Abandon all hope ye English that enter here?

Andrew Flintoff might not be able to avoid talking to the Australian media, but he’s best advised to avoid reading the media. As his team flies into Sydney today, the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage takes on a traditionally gloomy (if you are English) tone.

Mark Waugh, never backward in coming forward with his opinion, thinks it’s going to be a 4-1 walkover.

I’m not sure if Flintoff is good at two-up but he needs to win four out of five tosses to give England hope.

Even allowing for some luck with the coin, I’m predicting a 4-1 victory for the Aussies. England might sneak a Test, with Adelaide the most likely venue for that.

They have a decent record there and Australia have not been so good recently. It’s a vital toss to win, with the wicket difficult to chase runs on or survive on during days four and five. With virtually no rain around Australia, the likelihood of a draw goes out the window.

England have brought a squad of 16, with plenty of question marks about many of them. Their form since winning the Ashes has been ordinary at best. They did a super job to draw the Test series in India, but performances against Sri Lanka and Pakistan were below par.

Waugh’s not being totally dismissive. He does have some nice things to say about the newer players.

England look a slightly weaker team on paper than last time, but fresh faces might give them hope. James Anderson and Sajid Mahmood look useful pace bowlers who can swing the ball. Anderson has had an interrupted career bowling a full length, giving him a chance. Mahmood is raw but talented and could be a trump card.

Panesar is worth the gamble for England. He offers more attacking options for Flintoff than Giles (who has never won them a Test match against Australia).

Other positives for England are the growing stature of Andrew Strauss, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood as batsmen. I’m not convinced they are real dangers against our quality bowlers, but they have racked up some Test runs since we last met.

Game-breakers Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen need to fire. Flintoff will have a big workload, and Pietersen can be expected to cop the short stuff. They won’t have an easy time but should produce entertaining battles in the middle order.

There’s no way Ricky Ponting and Australian coach John Buchanan will allow any complacency to sneak into the camp. After hammering England at Lord’s, Australia might have underestimated England’s ability to bounce back and paid the price.

Like all cricket followers, I’m looking forward to this series and although England beat us last year, Australia will start clear favourites. We’ll bounce back strongly on home soil with a full-strength line-up.

In the same publication, Peter Roebuck, that doughty Somerset batsman-cum multimedia guru, ponders on an England fading into the sunset.

Although England’s batting will be boosted by the return of Alistair Cook and Marcus Trescothick, the bowling was more or less at full strength in India. Matthew Hayden and company will have taken heart from Steve Harmison’s loss of control and the punishment dished out to Sajid Mahmood and James Anderson.

About the only encouraging sign for England’s vast following was the sight of Andrew Flintoff trundling down a few overs in Ahmedabad. Although not at full pace, he was able to maintain his unerring line. Still, it is not easy to recover rhythm after a long break and the Lancastrian might not be much of a threat at the Gabba. Flintoff has a huge heart but his fitness and form with the ball will be followed closely.

Nothing much can be said about Flintoff’s captaincy except that he spoke well at press conferences and did not let it affect his game. He seems to be a straightforward leader. The choice of captain must have been touch and go because both Strauss and Flintoff were capable candidates. In the absence of any compelling reason to demote him, the vice-captain deserved his chance. He is an impressive figure in the game.

Ashley Giles has also been bowling in the nets. Most likely his solidity will be preferred to Monty Panesar’s potency. He ought to have been recuperating at home. England cannot afford to think only about the Ashes. It is important to keep going forwards.

Certainly it will be different in Brisbane. It is another form of cricket played in another country and in front of a large and devoted group of supporters. Moreover, England will have a properly constructed team. Still, it is better to win than to lose.

Well, um, yeah. You can’t argue with that last bit.

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