Coming into Friday’s game between Australia and England, for what surely must be the final time this summer, the contrast between the two squads could hardly be greater.
The Australians are happy, confident, and feel that everything is on track going towards the winning of the series and into the World Cup. England look patently miserable, tired, out of ideas, and with no appetitite for the battle. The contrast between this side and the one that won the Ashes eighteen months ago is so stark it can barely be believed.
England fans have every right to be furious with their team and especially their administration for allowing such a state of affairs.
They go into Friday’s game against Australia without Michael Vaughan, and also without James Anderson, who is flying home after a back strain. All of England’s bowling hopes will therefore rest with Flintoff and the redoubtable Monty Panesar, who looks like he’s the only Englishman with both the ability and the desire to play at this level at this point in time.
Meanwhile, Australia are feeling confident enough to introduce Shaun Tait to their one-day side, who is replacing Brett Lee. It is very much a ‘like for like’ substitution. Tait is perhaps even faster then Lee these days, and similarly erratic in performance. England faced him in the last two Tests of 2005, and also in the first game of this tour where he played in the Prime Minister’s XI. He did so well in that game that there was speculation that he would be the third seamer in the Test lineup, but Stuart Clark got the nod, and did so well that Tait’s hopes subsided.
Ricky Ponting has a slight hip strain and is in some doubt, but if he fails a fitness test, he’ll be replaced by the in-form Brad Hodge, who scored 115 off 100 balls for Victoria against South Australa on Wednesday.
A quick check of the bookies has some amazing prices. Not many betting houses are offering better then 10 to 1 on for Australia, whereas you can get odds of 13/2 on England. Remarkable, in a two horse race.