England came into the first Ashes Test at Nottingham as firm favourites to retain the urn. However, with a close 14-run win over Australia at Trent Bridge on Sunday, the hosts may not be as formidable in the 5-match contest as they were previously projected to be. One of the cricket pundits who flaunts this view is Australian legend Shane Warne.
The famed former leg-spinner feels Australia gained more out of the first Test as England nearly got out of jail in the narrow win on the weekend. "Before the series started, Australia would have felt worried about playing England. But less so now. After the first Test, the Australian players will now believe they can win this series. Australia did not play as well as they can in Nottingham, but very nearly won the match. Before a ball was bowled, some were arrogantly predicting that England would win the two Ashes series 10-0. Perhaps they are feeling a little concerned now," wrote Warne in his column in The Telegraph (Hyperlink).
Warne lists out few of the problems that the hosts are facing and says Australia have enough wherewithal to win the series. "The first Test has given us perspective. Although England remain the favorites, as I said before the series started, I believe Australia could win 2-1. The first Test exposed a lot of England's problems. It exposed some Australian issues too, but I think they gained more out of the match."
"England showed Alastair Cook's mindset in terms of what he thinks of his bowlers. He does not have full confidence in Steven Finn. Australia liked facing Finn. James Anderson bowled 13 overs straight on Sunday because he was the only bowler looking capable of taking a wicket. Anderson was superb. England look a little bit of a one-man show with the ball, not one of the other bowlers took a wicket, and they were bowling to tailenders on that last day" added Warne.
Capable of exploiting even the most unhelpful of conditions with his inspiring leg spin on his day, Warne feels Graeme Swann was not at his best. Swann registered match figures of 4 for 165. "Graeme Swann did not have any real impact on a fifth-day pitch, bowling to all those Aussie left-handers who we were told before the series he would knock over for fun. Swann though, will be better after his overs in the first test. A concern will be the amount of knee-high full-tosses he bowled and the little impact he had. I have said before, he is the best Test spinner in the world. But, I just wonder if he felt the weight of expectation as he knows England have prepared pitches especially for him to bowl on and lead the team to victory. He needs to put in a better performance," the celebrated Victorian said.
Warne, the first cricketer to reach 700 Test wickets, says he feels England may run the risk of underplaying the skills of Stuart Broad and Steven Finn. "The moral of Sunday for England is if they keep preparing these slow, dry pitches, they are negating Finn and Broad and putting all hope on reverse swing and Swann," he says.
James Anderson, who picked up double five-wicket hauls at Trent Bridge, remains the biggest threat to Australia and England need to manage him well, feels Warne. "Anderson is going to have to get through a lot of overs because he looks the only fast-bowling threat that can take wickets on these surfaces. Cook showed that by bowling him for 13 overs in a row. England have to wrap him in cotton wool and be very careful of his workload. If they lose him, they lose the series. To bowl 13 overs in a spell with another Test starting a few days later was a big gamble and makes the toss on Thursday absolutely crucial. If Anderson has to go in the field for a day and a half again the little niggles, aches and pains will really hurt."
The 43-year-old feels the inexperience of Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow playing in an Ashes series can be targeted by the visitors. "Joe Root is a good young player but has not experienced the intensity of Ashes Test cricket. It was a big call for him to open the batting and he will be feeling the heat a bit more after making 30 and five in the first Test. Jonny Bairstow has some concerns. He has hardly played cricket recently and is looking for touch in an Ashes series. Australia can expose him."
"Cook, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell are strong. Bell made a fantastic hundred, probably the best of his England career. But he might think he has done enough now and get lazy. He has done that before. If Australia had made those final few runs these would all be issues for England. A lot was covered up because England won, but they underestimated the Australian team, so did many, " he added.
While praising the fighting spirit showed by the Australians, Warne was tongue-in-cheek in his critique of the much-debated Umpire Decision Review System.
"There were enough encouraging signs for Australia. Guys like Chris Rogers and Brad Haddin added steel. Steve Smith has improved out of sight, and Phil Hughes played really well under pressure in the first innings. He was very unlucky to be given out in the second innings. I will argue until I am black and blue in the face that the ball pitched outside leg stump, there is just no way it pitched in line. But, let us not talk about that wonderful, 100 per cent accurate DRS."
Warne says it is only matter of time that the best Australian batsmen in Michael Clarke and Shane Watson will be back amongst the big runs. "Clarke only managed 23 runs in the game and got one of the best balls of his career in the first innings. That will not happen again. Watson is about to explode with a huge score, he is in too good a form. There is potential for so much more from the Australian side," he said.
England might have won the Test but the one player who stole the hearts was Australia's debutant southpaw Ashton Agar. Warne feels Agar's unfancied 98 in the first innings lifted the visitor's morale in the Test match. "Ashton Agar's performance showed the mood has changed in the dressing room. Three months ago, 117 for nine in the first innings would have cost Australia a 100-run lead. Agar handled the situation and pressure brilliantly. It showed a happy team environment where young players feel free to express themselves."