When the battleground is huge and the pressure is immense, only the best survive the formidable heat of the cauldron. As the most awaited Test series of the year kicks off this Wednesday at Trent Bridge, the buzz has already started to intensify.
With the team announcements and warm-ups done, all eyes will be on new opening pairs of both sides. In swing friendly conditions, a lot of onus will be on openers to provide a good start at the top. The challenge will be to see off the new venomous swinging ball in English conditions; conditions that can make or break careers for openers.
Australian selectors have handed seasoned Chris Rogers a comeback after five long years. The decision to rope in Rogers in favour of Ed Cowan or David Warner seems a logical one. Both Cowan and Warner have not impressed much at the top of the order in the past 18 months. Their failure has had an impact on the Test results of the Kangaroos. However, they still are in contention for a middle order spot in that line-up.
Chris Rogers, on the other hand, has had a terrific season with Middlesex this year. Besides those two hundreds in the bag, his vast experience of playing in English conditions can turn out to be crucial to Australia’s chances. His 75 against Worcestershire was a calming influence that complemented Watson’s stroke play at the other end. Even Watson showered praise and acknowledged his trust in his new partner.
At 35, Rogers might not have many years left ahead of him, and his inclusion is more of a ‘horses for courses’ selection rather than a long term vision. His star partner, Watson, has been in hot form in warm-ups and he will look forward to make up for the run drought he has faced in Test cricket recently. With Clarke, Hughes, Haddin, Cowan and Hughes available for middle order selection, a good opening start from these two can really send shivers down the English spine.
The rival camp also will usher in a change at the top. After Strauss’s retirement, England is yet to find a right partner who adds value to their run-machine captain. In a move that stunned many, Joe Root has been promoted in favour of Nick Compton to take guard with the captain.
To his defence, Compton had a fairly good first class time but his scores of 16,15,1 and 7 against New Zealand at home had already done a lot of damage to his chances. Before that terrible series, Compton had hit back to back centuries in New Zealand but the poor return series at home has made the selectors lose faith in his ability to build solid partnerships at home grounds.
In Root, one can sense a lot of youthful promise. Root has been impressive from his debut against India, in which he made a patient 73 from 229 deliveries at Nagpur, on a testing pitch. His promotion to the top also means a longer stint for young Bairstow in the middle order.
Unlike Australia, England has a settled middle order in Trott, Bell, Pietersen and Prior. This can help take off some pressure from Root, who can vie for a void at the top of the order. His doggedness at the crease matches the qualifications of a traditional opener who values his wicket a lot. And the degree of this defiance will be tested when he faces the pressure of the Ashes.
When one talks of the Ashes, the stakes are always high; more people have eyes on the game; more passion is involved in the game. Extreme agony and ecstasy are evident everywhere, on and off the field. The media fuels the war of words.
But only in such adverse conditions, heroes are made. And when the umpires call the Test match open on 10th of July at Trent Bridge, these new faces will look to etch their names in the books of history.