Ashes head-to-heads

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This winter’s Ashes promises to be one of the most hotly contested in recent history.

Ricky Ponting’s side head into the series desperate to recapture the urn after England enjoyed success last year, while Andrew Strauss’ troops are aiming to win Down Under for the first time since 1986-87.

England have recently moved ahead of Australia in the International Cricket Council rankings and begin their assignment on the back six unbeaten series, of which they have won five. looks at the key battles that could decide the series:

Andrew Strauss

Ben Hilfenhaus

Andrew Strauss v Ben Hilfenhaus
As captain, Strauss will undoubtedly be targeted by Australia as they look to create a ripple effect through England’s line-up.

Like James Anderson for the tourists, Hilfenhaus will be tasked with taking early wickets while the Kookaburra ball is swinging. The seamer was a revelation in 2009 and, when free from injury, has gone from strength to strength ever since.

Strauss, meanwhile, continues to be England’s ‘Mr Consistent’ and will try and set the tone at the top of the order.

Jonathan Trott

Mitchell Johnson

Jonathan Trott v Mitchell Johnson
He may have slipped under the radar for much of the year, but Trott has been England’s most prolific batsman in 2010, scoring 880 runs heading into the Ashes.

That, along with his brilliant Ashes-winning 119 at the Oval last year, will undoubtedly have earned the respect of Australia.

But, with Ponting’s troops, respect generally ensures you a harder time and in Johnson they have a bowler who will look to ruffle Trott’s feathers. He will need to rise the occasion once more.

Kevin Pietersen

Xavier Doherty

Kevin Pietersen v Xavier Doherty
Getting on top of newcomer Doherty would leave Australia captain Ricky Ponting with an all-too-familiar headache - and hand the initiative to England.

Much will depend on Pietersen and, particularly, his ability to dominate if the tourists are to retain the urn. England’s talisman for many years, he endured the most unproductive spell of his international career heading into the series.

England fans will be hoping that cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Matt Prior

Brad Haddin

Matt Prior v Brad Haddin
They may not clash in the traditional sense, but the battle of the wicketkeepers will, as ever, be an interesting sub-plot.

Prior’s glovework has been sensational over the last 18 months, while he continues to be an ultra-consistent performer with the bat.

Haddin, meanwhile, returns to the ranks having missed Australia’s last four Tests with an elbow injury. He impressed during last year’s series, though, and will be desperate to better his English counterpart in both disciplines.

James Anderson

Shane Watson

James Anderson v Shane Watson
Much has been made of how Anderson will fare in Australia given his disappointing performance four years ago.

However, he is a different animal these days, best illustrated by his constant position in the top 10 of the Test bowling rankings, and will be confident of causing problems even if the ball is not swinging.

Watson has enjoyed breathtaking form since being promoted up the order - he averages 50.44 as an opener and England cannot allow him to get off to a flyer.

Stuart Broad

Ricky Ponting

Stuart Broad v Ricky Ponting
Ponting may be entering the twilight of his career, but there is no doubt his is the wicket England value most.

The skipper has set the tone for the last two series Down Under, scoring centuries in the opening two Tests - at Brisbane and Adelaide - on both occasions.

However, in Broad, England have a bowler who accounted for Ponting three times last summer. He will be hoping to get on top of him once again because if he gets going, England's task will be immeasurably harder.

Graeme Swann

Michael Clarke

Graeme Swann v Michael Clarke
Swann will surely be licking his lips at the prospect of bowling at a line-up which includes four left-handers in the top eight.

However, his biggest challenge will be containing the nimble-footed Clarke, who is undoubtedly the best player of spin in the Australia side.

The vice-captain’s brilliant technique allows him to dominate slow bowlers with little risk, but Swann has proved himself a master of his craft over the last two years and will relish the challenge.

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