Ever think back to 2006-7? Yep, me neither. But there are some remarkable parallels between the Ashes squads then and the Ashes squads now – an almost uncanny example of the cyclical nature of sport – perhaps of life. Of course, these comparisons need a bit of licence on my part, but bear with me – we may even get a parallel result out of it! (Though, before The Fates exact revenge and beat me about the head with a Wisden Almanac, I’m going for 1-2. not 0-5).
Alastair Cook is… Justin Langer – The gritty left-handers who favour the cut and the pull and seldom look at their best driving down the ground, went into these series with similar records. In 100 Tests, Langer had made 7393 runs at 45 with 22 tons; in 97 Tests, Cook has 7801 runs at 47 with 25 tons. Both seek to bat long and allow the strokemakers to play around them.
Michael Carberry is… Andrew Symonds – Two big lads – very big lads – who add electric fielding to an intimidating presence at the crease. Both might not be quite classy enough to hold their own in such exalted company.
KP is… Ricky Ponting – The big wicket, the man to seize the innings and make things happen, the man as likely to be run out as bowled out. Punter was already an all-time great at the start of the 2006-7 series with almost 8800 runs at 58 from 105 Tests; KP can’t match that from his 99 Tests, but nearly 7900 runs at 48 makes him a great player (and a player of all-time great innings). While either man is at the crease, no matter the match situation, his team have a chance.
Ian Bell is… Damien Martyn – In touch, lovely to watch, classical in strokeplay and beautifully balanced forward and back. Martyn went into the series (which was to be his last) with an average of 47 from his 65 Tests; Bell averages 49 from his 93. Both men have paid heavily for foolish and unfortunate dismissals with public and selectors but, with rather more competition for his place during difficult spells than Belly boy, Martyn can count himself unlucky not to match the Englishman’s number of caps.
Joe Root is… Michael Hussey – Seven years ago, Mike Hussey had played one fewer Test than Joe Root has today – there, that surprised you! Both went into the series with a good start to their Test careers behind them – excellent in Mr Cricket’s case – but both still had something to prove. At the end of the series, Hussey had nailed down a Test place for (as it turned out) as long as he wanted it. That prize is there for the young Yorkie.
Chris Rogers is… Paul Collingwood – Colly had only 15 Tests as he faced up in Brisbane, just nine more than Rogers, but the parallel is more in batting styles and “decent blokeness” than stats. Surely only one player on either side could do what Colly did in Adelaide (206 in eight and a half hours and 22* in well over three hours) and that’s the Aussie opener. Both men make the most of their limited talents and both are probably a bit better at this batting lark than they are given credit for. And the people who reveled in a bloodyminded 70-odd from Colly in his Brigadier Block mode, are the same people who revel in the same kind of knock from Rogers – regardless of which team they support. If England secure the series with a match to play, I’d trade a KP ton in two sessions for a Rogers ton in four at the SCG.
David Warner is… KP – Warner has 1401 runs at 37 from his 22 Tests and KP had 1597 runs at 48 from his 18. But there is less to split them in terms of strike rate – Warner goes at 69 and KP was going at 72. Both are unorthodox and confident to the point of cockiness, an attribute KP has reined in a little over the years – a path Warner shows signs of following. The two entertainers can play – but both attract plenty of brickbats to go with the plaudits.
Michael Clarke is… Andrew Flintoff – These men’s bodies are at their limit in meeting the burden placed upon them. Like Flintoff, Clarke’s off-field interests have excited comment and, again like Flintoff, it’s clear that he divides the dressing room as much as unites it. Though both men are media-savvy, the voracious appetite of the press for a story exacts a toll that requires at least as much mentally, as playing five Tests in seven weeks does physically.
Steven Smith is… Ian Bell – Two golden boys, picked early – probably too early – and required to learn the game in its toughest environment. Bell, 24, went into the Brisbane Test in 2006 with 18 caps and the feeling that his numbers were inflated by easy runs against Bangladesh; Smith, 24, goes into the Brisbane Test with the feeling that his numbers are deflated by some very tough assignments. Shot selection, a sense of belonging and a willingness to stand tall in the cauldron of Ashes cricket proved a little too much for Bell seven years ago (but it was not the disaster those who recall The Sherminator jibe and little else may imagine). Smith has the chance to define himself as a Test batsman; and the possibility not to – it’s a bloody hard game after all!
