England get Benaud boost despite injuries

Published: Wednesday, July 26, 2006, 23:53 [IST]
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London:Richie Benaud has insisted England can mount a successful defence of the Ashes when they travel to Australia later this year despite their growing injury crisis.

Michael Vaughan, the man who captained England to a 2-1 Ashes triumph last year, has already been ruled out of the return series in Australia starting in November because of his longstanding knee injury.

And last week star all-rounder Andrew Flintoff was sidelined for the rest of the season with an ankle problem.

He joined fellow Ashes winning bowlers Simon Jones (knee) and Ashley Giles (hip) on England's list of long-term casualties along with reserve fast bowler James Anderson (back).

And, to make matters worse, Tuesday saw Durham paceman Liam Plunkett ruled out of England's second and third Tests at home to Pakistan with a side strain.

But former Australia captain Benaud, now as famous for his work as a television commentator as he was as a leg-spinning all-rounder and superb skipper during the 1950s and 1960s, insisted now was not the time to write off England's chances.

"There is so much time to go between now and the start of the Ashes (at Brisbane's Gabba ground in November). We are only just half-way through July. You (England) might have 12 fit fast bowlers by the time the Ashes start.

"There is no point in anyone panicking. Eighteen months ago I was saying that if England have a fully-fit fast bowling attack they can easily regain the Ashes. Everyone laughed at me. The fast bowlers were the key then and they still are," he also told the London Evening Standard.

But he admitted England would miss Vaughan, as much as for his leadership skills as his batting. "It's a big blow for England not to have him. He was high-class last year. He had this very good control over the team and when they got into a tough situation he kept the players calm, which is not easy."

Since the Ashes, England's have won just two out of 10 Tests.

"They made good progress in India, went a bit pear-shaped against Sri Lanka. Now they are starting to play better again," Benaud, in England to cover the team's ongoing home series against Pakistan, added.

"We know already Vaughan is not going to make it but we hope Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones and Ashley Giles will be there.

"There has been enormous interest back home in the coming series. Ticket sales have been unprecedented and it promises to be a wonderful occasion. "Home-ground advantage is a big thing although the Test match pitches in England are much more similar to Australia than they used to be."

One of Australia's stars during the last Ashes campaign was Shane Warne, who indicated at the time that it would be his final Test tour of England although he would continue to captain English county Hampshire.

But Benaud said he'd told his fellow leg-spinner to reconsider and make sure he was around for the 2009 Ashes series in England.

"When the last ball is bowled he will still only be 39. I said to him 'You are bowling better than you have done for a considerable amount of time'. He said to to me 'Richie, I will give it some thought.'

As for his own career, Benaud wasn't about to call time on that either, with the 75-year-old is still the cornerstone of Channel Nine television's cricket commentary team in Australia.

And although his 42 years of broadcasting in England came to an end last year when the terrestrial Channel Four lost the contract to cover cricket to satellite station Sky, Benaud continues to write his weekly column for Britain's News of the World tabloid.

"I have this year and next year (with Nine) still to do. I don't know what I will do then. It just depends what Channel Nine wants to do."

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