England should have played Panesar
I say this without having seen much of Monty Panesar, and Ashley Giles was refreshingly positive in the first innings at the Gabba. It does seem England missed the last trick they had, especially given the woefully out of form Steve Harmison. The shock departure of Trescothick following the ill-fated rehabilitation attempts of Michael Vaughan and Simon Jones had set the tone for the Ashes well before a ball was bowled. With Matthew Hoggard not likely to have the same impact as he does in England, the one tricky customer for Ponting and co would have been Panesar. One thing you cannot accuse Ashley Giles of is having a great deal of variety. Giles played an underrated, though not stellar, role in the last Ashes and is an honest trier with both ball and bat, but that is just about what should be expected of him. I particularly admire his discipline in bowling to his field, an underestimated ability when it comes to Test cricket, something to be used to choke the flow of runs against in-form batsmen. When your top guns are firing, as Harmison, Jones and Flintoff did in 2005, Ashely Giles will do fine. But with someone like Panesar with the skills to attack batsmen at your disposal, this was a highly defensive move from the Fletcher led thinktank. The Zimbabwean has done wonders during his years in charge, let there be no doubt about that, but lately he has made questionable choices. Not that I'm joining the blame-Fletcher camp, and the current situation in Brisbane really has more to do with pathetic on field performances from England, well below par given the potential the squad has. And of course, the ultra-motivated Aussies who no doubt think this will cement their legacy as the greatest Aussie side ever. They have fiercely proud and skilled competitors in Ponting, McGrath, Warne, Langer and Martyn. Quite a few of them have had to battle to establish themselves in the side and are superbly talented cricketers to boot. The emergence of Michael Hussey has provided the batting with the solidity that was lacking a year ago and new talents in the form of Phil Jaques, Stuart Clarke and Mitchell Johnson have emerged much to the relief of Australian fans who must have been worried about a lost generation and the supply line drying up. I'm still inclined to believe that Lara is the greatest contemporary batsman and that both Lara and Tendulkar are technically superior to the Australian captain, but Ponting has done his case absolutely no harm at all in the last few years. His last South African tour was a just an epic performance as a captain with a point to prove. As a strategist or a man manager Ponting may not be in the Taylor-Waugh-Imran class, but he can the lift side throught the sheer weight of runs. As a side note, he also has the best pull shot that I have had the pleasure of watching. Ponting's opposite number also has the makings of an inspirational leader, but Flintoff is perhaps not as mature a cricketer as Ponting was when the latter took over. Until the last Ashes, Flintoff was the quintessential 'lad' who enjoyed a pint and the banter. Life has never been the same after that victory parade in London, I suspect :) But cricketers like Flintoff and Pietersen are ones who are likely to produce their best by playing the game with a certain degree of freedom. By the end of the tour, we'll know who in the England side has the stomach for battle and don't let pressures get to them.