The Ashes Are Coming!
Can you believe it is only 6 months until Australia and England face off again?
It’s like cricket’s cold war. Just don’t ask me to pick which side is led by Reagan and which side by Gorbachev.
Australian fans are probably feeling quite confident.
Last time the two sides met, Australia routed England 5-0 at home on the back of Mitch Johnson and Ryan Harris brilliance.
However, I’m going to suggest right up front that the Australian Test side has potential to be a shambles by the time it reaches England in 2015.
Australia have form here. They were also a shambles for the 2013 Ashes in England.
They had a new coach, there was no stability around the batting line-up, their strike bowler was the reliable, but not a strike bowler Peter Siddle and then there were cameos from players like Agar, Khawaja, Cowan and Bird.
2015 has the makings of the same all over again.
Many of the positions being occupied in the current India series are under threat from either poor form, retirement or injury.
None are under pressure from the next tier of players knocking down the door.
This is a precursor to failure.
Let’s break it down.
After starting the piece with predictions of cricketageddon, the reality is that the openers are possibly the most stable positions in the team.
Warner and Rogers will both go to England as the first choice openers.
Mark Waugh, Australian selector, has suggested that Ed Cowan would be the likely replacement should either of Warner or Rogers fall.
Although Cowan has been tearing up the Shield this season, both his First Class and Test averages are under 40.
The Middle Order
Dilemma, dilemma, dilemma.
Take the names of Clarke, Smith, Watson, a couple of Marsh brothers and Joe Burns. Throw them in the air and randomly place them in order from numbers 3 to 6, depending on how they land.
You had Clarke at 3? Bad luck. He’s injured.
Oh, you picked Mitch Marsh at 6. Bad luck. Watson is playing there. Oh, you had Watson at 3?
The disturbing part of Australia’s middle order is that only Clarke and Steve Smith have Test averages over 40.
Everyone else averages under 40. In Shaun Marsh’s case, he nearly averages in his 20’s.
What’s worse is that there are only five players left in Shield who have a First Class average of 40 or above who are yet to play for Australia.
Just five! (D Hussey, Voges, Cosgrove, Stoinis and Lynn)
The Australian middle order is flaky at best, unsettled and full of players who have not earned their spot through mountains of First Class runs.
Gone are the days of Ponting, Martyn, Hussey and Lehmann.
Come England, it will be anybody’s guess who will bat where. If Clarke isn’t available due to injury, only one of them will average over 40.
Think about that for a second.
Australia also believe that they can play two all rounders in their top six. Watson and Mitch Marsh.
It doesn’t work.
Expect plenty of 5/150 type scores
Brad Haddin was a star in both the previous two Ashes series. However, his current form with the bat is horrible.
He has only made it to 20 in one of his last 13 Test innings.
Not good enough.
Although one suspects he will be desperate to make it on the flight to tackle the English, he may not be given a ticket.
Who is next in line?
Matthew Wade appears the natural choice. He is batting well and the Australians used him as the keeper for their latest ODI series against South Africa.
However, there are question marks over his technical keeping skills, insofar in that he has shown an ability to morph into Kamran Akmal at times.
There is a long list behind him of capable glovemen, including Whiteman and Hartley.
Tim Paine appears to have dropped off the potentials list, given he can’t even make the Tasmanian team at present.
Whoever plays, and I suspect it won’t be Haddin, the number 7 spot will be viewed as a weakness by the English.
On first inspection, the bowling lineup looks strong.
Mitch Johnson, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon and then a choice from Siddle, Pattinson, Bird, Starc and Cummins.
However, doubts linger over the ability of Harris to last the series. Siddle has recently been dropped due to lack of penetration. Starc lacks consistency with the ball in hand, Bird and Pattinson are recently back from injury, as is Cummins.
What if Mitchell Johnson went down?
Unthinkable, but always a possibility with fast bowlers.
Australia’s pace attack could go from very scary to quite limp with one or two pieces of bad luck.
The averages suggest it could happen.
If Harris can’t get up for the Ashes and if Mitch Johnson was unavailable even for one or two Tests, the bowling attack will look very pedestrian.
So Now What?
Don’t ask me.
I’m not paid to come up with a long term Test selection strategy or choose the players.
However, with six months still to go, here is what I expect the Australian Ashes XI to be for the first Test as I write today.
It’s not necessarily the team I would choose if I was the Chairman of Selectors.
Warner – The world’s best opener and possibly the world’s best batsman.
Rogers – Has his detractors, but 20,000 First Class runs can’t be wrong. Many of them made in England.
Cowan – Need a stable number 3 and one in form who can bat long periods. Therefore, Shaun Marsh gets the boot.
Smith – A man at the top of his powers and getting better. I assume that Clarke will be unfit and that Smith will be captain.
Burns – The last batsman picked for Australia on debut that comes in with a First Class average of over 40. Must be given every opportunity.
Mitch Marsh – Nudges out Watson for the all rounder spot on the fact that he is yet to blow his chances over a 10 year career.
Wade – Haddin can’t be selected on current form.
Johnson – The destroyer. His last trip to England wasn’t a fond one. Expect big things this time around
Cummins – I expect that Ryan Harris will fail to play more than a Test given how he is going right now. Cummins will replace him. 145 kph outswingers. Has played only one Test as a 17 yr old in South Africa, taking match figures of 7/117 at an average of 16.71. Stopped in his tracks by injury, but ready to be unleashed on the world once again.
Hazelwood – Someone needs to play the Terry Alderman role. This is that guy.
Lyon – Just keeps getting better. A real fighter, handy night watchman and has now proven he can win a match on Day 5.
Of course, the missing variable is just how bad England will be.
God knows who their openers are? Cook? Compton? Robson? Carberry?
The middle order had a good time against India, but Australia travel better than that. Joe Root is World Class, but Bell is inconsistent, Ballance is yet to be tested by decent bowling and Moeen Ali has proven to be terrible against the short ball.
Jos Butler will keep and do a fine job with gloves and bat.
Broad and Anderson will spearhead the bowling. But who backs them up? Stokes? Woakes? Jordan? Finn? Can Moeen bowl England to victory on Day 5?
So many questions!
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