England battle to keep the Ashes

Published: Thursday, December 15, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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Perth:The international cricketing calendar will be busier than ever next year with England and Australia facing a hectic schedule including five Tests in just over six weeks in their Ashes tour of Australia starting in November.

Cricket Australia chief executive James Sutherland released the tour schedule for the 2006 season here Thursday and said it had been complicated by the fact the series would be wedged between the ICC Champions Trophy and the World Cup one-day competitions.

In fact, England will have just five days after the Champions Trophy finishes in India before the intense tour of Australia begins with a tour match in Canberra on November 10.

In all, England, victors over Australia in this year's Ashes series, will play Australia in five Tests over 45 days, with the first starting on November 23 in Brisbane and finishing in Sydney on January 6.

The other Tests will be in Adelaide, starting December 1, Perth (Dec 14) and Melbourne (Dec 26).

Following the Ashes, both teams will play their first official 20-20 match in Sydney on January 9, leading up to a one-day series with New Zealand which could include as many as 11 matches. It starts in Melbourne on January 12.

Sutherland said with the Ashes series wedged between the ICC Champions Trophy in India finishing on November 5 and the 2007 ICC World Cup in the West Indies starting on March 13, it was congested.

Both England and Australia will also have less than a month before their warm-up games in the ICC World Cup, which starts in the West Indies on March 13.

England play New Zealand in their opening Group C match of the World Cup proper on March 16 in St Lucia but their first warm-up match is against Bermuda in St Vincent on March 5.

Sutherland, who released the tour dates here Thursday, said he did not believe the tight schedule devalued the Ashes series.

"The world we live in, the world we operate in ... at this time of year, in the middle of summer, is a busy time of year," he said.

"As I said it's somewhat exacerbated by the fact that we've got a Champions Trophy and then a World Cup at the end of it.

"But at the same time we also know that an Ashes series is one of the icon events of world cricket.

"Let's have a look at it in 12 months time and let's see if it's been diminished because I don't see any way that this series is going to be diminished."

Sutherland said England have agreed to the program and presumably were happy with it.

"They have agreed to this program so they are obviously comfortable with what it looks like," he said.

"Certainly from a Cricket Australia perspective our coaching staff and players will need to be making a transition straight out of the champions trophy into four and five-day cricket.

"That will be something that is a key focus in November as soon as the Champions Trophy finishes."

He said the series was shaping up as the biggest sporting event in Australia since the Sydney Olympics.

"We know that Cricket Australia and our State associations have been absolutely inundated with inquiries not only from Australians but people from overseas," he said.

He said further details on ticketing sales would be released sometime within the next month.

Sutherland also announced that the original Ashes urn would also be brought to Australia for the first time since 1988 and only the second time ever.

But he rejected out of hand a suggestion that Cricket Australia push to have the urn remain in Australia should the home team win the series.

The urn traditionally remains in Lord's cricket ground in London, the home of Marylebone Cricket Club (the MCC), regardless of who wins the series.

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