Watson targets Ashes advantage

Daily Echo: Shane Watson in Hampshire action Shane Watson in Hampshire action

Former Hampshire star Shane Watson believes Australia can deliver an early blow in the lead-up to next year's Ashes when they meet England in the upcoming one-day international series.

Australia will reacquaint themselves with the old enemy over five matches, starting at Lord's on June 29, in their first meetings since England's drought-breaking Ashes tour 18 months ago.

Since then Australia have undergone a reconstruction, on and off the field, with Michael Clarke replacing Ricky Ponting as skipper while South African Mickey Arthur was installed as their first ever foreign coach.

The emergence of young quicks Pat Cummins and James Pattinson, who are set to make their first appearances on these shores, have also provided an insight into the Aussies' next generation.

Both could be key to any Australian success next summer and with pre-Ashes psychology certain to provide an undercurrent to the upcoming series, Watson believes that should they, and his team, deliver over the next month then the tourists will have taken an early edge.

"No doubt. You've got to make the most of any series you play against England, especially in England with next year's Ashes coming up," he told a press conference ahead of their tour-opening match at Leicester tomorrow.

"First of all it's a great time for the younger guys to experience what it is like to play in England, but it is also an opportunity to be able to make our mark here in England as well leading into next year's Ashes.

"Hopefully we can play the cricket that we know we can and get the result that we want."

Watson is wary of underestimating England, however, after they wrapped up a sixth consecutive home ODI series win with their victory over West Indies yesterday.

England's hopes had seemingly been undermined before the series following Kevin Pietersen's untimely retirement from limited overs cricket.

But in his absence openers Ian Bell and Alastair Cook have both scored centuries to ensure an unassailable 2-0 lead with the final match at Headingley on Friday.

"They are playing very good one-day cricket at the moment," Watson said.

"I think their batting has been a big strength. For guys to continue to be able to get hundreds at the top of the order obviously sets a very good platform for the team.

"We'll definitely have to play at our best to get the result we want."

The immediate success of Bell as Pietersen's replacement has marked England's victories so far and surprised a few after the right-hander's struggles in the shorter format.

Watson, however, said the only shock for him was that Bell had not established himself as a 50-over player before now.

"Ian Bell is a world-class player. For me it had been a little surprising that he hadn't taken on the one-day game as he has because he's a highly-skilled player and hits the ball in great areas," he said.

"It's no surprise to me that he's performing the way he has in these past couple of games."

England's rotation policy has again come under fire this week after they opted to rest Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann for the series finale in Leeds.

While their absences have ruffled the feathers of some, Watson is certain the England hierarchy have made the right decision to safeguard their best players from the wear and tear of a long season.

"Absolutely, especially considering how much international cricket there is at this time," he said.

"I think that's the only way to try and preserve your best bowlers and best players.

"You also give younger guys and less experienced guys the opportunity to be able to play international cricket so that if something does happen in a bigger game they will be ready to step up and understand the pressure and their skills are ready to go for an international match.

"I think that is the way forward for all teams to balance the workload in with actually bringing through some younger guys and freshening up the more experienced players."

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