it – and instead there are even mumblings (admittedly, mainly from Aussies) that the tourists might be about to spring a major surprise.

Written by Jon Freeman