Is there a revival around the corner?

At Lord's in 1995, Ray Illingworth put his head round the door of the press box and announced that he had decided - against all his previous declarations - that Alec Stewart (in pic) would keep wickets and open the batting and that Steve Rhodes would be sent back to his county Worcestershire. Just 18 hours before the start of the Test, it was a bombshell and widely questioned, but it worked.-V. V. KRISHNAN At Lord's in 1995, Ray Illingworth put his head round the door of the press box and announced that he had decided - against all his previous declarations - that Alec Stewart (in pic) would keep wickets and open the batting and that Steve Rhodes would be sent back to his county Worcestershire. Just 18 hours before the start of the Test, it was a bombshell and widely questioned, but it worked.

England lack a spinner of quality and they have yet to establish an opening batsman to back up their skipper Alastair Cook, writes Ted Corbett.

Can England — last seen in Australia 18 months ago being tossed around like a rag doll in a spin dryer and losing 5-0 — win back the Ashes this summer against a side whose power is certainly in no way diminished?

Let me remind you that this same England may have won back some of the credit they sacrificed during the World Cup by stout-hearted one-day shows against New Zealand and West Indies, but have failed to win both their recent Test series. They lack a spinner of quality and they have yet to establish an opening batsman to back up their skipper Alastair Cook.

Oh, and I may have mentioned this before, they have elected to go into the contest without Kevin Pietersen, who is at least a great batsman, almost certainly England’s finest ever, and still, it is clear, full of fun and runs.

When he made a triple hundred against Leicestershire some shouted “It’s only poor little Leicestershire.” Who else has scored so many against this Division Two side?

Australia may even be stronger than England for all they dawdle behind South Africa in the world standings. No one now doubts the credentials of Steve Smith, they have a solid look about their batting and the hope that the power of their fast destroyer Mitchell Johnson may have dwindled with age was brushed aside in a warm up-match when Johnson removed some hapless soul’s off stump at about the time that batsman began his stroke.

It reminded me of a tale from a British tennis hope. She began a knock-up at Wimbledon thinking “gently does it” as Steffi Graf’s return thundered past her. She was out of the tournament from that moment.

All these factors may not point to a 5-0 destruction for England but they do nothing to encourage optimism in the heart of one so dedicated to the England cause that he put half the fee for this column on their 2005 Ashes success after a comprehensive defeat in the first Test.

As I write, the Aussies have arrived with what they will consider a modest assessment of their chances. In other words they have not given it “we’ll murder ‘em” but merely that they have not landed at Heathrow full of fear.

Nor should they have done.

They will — even if they stayed quiet — have admired Kumar Sangakkara, who had their spirit in abundance. He has announced his retirement which will leave a huge gap in the Sri Lankan side, although their schools system always seems to supply a replacement for their great stars. I will miss this doughty fighter too. No match was lost while he was playing and somewhere, possibly in political life, he can soon carve out another career.

The Australians always expect to beat England because they have done it frequently. They won the World Cup against a powerful New Zealand team with virtually the same side who will meet England in the first Test at Cardiff. Michael Clarke, by now a veteran captain, is able and wiser than when he came here the last time and they have that indefinable Aussie characteristic somewhere between courage and never-say-die.

(If you could bottle that Aussie feeling, born of 200 years convinced the Poms were ready to bury you deep, you might be half way to beating them; I have never managed it.)

Their good players have become great because of this inner strength; their moderate men have found their own place in history which makes me wonder if the presence of KP would make any difference.

Yes, it all comes back to KP. Before the ECB declared he was an outlaw KP was our hope for a miracle, our Roy of the Rovers, our wish that “anything Bradman did KP can do better.”

Now that dream is a distant vision, a mirage, a taunting glimpse of what might have been. Unless that is — and I say this with a hesitancy which recognises what sort of men we are dealing with here — ECB lied.

Is there a chance that KP may be an ambush, ready to dive into the third Test should England lose the first two, to lead the greatest Ashes fightback of all, while the ECB, bless their innocent little hearts, smile diffidently and confess: “Sorry, we told a dreadful untruth. But they do say all is fair in love and war and surely, this is war.” Somehow I can’t see it. Those public school boys who run Test cricket in this country are too honourable, surely, too conventional, too straight bat, to run a deceit at this level.

They have their moments, as when they sent Douglas Jardine and Harold Larwood to Australia to undermine Bradman with bouncers and Bodyline field settings but since that day I can think of just one grand deception.

It was, of course, thought up by a Yorkshireman. At Lord’s in 1995, Ray Illingworth put his head round the door of the Press box and announced that he had decided — against all his previous declarations — that Alec Stewart would keep wickets and open the batting and that Steve Rhodes would be sent back to his county Worcestershire.

Just 18 hours before the start of the Test, it was a bombshell and widely questioned, but it worked. On the final day Stewart pulled off the startling catch that removed Brian Lara the ball after Lara had cover driven a four with such bravado that the match seemed decided.

You can see Pietersen winning a Test match with such a decisive stroke. Will it happen? I doubt it.