Cricket Expert & Columnist
The bolder generation
In-form England must hit Australia hard from the beginning of the NatWest Series, says Michael Atherton.
Last Updated: 21/06/10 2:53pm
Nine months on from their 6-1 demolition at the hands of Australia, the backdrop could not be more different as England embark on another home NatWest Series.
There was a sense after last summer's successful Ashes campaign that the players had achieved their goals and that the following one-day series was a step too far - and, to be frank, the stark score-line reflects as much.
Now England are again on a high following their ICC World Twenty20 triumph, but this time their focus is forward, to the defence of that urn Down Under this winter and the next 50-over World Cup in 2011.
Beating Australia this summer will allow England to keep their momentum going and it would also reinforce the idea that Australia are far from the dominant force they once were.
Some of the current squad can now draw on as many winning as losing experiences against Australia, which is a far cry from those who played a decade earlier!
If the Ashes holders and World Twenty20 champions can also overcome Australia in 50-over cricket that will indeed be a glowing tribute to Andy Flower's influence and methods.
To do so, England must play with the same aggressive and dynamic attitude they adopted in the Caribbean in May.
It's a challenge they - and spectators - should relish given we've seen precious little competitive international cricket so far this summer.
Of course, it is highly unusual to witness a one-day series against Australia without accompanying Test matches and it's not something I'd like to see too much of in the future.
There is a danger that if you over-promote England against Australia that the matches lose their sense of 'specialness' - something Jimmy Anderson alluded to when he said quite openly, that he'd prefer to play for Lancashire in the Friends Provident t20.
Still, with Andrew Strauss and Ricky Ponting leading their respective sides, there is a genuine sense of a battle rejoined.
Both players come back by right; Ponting's presence eases the pressure on Michael Clarke, whose leadership in the World Twenty20 was undermined by his form with the bat.
Strauss has more questions to answer given England's success in his absence and the change of strategy at the top of the order.
He will be under pressure to score heavily and I happen to think he will; there's a good chance he'll outscore Craig Kieswetter because his game is well-suited to English conditions.
Whether he has the right type of game to be as successful in 50-over cricket on the sub-continent, where it's absolutely imperative that the openers take advantage of the opening overs, remains to be seen.
Come the World Cup, England will need openers who can hit down the ground and through the ball on fairly slow pitches which is generally not Strauss' strength but he does recognise the need to both expand and improve his game in 50-over cricket and I'm confident he will.
The first one-dayer will take place at the Rose Bowl where the pitches - save last week's shocker in the Friends Provident t20 match between Hampshire and Somerset - have been pretty flat.
As a rule I wouldn't expect England to play two spinners in a day-night game given that the ball has a tendency to nip around to a greater extent under lights, but if the weather is good the home side may consider playing Michael Yardy as well as Graeme Swann.
Whether Anderson comes back into the attack alongside Stuart Broad - players who have both spoken of their frustration at being left out of the side in recent weeks - depends largely on the fitness of Ryan Sidebottom and Tim Bresnan.
While I agree in principle with the need to keep players fresh you've got to balance that against the need to keep them in form.
There is always a slight danger with someone like Broad, who has been left out to go through a strength and conditioning programme, that he comes back lacking rhythm which in turn could affect his confidence.
Some bowlers much prefer to get overs under their belt to rest - Andy Caddick, for example, was someone who needed to bowl all the time whereas that was less the case with Darren Gough.
I'm not quite sure which category Broad fits into but there is chance he could still be a little bit rusty come Tuesday. I understand that he didn't bowl particularly well in this weekend's victory over Scotland so it's clearly an area England have to manage carefully.
Meanwhile Australia's attack looks ordinary on paper without the likes of Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Brett Lee.
Shorn of some big names and quality, much will hinge on how their 'lesser lights' perform.
Doug Bollinger looked very ordinary when I've seen him in county cricket but the word is he's improved remarkably since then and who knows, someone like Josh Hazlewood may turn out to be a brilliant young player.
One thing that is certain is that Australia are short on match practice and having been part of a team that occasionally has gone abroad slightly underdone, I know things can come undone pretty quickly if a team that is in-form hits you hard early on.
That's where England must capitalise. They've got players throughout their top order capable of winning matches and they must demonstrate that potency from the start of the series.
If they do then last year's 6-1 rout will be well-and-truly put to bed.