OK, here goes, drum roll........
I'm predicting a tense-ish 2-1 victory for Australia.
Although when you think about it, this is just a spot away from the most blatant fence-sitting you're likely to see - within that 2-1 I'm declaring that two tests will be draws, and I'm allowing for England to win one as well. It also suggests that I think the better side will win, but that it might be closer than it really should be. If I was going to make a remark about what I think really SHOULD happen, I would say 3-1 Australia, but somehow I think we're going to make hard work of this one. Essentially I think that lightning might come CLOSE to striking twice, but that it won't in the end and Australia will win - and we'll be watching a good series and no question.
So. Here are the reasons why I'm thinking this way.
Perhaps surprisingly enough to some, this isn't coloured by the 2005 result at all. There is no superstition in this. It's purely based on my feeling about the sides and how they'll play.
At the end of the day, Australia will win because they're just plain better. In (nearly) every department they are the better team, but what particularly sets them apart is their ability to play an enterprising brand of cricket when it's required, particularly with the bat. I have lost count of the times I have seen England grind away, bat too slowly, and let the opposition back into the game when they should have shut them out long ago. This always frustrates me immensely, even as someone who would rather see England lose than not, because their cautious, play to the percentages attitude often reveals such a poor mental approach to the game which I just have no time at all for. As a spectator I want to see domination, humiliation, strength and assertion of will, flair, arrogance, guts, determination, competitiveness beyond all measure and above all, contest - conservatism just doesn't belong in any of that, and England are too often too conservative a side. I've never worked out quite why that is, because in England you MUST make the most of good conditions when you have them, because things can change so quickly. A comfortable session at 2.5 runs an over just isn't good enough when the clouds set in and the ball starts nipping about, and I've seen the English do exactly that so often.
That to me is the story of the batting line-ups. The only player in the English side that ever shows any inclination to take the bowling by the scruff of the neck is Kevin "Wanker" Pieterson, and even he doesn't do it much anymore these days. A top 6 that includes Strauss, Cook, Bell and Collingwood just isn't going to frighten anyone at all - there's just not enough fire-power there. Don't get me wrong, they're good players and are all capable of scoring hard runs when needed, but there is too much emphasis on accumulation than showing the bastards who's boss. We'll see if Bell plays of course, and I haven't included any mention of Bopara because as far as I'm concerned he's still an unknown quantity - but either way, they just do not stack up against Katich, Hughes, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey and North for sheer willingness to get on with it, and I am convinced that it is that factor that makes Australia successful more often than not. You could argue that Prior and Flintoff make up for some of that, but Flintoff hasn't scored any meaningful runs for a LONG time, and Australia have Haddin and Johnson to cancel them out anyway.
As far as the new ball is concerned I think it's even more clear that Australia are the better side. With or without the injured Lee, Johnson, Siddle and Clark are a better unit than Flintoff, Anderson and Onions/Broad. I'm sure England's seamers will take wickets, though - Anderson has been impressive for the past year or so and Flintoff is always good (when fit) but I think that whichever of Onions or Broad plays will get found out. I can't see a Kasprowicz/Gillespie situation occuring to Australia the same way it did in 2005, and yet I can definitely see Flintoff getting injured and/or not playing fully fit, and someone else going for a LOT of runs.
Spin is naturally the area of concern for Australia however, and definitely England's trump card. I don't know what's happening to Australia's batting lately, but for some reason we seemed to have developed a real weakness to frankly bloody ordinary fingerspinners like Graham Swann. Yes you can argue that he's had a great start to his Test career and that it's probably not down to luck, but jeez - aren't there more talented spinners around than him? And yet his is just the sort of bowling for which we seem to have problems with - rancid bloody straight-up-and-down fingerspin. And it's just HORRIBLE to watch - I've never had a problem when Australians get out to the likes of a Harbajahn or a Kumble - even Vettori on his day - but seeing us get out to the likes of Ashley Giles or Paul Harris has given me cricketing nightmares, and I have a nasty feeling that Harris is going to hurt us in this series. He is the reason I've given England a win in my predictions, and I think if I'm wrong and England are to win, he will have a lot to say about it.
Captaincy. Hmmm. OK - I'm going to stick my neck out here and claim that it's not going to be that much of a factor. I know that it's probably heresy to suggest this, but I'm not actually sure if it's as much of a factor in Test cricket as people think anyway - and that coming from someone who understands the importance of man-management implicitly. People like to bitch about Ponting but at the end of the day he's not the one with the ball in his hand, is he? Every single time we have lost a series and people have reviled his captaincy there have been about a thousand other reasons why we lost besides any poor decision-making on his part. 2005 Ashes? Yes we should have batted at Edgbaston - but that wasn't the reason why McGrath stepped on that ball, and no-one could have predicted that Gillespie would bowl so badly after bowling so well in India the series before. India in India, 2008? Yes he shouldn't have worried about over-rates so much, but it's not his fault we didn't (and still don't) have a spinner that can offer us any sort of consistency. South Africa in Australia 2008/9? Did anyone blame him for that anyway? We just weren't good enough, end of story. .... And you know what? That's IT. Those are Ponting's only series losses - and he's been at the helm since 2004. No-one can boast his sort of record - a record which is always talked down by the fact that he had McGrath and Warne and Langer and Hayden and all the rest of them available - but I don't see why that should mean that we discount his record during that period. It's pretty bloody stupid to suggest that Ponting's statistics don't count until after he lost those players - if his record doesn't count then, then it shouldn't count now either. I haven't heard anyone shouting about how great Strauss is, anyway. AND I think Vaughan was over-rated, so there.
Right! So. That's what I think. 2-1 Australia, should be 3-1 but we can't play spin, England to be boring, Australia to be less so, the end.
Let's see what happens.