Prior to the start of The Ashes series back in 2013-14, all the talks were about how big a challenge England were for Australia and how history was to be made by the Englishmen by retaining The Ashes yet again. By the end of the first day's play in the first test at The Gabba, it was quite clear as to why had England been dubbed the favourites with Australia being 273/8 on a good batting pitch. A day later, Mitchell Johnson happened, and England were blown away. Johnson continued to torment England thereafter and by the time The Ashes of 2013-14 ended, England knew what was it like to be hammered.
A lot has happened and even changed since that whitewash. Late Richie Benaud would no longer personify The Ashes, Kevin Pietersen won't be tormenting Australia, Graeme Swann's Ashes Diaries won't be in sight, Jonathan Trott would no longer keep hitting the Australian bowlers through the on side, Matt Prior won't hit a quickfire half-century to guide England past 350, Ryan Harris won't scare England anymore, Tim Bresnan won't record figures of 2/70 and score 35, the Mitchell Johnson may not be sung, and as it seems, an Ashes series won't be totally one-sided.
Since 2005, The Ashes haven't exactly produced what has been expected. Australia beat England 5-0 in 2006-07, England snatched the Urn away in 2009 winning the series 2-1 (it wasn't that close) and kept it with them (3-1 in 2010-11 and 3-0 in 2013) until Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann plotted a sabotage and smacked Alastair Cook's England 5-0. Apparently, the Ashes series of 2015 has all the arsenal required for it to be a repeat of 2005. We have equally capable squads, redheads on either side, and more importantly, some of the world's best on show and an interesting build-up as well.
England's fortunes have taken a sharp turn yet again (they did back in 2013-14 too), this time for their own good. As New Zealand arrived in England, the mood in the nation was obviously tense, negativity all around, and there being more questions than answers. However, once England began the summer, riddles got solved, and the country rediscovered its love for the game to the extent that for the first time since the days of Andrew Flintoff, an English bowler (Ben Stokes) had the crowd behind him as he charged in.
By forcing England to play attacking Cricket, Brendon McCullum's NZ did the hosts a favour, and hence we have a totally transformed England team that didn't have a cat in hell's chance of retaining The Ashes some months ago, but now seems ready to bring the urn back, largely due to the way the young guns Messrs Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Adam Lyth, Mark Wood, and Jos Buttler have gone about their job, plus the return to form for Alastair Cook, James Anderson and Stuart Broad to some sort.
It isn't all merry for England, though, as Ian Bell, Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali have all been troublesome in the past few matches. What adds to that is England's inability to close down games when they are in control and bowling way too short with the new ball on numerous occasions. Alastair Cook must remember that to beat Australia, you can't let the game slip away from within your hands and neither can you waste the new ball as that can prove way too costly.
Line-up: "Adil Rashid or Moeen Ali?" is the only question when it comes to choosing the XI for the first test. Probably it's going be Moeen Ali who gets to play because of the fact that he has a lot more offer with the bat than Adil Rashid does. Also, Cardiff is not expected to be a spinning track anyway which just about makes it easier to pick Ali.
Probable XI: Alastair Cook (C), Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Joe Root (VC), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (WK), Moeen Ali, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson.
Every single member of Australia's touring party is well aware of the fact that no Australian team has been able to lift that little urn in England since 14 years, something that keeps biting them, Michael Clarke in particular who is yet to win a test series in England, and so the will to do well would be strong as ever, especially when you consider that 2015 is the last time Pup would tour England, and the same goes for Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin.
Even an idiot knows that the current crop of Australian players is the best they have had since 2005 coming to England. They have depth in the squad, some exceedingly good players, and the right mindset to win a series in any kind of condition, and that mindset gives Australia the slight edge over their rivals who might be a bit contrasting in this respect. But, as is always the case, no team is perfect and there do exist some weak points, even when the team in question is a world champion.
To start with, two of Australia's run machines - Steven Smith and David Warner - have such techniques, as raise questions if they can succeed in England against the swinging Duke. Again, Chris Rogers, Brad Haddin, Shane Watson and Michael Clarke haven't had the best of times with the bat either. Looking at the other side of the team, Ryan Harris - their best bowler for English conditions - has retired at the worst possible time. They still have the two Mitchells, Josh Hazlewood Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon as their prime weapons but then, one of those Mitchells isn't exactly suited to England while the other two weapons (Siddle and Lyon) haven't been anyway near their best. This isn't to suggest that Australia will struggle because every single time they take the field, they have found their hero (playing a dangerous game), and then, an Ashes series does always bring the best out of the Aussies, doesn't it?
Line-up: Ryan Harris' retirement means Peter Siddle and Shane Watson could well find themselves in the playing XI largely due to their ability to bowl tight and longer spells. Nathan Lyon may be in too, despite his struggles.
Probable XI: Chris Rogers, David Warner, Steven Smith, Shane Watson, Michael Clarke (C), Adam Voges, Brad Haddin (WK), Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood.
"We're happy because we're in control of moisture levels and the density and profile of the soil," Keith Exton (chief curator) said. "Dry conditions take the guess work out so we're very much in control which is all that a groundsman can wish for.
"This track had two T20 games on it last year and the ball went through well. It will start off as a classic Test pitch but if we have a lot of dry heat then the characteristics could change as the game progresses. We would need to have extremely high temperatures for it to become a spinning pitch, which is very unlikely, but once the toss takes place, everything is out of our hands."
"We hope this one will have a little more pace but we hope that we see an equally good game of Cricket," he said. "It's natural to be nervous and excited at the same time but watch me after three overs - I'll either be beaming with delight or hiding. It's the pinnacle of any groundsman's career to produce a Test Match pitch and if the game is as finely balanced as the one we hosted here in 2009, I'll be very happy."
Exton's words made it quite clear that we won't be seeing a slow surface and the one only good enough for a boring draw. As suggested, Cardiff could offer pace, sideways movement for the fast bowlers, as well as being good to bat on, which points towards a riveting start to The Ashes'15.