Let's not jinx it, but the summer of 2005 sees England with the best chance of winning back the Ashes for some time. The current Test side has been strengthened year on year: old timers like Thorpe, Vaughan, Trescothick, even Ashley Giles are on great form, and players new to international Tests a season or two ago - Flintoff and Harmison - now display the confidence that can only come from experience. We've got even newer blood too, with the likes of Collingwood already putting in some downright impressive performances in ODI matches.
An exciting time for cricket calls for a video game to complement it. The last cricket game on any system to achieve what you could call cult status was Codemasters' Brian Lara Cricket on the first PlayStation. Its release coincided with the early days of Nasser Hussain's captaincy, and it was a tidy, neatly finished cricket game. The developers behind it were Audiogenic Software. This summer, Codemasters are reviving the long-neglected franchise, after noticing that an admittedly small slice of the market that they completely owned has been 'caught' by EA. EA's two cricket games to date were developed by HB Studios, a Canadian company whose CEO is Jeremy Wellard, who was credited on the original Brian Lara Cricket. So in fact, the EA titles were spiritual successors to the popular Codemasters game. The games were good enough, but noticeably lacking the glitz and glamour that characterises other EA Sports titles.
It seems that news has reached EA HQ that Codemasters are launching an attempt to take back the cricket game crown, as the release of Cricket 2005 comes sooner than expected. The last EA Cricket boasted a wide range of teams, with English county sides and Australian league clubs joining the international line-up. This version expands even further with official licenses for teams in New Zealand and South Africa added. All new motion capture and detail on player models freshens it all up, as does a new HUD making control more intuitive. You also get a player editor - just like in the big EA Sports titles! Richie Benaud and Jim Maxwell return to commentate, and four players can play co-operatively in the games' 35 3D-modelled stadiums. Competition between two big publishers has to be good news for cricket games and their fans. Let's just hope that the decision to bring forward the release has not compromised this highly anticipated third outing for HB Studios.