Matt Prior is… Adam Gilchrist – Team men who keep well and bat wonderfully well, with both eyes on the scoreboard and none on the record books. It was said of Gilchrist that his approach to the wicket – with half the side dismissed – marked the Australian innings starting again, something guaranteed to slump the shoulders of the most willing of bowlers. So too with Prior – if fitness and the recent dip in form permits.
Brad Haddin is… Geraint Jones – Jones was coming to the end of his career, errors with the gloves compounding a drop off in his runs output. Now 36, Haddin won’t have many more Tests left, but will hope to avoid playing his last Test midway through the series (as Jones did). Both are also in the team for slightly curious reasons: Jones slotted in at 7 partly because he batted so effectively in support of his captain; Haddin is in as much to act as Sergeant-Major on and off the field. Though the arrival of George Bailey, every inch a senior pro, may allow Haddin to step back into the domestic game a little sooner than anticipated, even just a few months ago.
James Anderson is… Glenn McGrath – Two attack leaders, two craftsmen, the paceman with most wickets for Australia and the paceman who will have the most for England. Australia will look to keep Anderson out, especially with the new ball, and focus on the other bowlers for run scoring opportunities. England always tried that against McGrath – and look how far that got them!
Stuart Broad is… Stuart Clark – Clark hit the deck hard at a handy pace and seldom gave the batsmen anything full enough or short enough to attack. For a while, he was an Australian Curtly Ambrose. At his best – something that turns up with increasing frequency – Broad has all those attributes too.
Steven Finn is… Brett Lee – Two wicket-taking, genuinely quick bowlers, who leak runs at about 3.5 per over but deliver a wicket every eight overs or so. Given the other bowlers with whom Lee operated in a four man attack, that was a good deal – for Finn, the deal is, as ever, tempting, but not quite convincing.
Graeme Swann is… Shane Warne – Of course, nobody is Shane Warne (for which we must often thank Providence) but, as with Jimmy and McGrath above, Swanny will soon match Warne in being his country’s leading spinner in terms of Test wickets. Both men take as many scalps with their personalities as with their command of spin, flight and pace through the air and, wouldn’t you know it post-DRS, there’s just one delivery in 100 between their strike rates! Swanny will also hear his captain ask him to do what Warne so often managed – block an end and take a wicket while you’re at it. All-time greats can do that, almost at will (outside India!); greats (and Swanny is a great) can do it just often enough.
Mitchell Johnson is… Stephen Harmison – Of course he is! A previous World Cricketer of the Year (2009) and a previous world ranked Number One bowler (ahead of Muralitharan, Pollock, McGrath, Warne and Kumble!) Harmison famously got the 2006-7 Ashes underway by presenting the ball to his captain – at second slip. Johnson won’t do that, will he?
Ryan Harris is… Andrew Flintoff – Like Flintoff in 2006, Harris drags his breaking body to the crease and gets the ball down to the other end with some rapidity. It was a series too far for Flintoff as a bowler and nobody would be surprised if this proved the same for Harris, but, if he is still able to be anywhere near his best, England will have a lot to handle. But we said the same of Flintoff and Australia seven long years ago.
Peter Siddle is… Matthew Hoggard – Two honest toilers who will work all day without complaint. Hoggy took the new ball at Brisbane with a Test average of 30 and strike rate of 55; when the Victorian Vegan gets his turn, he’ll have a Test average of 29 and a strike rate of 59. Both men share a disarming self-effacing style at the mic too. You get the feeling that the two country boys would get on rather well.
Nathan Lyon is… Monty Panesar – Convincing selectors that they are worth their place has dogged the two spinners throughout their careers, despite both men taking wickets at a highly respectable 33 or so. If Monty is the better bowler, Lyon is the better fielder and batsman. But their biggest problems are more or less the same – Lyon is no Warne and Monty is no Swanny. How could they be?
So there you have it. England 2013-14 = Australia 2006-7 and vice versa (well, mostly). It’s an easy game on paper ain’t it?