By Matthew Sherry
Graham Thorpe believes England’s batsmen will need to fire on all cylinders again in Australia if Alastair Cook’s men are to manage a fourth successive Ashes triumph.
The buzz phrase four years ago was ‘daddy hundreds’ and Cook led the way, hitting 235 not out, 148 and 189 when racking up a stunning 766 runs at an average above 127.
Yet he was not the only man to perform, with Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Matt Prior and Andrew Strauss all prospering.
That Trott, Pietersen, Bell and Prior will all feature in this series bodes well, even if Australia’s attack is stronger than last time out.
He told ecb.co.uk: “I think the key will be which side bats better; if England bat anything like they did last time down there, they have a very good chance.
“And we do have bowlers that have bowled well in Australia so you feel if the batters put runs on the board that the attack has wickets in it.”
Joining those players with positive memories of these shores will likely be Michael Carberry and Joe Root, a duo whose games also seem perfect for bouncy tracks.
They will need to be, too, as Cook et al aim to get back to putting mammoth totals on the board having struggled to do so in a 3-0 triumph when the teams locked horns this summer.
“Michael Carberry, from what we saw in the one-day series, handles quicker bowling well and has a strong back-foot game,” added Thorpe.
“In Australia, you do not have to be a big front-foot player. It is good to have seen Root get some runs before the series.
“I think most of the players have a good understanding of the surfaces, which is vital.”
For Root, his challenge is now to transfer himself back into the mindset of a middle-order batsman.
Having opened during the reverse series, he is set to feature further down the line-up, much like at the start of his Test career.
Thorpe does not believe that will be a problem, saying: “The one thing about him is that he has an open mind and has batted in different positions.
“He has opened the batting for Yorkshire, which is very good because having up-and-coming players batting in the top three for their counties is good.
“Him having opened the batting has meant he has had to work on his technique against the moving ball.
“But I feel he can be quite flexible. He could end up higher up the order in maybe a few more years. But, luckily, he is one of those players that is quite flexible.”
Much like his ‘new’ position, the opposition will also be familiar to Root and England given the close proximity of the previous meeting.
And Thorpe believes the unique challenge of back-to-back series, creating 10 meetings on the spin, will add an interesting ingredient.
“The biggest thing is the mental side of it,” said Thorpe. “To play 10 Tests against each other is quite mentally challenging.
“It will be interesting to see if any bowlers can open up scars from the summer. I am sure lots feel like they got on top of a batsman and likewise, the batsman might think he has the better of a bowler.
“It will be fascinating because, mentally, getting one up on individual battles could be crucial.”
As a result, Thorpe feels the opener in Brisbane, which begins on Thursday, will be crucial.
“It is important,” he admitted. “It is key to get into the Test series, score some runs and put any sort of mental frailties that may have worked their way in during the last series to one side. You can get one-up early on.”
One man for whom the occasion will be extra special is Kevin Pietersen, who earned his England Test debut at the expense of Thorpe against Australia in 2005.
His appearance at the Gabba will be Pietersen’s 100th in five-day cricket, meaning he will join the man he edged out in a small club of England greats.
Reflecting on the flamboyant batsman, Thorpe said: “He is up there (among the England greats).
“He has an exceptional talent and we have continued to see a player who is capable of putting in fantastic, winning performances.
“Anybody who plays 100 Tests for England, the longevity of that, physically and mentally, is impressive, being able to keep your hunger amid expectation.
“There is no real surprise he has been able to do that. He has a huge amount of self-belief which has made him a match-winner for England.
“Hopefully he stays fit because, if he performs well through this series, it would take a brave man to bet against England.”