County team-mates Alistair Cook and Ravi Bopara look to be running into top form for England at just the right time, with seven weeks to go until the start of the Ashes cricket action.
Opener Cook recorded his ninth Test century, with his highest Test score (160), in England’s innings and 83 run success over West Indies at the Riverside, putting him in fine fettle ahead of the imminent arrival of the Australians.
Meanwhile, Bopara has now cemented his place at number three after centuries in both Tests against the Windies and has helped to strengthen the already solid-looking England batting line-up.
Neither player featured in the epic 2005 Ashes series, but both will have a crucial role to play this time around against Ricky Ponting’s men, who will undoubtedly be concerned that the Essex pair are among the runs.
Cook, who scored a six-hour century (116) on the Ashes tour in 2006, and skipper Andrew Strauss have now established a solid foundation at the top of the order for England to build on, but the number three role has been a worry for the selectors ever since that amazing series four years ago.
Michael Vaughan now looks to have played his last Test for his country and despite his return to form at county level for Warwickshire, Ian Bell has even admitted that Bopara deserves a chance ahead of himself.
Should the top three prove a stubborn barrier, the Australian bowling attack will then face the prospect of trying to remove the intimidating figure of Kevin Pietersen, with the stubborn Paul Collingwood following, before the possibility of Andrew Flintoff cutting loose at six.
Temperament is always crucial in the Test match arena, but even more so against the Aussies and Cook and Bopara look to be perfectly set up in that capacity for a successful series this summer.
One thing’s for sure: 2009 Ashes betting is likely to be very interesting over the coming weeks.
Written by Warren Ashurst