So here we go again. The sun has hardly set on England’s home Ashes victory before a new series gets underway in Brisbane. Malcolm Boughen asks if you can have too much of a good thing.
No time even for the traditional end-of-year accolades of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards – England’s credentials as potential team of the year will be questioned all over again, with the first three test matches being crammed in before Christmas and another one before new year.
The unseemly haste is all to do with moving cricket’s great grudge match further away from the World Cup.
The Ashes series down under traditionally follows 18 months after the home series. But under the four-yearly world cricket cycle, that would have meant Australia having to host the Ashes and the World Cup back-to-back in 2014-15.
Instead, the Ashes is brought forward to this winter, the World Cup will be next winter, and the Aussies will be back in England for yet another early Ashes series in 2015 . You can’t have too much of a good thing – or can you?
Truth be told, even though England won the home series 3-0, it was not a vintage performance last summer.
Early predictions of a 5-0 whitewash were soon put to bed as England were skittled for just 215 in the first innings of the very first test, at Trent Bridge.
They had Ian Bell and Stuart Broad to thank for turning round the fourth test before a controversial bad light decision meant an exciting final test ended in a draw.
England’s players admit that they failed to achieve the levels of which they’re capable last summer – and they’ll have to do better if they’re to come out on top of an Australian side with home advantage and a determination to do better.
Shane Warne, Australia’s former spin bowling talisman, has been doing his bit to up the ante before hostilities get underway, and a hostile crowd at the Gabba is sure to give the tourists a good going over.
So what’s changed in the few brief weeks since the summer? Well, having appeared to settle on a successful opening partnership in captain Alastair Cook and young Joe Root, England have already abandoned it after Hampshire’s Michael Carberry scored impressive runs in the warm-up games.
At 33, he looks set to be recalled for only his second test appearance after an experimental outing in Bangladesh almost four years ago led nowhere.
The rest of the batting picks itself, with Root expected to come in at number six to strengthen the middle order.
Matt Prior is still struggling to overcome a calf injury and could be replaced behind the stumps by Jonny Bairstow – a useful batsman himself, but only a stand-in wicket-keeper.
And it looks like Chris Tremlett will get the nod as England’s third seamer, with Tim Bresnan unable to return before the second test at best.
Australia look a little stronger on paper than they were in England, with George Bailey set to be given his test debut at the age of 31 after batting well on one-dayers and Mitchell Johnson apparently eager to get stuck into the England top order and ruffle a few feathers.
The talk ahead of the game has been all about Kevin Pietersen’s 100th test appearance, and England’s leading run-scorer across all formats of the game is the sort of batsman who could take the series away from the Australians before they get going – or hand them his wicket before he gets going.
The Australians believe they can get under the skin of Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, who had a disappointing time in the summer. But they know they’ll need to find a way of dislodging Ian Bell if he shows anything like the form he displayed over here.
Certainly, England’s bowlers will not be helped by the conditions in the way they were last summer, and it could be a long, hard winter for spinner Graeme Swann.
Australia have won seven and drawn three of their last ten tests at Brisbane, while England do not have a great record there – or, come to that matter, at either Adeliade or Perth, where the second and third tests are to be played.
So Australia will be looking to make a good start at the Gabba and throw England on to the back foot. England, equally, will be wanting their batsmen to lay down a marker for the winter ahead.
After toying with scrapping – or at least curtailing – the decision review system following the summer’s controversies, the powers that be have decided to enhance it, adding the “real-time snickometer” to the third umpire’s test match armoury for the first time and increasing the number of reviews teams are allowed.
But let’s hope that neither technology nor the weather (there have been thunderstorms around Brisbane this week and the forecast is uncertain) will get in the way of another hard-fought Ashes series – and maybe England’s cricketers will get a look-in at the Sports Review of the Year after all.