Australia’s announcement of the Ashes tour squad this week has been met with something unseen from Australia’s cricket loving public in in recent times; satisfaction and aggreance.
India was brutal. Let’s not sugar-coat it; it was a tough series, and one many senior players of the Australian team would rather forget. Steve Smith, Xavier Doherty & Glenn Maxwell have been recognised as failed experiments, and one may assume this is the last we have seen of the latter 2 in particular in the baggy green; while Mitchell Johnson’s attempt to resurrect his international career hit another roadblock.
Shane Watson’s decision to stand down as Vice-Captain of the squad is probably the right one due to his inconsistent form, but it left the selectors with no obvious candidate to make Michael Clarke’s deputy. Ed Cowan, Peter Siddle, David Warner & Matthew Wade were all touted, but the position was given to Brad Haddin, a man considered Australia’s 2nd best option behind the stumps over the last 12-months.
This will be Haddin’s 3rd Ashes tour to the UK, and his experience and leadership amongst the squad cannot be underestimated. Fingers crossed he performs with bat and gloves, and we are left with the feel good story of the year.
A majority of the batting positions seemed secured leading into Wednesday’s announcement. Cowan, Warner & Hughes had just done enough to book their plane tickets, while Shane Watson’s selection as a batting all-rounder makes perfect sense; assuming he can bowl. Where he bats – well that’s another article all together. Usman Khawaja pipped Smith, while the final place went to Chris Rogers: a natural selection for some; a smokey amongst others.
The selectors have rewarded Rogers on consistency over a prolonged period of time (Brad Hodge is calling foul), while his record in England of over 9,000 first class runs at 54 was too good to refuse.
If there is one area in which Australia can match England currently, it may be in the pace bowling department. James Pattinson & Peter Siddle were automatic selections after good tours of India, while Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird will be given opportunities throughout the series. James Faulkner was rewarded after solid performances with bat and ball in the final parts of the domestic season, as he comes in for Moises Henriques, possibly the unluckiest casualty from India.
Ryan Harris’ triumphant return to cricket was capped off with his inclusion in the Ashes squad; something that many would have thought unlikely after spending most of the summer on the sidelines. Suddenly considered Australia’s chief destroyer, Harris has done what we all thought could happen, but what we really hoped wouldn’t – broken down. Suffering an Achilles injury while playing in the Indian Premier League (seriously who didn’t see that coming); Harris faces 6-8 weeks on the sidelines and an anxious wait to be fit for his career defining tour.
Interestingly no back up spinner has been chosen, with Nathan Lyon the only tweeker in the squad, indicating an all pace barrage awaits the English.
Barring injury the X1 for the 1st test at Trent Bridge will pick itself, with a few spots up for grabs. Warner, Cowan, Hughes, Clarke, Khawaja / Rogers, Watson, Haddin, Siddle, Harris, Pattinson, Lyon / Starc could be pencilled in; however county form and performances on the Australia A tour will have the final say.
Michael Clarke is the only man amongst the squad who has tasted Ashes series success, while he is yet to hold the urn on English soil from his previous 2 attempts. This lack of experience could be viewed as a weakness, however this squad won’t hold too many of the scars of past tours, while there is a good combination of level heads, youthful determination and x-factor.
The steps for the next 12 weeks should be simple: wrap Ryan Harris in cotton wool; bowl nothing but bouncers at Phil Hughes; make Michael Clarke and Shane Watson become mates again; and get David Warner used to the swinging duke ball. Oh and no more IPL for heaven’s sake! Let’s see if we can make a fist of this.