English out to urn the ashes

LONDON - Glowing memories in England of the 2005 Ashes triumph in a series unanimously acclaimed as the greatest ever cannot obscure an unpalatable statistic for the nation's fans.

England's 2-1 win over Australia four years ago represents the only time they have beaten their oldest cricketing enemy in a series in the past 20 years, since Allan Border's 1989 side reclaimed the urn.

At a media day in the Sussex town of Hove the current Australia side, who open their Ashes defence in Cardiff on July 8, expressed wry amusement at the constant references to 2005. There was also, they reminded the British press, the little matter of a 5-0 whitewash in the return series in the Australian summer of 2006-2007.

The template for a series of successful Australia sides has been essentially the same since Border and coach Bob Simpson brought their own work ethic to the 1989 side and returned to the basics that had put Australian cricket at the pinnacle in the first place.

Under Border and his successors, batsmen seek to dominate, the bowlers put attack before containment and the fielding is uniformly excellent.

Since 1985, Australia have also had just four captains plus Adam Gilchrist, who filled in briefly for the injured Ricky Ponting. England fielded four in the 1988 series against West Indies alone.

Still, there are good reasons for optimism among England supporters after the highly entertaining aperitif served up at the Twenty20 World Cup. Since Australia took such emphatic revenge for the 2005 upset in the last Ashes series, three great cricketers and two very good ones have retired.

Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist now ply their talents in the Indian Premier League.

The left-handers Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, who open the batting in contrasting styles, have also quit.

Ponting, who inherited one of the great Australian sides from Steve Waugh, has been rebuilding his team for the past 18 months.

And there is no doubt that retaining the Ashes with a new side would give him immense satisfaction. - Reuters