England’s fans (and some sections of the media) seem to have suffered a bout of collective amnesia (or perhaps repression), with the last series (which, of course, Australia won 5-0) as infrequently referred to as an old copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica or an Atlas that still has Yugoslavia and the USSR on it, and with many non-experts apparently believing that the 2005 series was in fact the last time these two sides met.
Nevertheless, the events of four years ago are likely to foremost in the mind of Ricky Ponting, who will be desperate to restore his reputation and prove the doubters (such as a certain Mr. Thomson) wrong. If Mitchell Johnson can bowl at his best and the openers can cope with reverse swing more competently than Langer and Hayden managed four years ago, then the tourists can more than justify their status as favourites.
The home side, meanwhile, are – as ever – reliant on Pietersen and Flintoff. The emergence of Graeme Swann as a genuine spin threat who can hold a bat (and a catch) adds some balance to the lower order, but there is a lot of pressure on Broad, Anderson and the fifth bowler (a position that my be filled by a number of players throughout the series) to take wickets, something which Flintoff hasn’t done much of in recent years. The top order needs to display more solidity than it did over the winter, and while Ravi Bopara may have the element of surprise (although not to the extent that KP did four years ago), he will struggle to sustain his brilliant early-season form against a bowling attach which – for all its much-heralded weaknesses – will be far more motivated than the Windies were (and, of course, won’t suffer from as many misfields).
Although it pains me to admit it, it’s tough to see past an Aussie series win.