So the Ashes are just eleven weeks away. Gee, how quickly has time passed since Chris Tremlett bowled Michael Beer to regain the urn for England in January 2011?
Since then, England became the number one Test side in the world – then lost it to South Africa nearly a year ago, while Australia had a chance themselves to be that number one side, only for the South African’s to beat them at home last winter.
England will rightly go into this summer’s showdown as favourites, but with the squad the Australian’s have assembled – they have at least gave themselves a chance of pulling off what would be described as an upset.
After the recent Indian nightmare, the Ashes squad selection was an important one for John Inverarity and his selection panel after so many muddled mistakes were made in selection for that tour of India.
It’s not often in recent times that you can say the selections of a certain Inverarity look correct and well thought out, but on this occasion it looks like Australia have picked the best possible squad they could have named in the current circumstances.
The squad for the Indian series looked unbalanced and underwhelming at first glance and the 4-0 score line suggests it was just that.
The selections of the likes of Glenn Maxwell and Moises Henriques for the tour to India were baffling to say the least. Maxwell started the series as a spin-bowling allrounder and ended it opening the batting (The fact he bats at eight for Victoria – says everything you need to know!)
This new squad is different though. Players were picked on form and not just potential or ODI potential in Maxwell’s case. The squad is solid and balanced, with both youth and experience included in equal measure.
Unlike the squad for India, it doesn’t include ‘Bits and Pieces’ players like Henriques, Maxwell and Steven Smith. They have named the best possible batsmen, bowlers and wicketkeepers that the country has to offer.
Chris Rogers is one example of this new thinking. Its five years since Rogers made his one and only Test appearance – He has since been forgotten and shoved aside as younger men such as Phillip Hughes were given opportunities ahead of him – with the Australian selection panel looking towards youth in their rebuilding process.
Rogers could be forgiven for thinking his chance of adding to his solitary Test cap had gone but in the current climate where quality young Australian batsmen no longer grow on trees – 19,107 first-class runs at 50.01 simply couldn’t be ignored any longer.
Adding experience and leadership was a must for the Ashes campaign. Gone are Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting – A combination of 247 Tests and 19,613 runs worth of experience to replace between them. That’s where the return of Brad Haddin as both keeper and vice-captain becomes invaluable.
Haddin was unfortunate to be dropped from the Test side in the first place and his return will be welcomed by everyone and especially captain Michael Clarke. The team will look towards his leadership and experience in English conditions to guide them through the tough times that an Ashes series throws up.
The batting order is something that needed sorting out in the post-mortem of the Indian tour and by picking the experience of Haddin and Rogers this can only help but solidify the top and middle order.
Other batsmen murmured in the media for a place in the squad include: George Bailey, Shaun Marsh, Adam Voges and Smith – but neither has any recent first-class form behind them excluding Smith – who has struggled on each of his trips to the UK.
It has to be said that both Hughes and Shane Watson are on borrowed time after difficult tours of India. That said both players – if on-form remain the best options the country has to offer in English conditions.
The bowling remains strong and the decision to recall the veteran Ryan Harris is a wise one. Despite his current injury woes, Harris on his day has the ability to rip through sides with his combination of good pace and late movement both ways.
Jackson Bird’s inclusion was also a must. A man whose bowling looks tailor made for English conditions, he will provide Clarke with a different option to the other bowlers in the squad. His 11 wickets at 16.18 in two matches against Sri Lanka last winter show he doesn’t look out of his depth at Test level.
The selections of Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc are no-brainers on recent showings, but it’s the decision to call up uncapped bowling allrounder James Faulkner that has many people excited.
The 22-year-old has excelled in recent seasons for Tasmania, winning their player of the year award for the last three seasons. First-class averages of 29 with the bat and 22 with the ball – suggest he can challenge Watson for the allrounder’s spot in the team and with age on his side he still has time to improve his all round game.
The quick bowling selections could be been far worse; Mitchell Johnson could have been included. The erratic left-armer has had his chances in the side and now must move aside to let Starc develop his game further.
Although an enigma on the cricket field, it is of my opinion that Johnson should never represent Australia in another Test match as there are now far better other bowling options available.
How much the Barmy Army would have loved to see him back in the Aussie line-up at Trent Bridge?
He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right…etc etc!
That’s my point though…Australia must provide a squad of players that get their English counterparts uncomfortable – By naming this set of players, they are doing just that.
Nathan Lyon is right now (Fawad Ahmed passport permitting) the best slow bowler in Australia and by naming just one spinner in the squad the selectors will have ensured Lyon with the confidence that he didn’t receive with his dropping for the second Test in India.
Yes, it can be said that this is a squad for ‘The here and now’ but it’s the Ashes for Christ sake! How many series can you afford to lose by blooding younger players who are either not good enough or not yet ready for the rigours of international cricket?
The rebuilding process can only go on for so long, especially seeming as the problems lay with the lack of batsmen being developed at youth level – problems that can’t be fixed overnight.
Praise must be given to the Australian selectors for their sensible selections in an age where expensive luxuries such as Maxwell and Henriques are forever being given chances in the side.
It’s hard to imagine that it’s the same selection panel that decided on Maxwell as a spin bowler for an Indian tour and one that selected Rob Quiney for a Test series against South Africa in November.
It may be that Australia will still lose the Ashes, but at least the selectors can hold their heads up high with the knowledge that they have picked the best possible squad at their disposal.
Michael Clarke (capt), Brad Haddin (vice-capt, wk), David Warner, Ed Cowan, Phillip Hughes, Shane Watson, Usman Khawaja, Chris Rogers, Matthew Wade (wk), James Faulkner, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Jackson Bird.
My Ashes XI for the first Test at Trent Bridge:
- Ed Cowan
- Shane Watson
- Chris Rogers
- Michael Clarke
- Usman Khawaja
- David Warner
- Brad Haddin
- James Pattinson
- Peter Siddle
- Mitchell Starc
- Nathan Lyon