Ashes phoney war will be a lot of fun

When the England team convened for the first batch of this summer’s ODIs, the first duty of Andrew Strauss was to introduce himself to Craig Kieswetter, his new wicketkeeper and his new opening partner.

They have never played together. Strauss was on holiday when Kieswetter began his meteoric rise through the ranks and he was on the county circuit when Kieswetter was winning the man of the match award in the final of the ICC World Twenty20 in Barbados. I doubt whether they have played against one another either.

We must presume that red carnations were not necessary and that they recognised one another when the team assembled at Loughborough this week – if only by a process of elimination.

It is important that they get along because at the moment this is the opening pair favoured by the selectors not just for the upcoming matches against Australia but, ideally, all the way through to the World Cup campaign next February.

They must establish whether they run with a nod, a wink or a foghorn yell. They must learn to trust one another.

How this pair bond will be the focal point at the start of the NatWest Series against the Aussies – partly because the England middle-order has never seemed more secure and unworthy of debate. It is the old firm of KP, Colly and Eoin Morgan.

But can Strauss be dynamic enough at the start of the innings to satisfy the ultra-positive approach favoured by England recently in ODI cricket? I think he can, although he must be aware that the pressure to score quickly against the new ball increases in the sub-continent since that is often the easiest time to bat and therefore it is the time to take the attack to the opposition.

There will be questions of Kieswetter as well. His technique will be examined more closely in the longer form of the game. Can he cope with international pace bowlers armed with a new ball? Can he survive long enough to give his attacking instincts free rein?

Again, I think he can, but I can also tell you he does not leave Somerset in prime form. Since returning from the Caribbean batting has been a struggle. And there is the small matter of having to keep wicket. However, in his career so far, Kieswetter has always found a way.

There are other less fundamental questions about what constitutes the best 50-over side. Do England select Luke Wright at six rather than a specialist batsman (Ian Bell)? If they do, Strauss will have countless bowling options but less insurance against an early-order collapse.

What of Michael Yardy as the second spinner? He was an inspired choice for the Twenty20 World Cup but the longer the game goes, the more limited is Yardy’s bowling. In 50-over cricket the prevention of boundaries, which Yardy does exceptionally, is not the sole criterion. Dot balls – and wickets – are also required.

Whoever makes the final eleven, the five matches against Australia should be one of the highlights of the summer for the press corps, even if these matches are going to be dwarfed by the football in South Africa.

Of course, the cricketing world will not be able to match the hyperbole that our footballing cousins are currently serving up. There will not be an anguished national debate about the timing of Andy Flower’s team announcement.

But the five ODIs will represent the early shots in the phoney war that inevitably precedes the Ashes contest next winter. And in a summer that promises little at international level this should be fun.

There will be much talk of “firing the first shots” and “gaining the psychological ascendancy”. And afterwards the losing captain will say that this series has no impact on the Ashes series whatsoever: a different game, a different country.

The winning captain will just reveal a beaming smile. After all, this is England against Australia.

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