2006-07 Ashes head-to-heads

npower Ashes Series 2009

Ricky Ponting v Andrew Flintoff

Ricky Ponting

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Ponting was universally judged to have been out-captained by Michael Vaughan last year, and the histrionics were loud enough in some quarters down under to question whether he should retain his job.

The reactions at the time were not entirely in keeping with what had actually happened - only when Ponting lost his temper at Trent Bridge did he betray any particular weakness, and his rearguard hundred in the drawn Test at Old Trafford was a supreme effort.

Suggestions that Vaughan was tactically superior had little basis in fact, but merely reflected the outcome of the series. Without home advantage - and against a team who have not lost a single Test since the Ashes - Flintoff will do well to prove Ponting's equal.

Matthew Hayden v Andrew Strauss

Andrew Strauss

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Hayden was another Aussie lynchpin whose ongoing role was questioned after the 2005 Ashes. He has done enough since to keep his place, although his evergreen opening partner Justin Langer has looked the more solid option.

In the absence of Marcus Trescothick, Strauss has become the senior man at the top of the order. However, the left-hander is more than capable of assuming the vitally important role and his record (two hundreds in five matches, averaging 39) against the Aussies suggests he will not be overawed.

Shane Warne v Monty Panesar

Shane Warne

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Panesar has made a hugely promising start to his international career and is potentially England's best slow left-armer since Derek Underwood. That is a tough benchmark to lay in front of the Northamptonshire spinner, who already faces an unenviable challenge - going head-to-head with cricket's greatest bowler Warne, as he seeks to consolidate the impression he has made in a handful of Tests so far.

It will, of course, be fairer to judge Panesar in isolation - and if he comes anywhere near matching Warne's influence on the series, England will surely be going pretty close to retaining the Ashes.

Taming Warne is one of England's biggest problems - especially at Sydney, where Panesar too could be a major attacking force and may even find himself bowling in tandem with his predecessor Ashley Giles.

Brett Lee v Steve Harmison

Brett Lee

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Two more match-winners, with the Australian fast bowler once again the likeliest lad.

When Harmison gets it right he can run through most batting line-ups in the world. But he is anything but reliable and has often revelled in helpful conditions rather than defying surfaces offering him less assistance. That was notably untrue in Pakistan last winter when he performed admirably, at Faisalabad in particular.

Harmison should find most Australian pitches offer him some of what he wants - but if he manages to match Lee he will be doing his bit and more. Lee's 20 wickets at more than 40 each in the 2005 Ashes were anything but flattering.

He was impressive and competitive throughout without perhaps reaping the rewards he deserved. Close to his pomp at just turned 30, he will have belief in his ability - as well as a score to settle - this winter, and could well turn out to be the star of the series.

Andrew Symonds v Andrew Flintoff

Andrew Flintoff

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Flintoff's inclusion here - as well as against Ponting in the captaincy stakes - illustrates the necessity for him to excel on many fronts...he could easily have been nominated in the fast-bowling department too, particularly because he and the injured Simon Jones were such a telling presence with the old ball in the 2005 Ashes.

Symonds did not feature then but had done enough already in the NatWest Series to prove his mercurial all-round talent to any English observers who somehow missed his previous exploits for Kent and Gloucestershire.

Australia have belatedly acknowledged Symonds' Test potential, and it will be no surprise if he plays a pivotal role in 2006/07.

Outside one-day cricket, his bowling is back-up - where Flintoff's is undeniably frontline if he is fit - but Symonds' middle-order batting is one more reason Australia will be so much harder to beat than they turned out to be in that series of a lifetime.

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