With just 55 days until cricket’s most historic series resumes, the Australian squad is starting to take shape with a mixture of wise old heads and talented young players who play with an abundance of confidence and flair. The team that’s chosen to try to win back the urn needs to have a perfect balance of these factors and many more, in order to defeat a confident, determined English side.
The batting at the top of the order is set in stone with Shane Watson and Simon Katich proving to be (at least statistically) amongst Australia’s finest opening combinations of all time. Since Watson joined Katich at the top of the order in 2009, the pair have performed better (statistically) than the likes of more heralded combinations, one such example being the Mark Taylor and Michael Slater partnership of the 1990s. Since returning to the side as an opening batsman, Watson has averaged 51.95 in 13 Tests, not far off Katich’s average as an opener, an impressive 53.47.
Positions 3, 4 and 5 are likely to be filled by the wise old heads, Ricky Ponting (who averages 48.22 against England from his 31 Tests), Michael Clarke (55.80 from 15 Tests) and Michael Hussey (56.46 from 10 Tests). These three positions are likely to be the most important factors of the series and if two of the three batsman make big runs, then the series is likely to go Australia’s way. Alternatively, if the three all have lean series’, the likelihood of Australia posting large enough totals to win matches is rather remote.
Position 6 is, as it has often been, the most unsettled position in the line up with Marcus North hanging onto his international career by the skin of his teeth. North, who averages just 36.33 in Tests, needs to produce some big scores in India this month to settle the debate and confirm his place in the starting eleven come November 25th. If he fails in India (he already has once) or early in the series against England, two 21 year-old New South Welshman are ready to take his place. These being Phillip Hughes, the dashing top order batsman who averages 51.25 in Tests and Steve Smith, the talented all-rounder who debuted with 100 runs and 3 wickets in the two-Test series against Pakistan earlier this year. Smith seems the likely option given his excellent form in T20I’s and ODI’s which has seen him score 156 quick-fire runs and take 24 wickets in 18 matches. In addition to this, Smith’s leg-spin can cover the loss of Marcus North’s bowling quota should he be the replacement.
The wicket-keeping position at number 7 will be handed back to Brad Haddin, who averages 38.62 in Tests and has proven to be a worthy replacement for Adam Gilchrist over recent years. Haddin however will need to stay sharp with both the gloves and the bat, as young Tasmanian keeper Tim Paine has proven he too has what it takes at the highest level. Having made his debut against Pakistan recently, Paine who’s currently into his third Test averages 26.25 with that bat and has proven a more than capable keeper. In addition to this, Paine averages an impressive 32.54 from his 23 One-Day Internationals thus far.
The number 8 position and traditional spin bowlers spot in the batting order goes to Nathan Hauritz, the off-spinning right hander who has progressed into a more than capable lower-order batsman. Averaging 26.42 with the bat and 31.82 with the ball, Haurtiz has enjoyed an extended period in the team and has improved dramatically in recent years. In total, Hauritz has in excess of 120 international wickets in all formats of the game, an impressive achievement for a bowler who 4 years ago couldn’t get a game for his state. Hauritz will need to fire in The Ashes, especially at the spin-friendly SCG should the series come down to the wire.
Position 9 and the first of the quick bowlers goes to Mitch Johnson who has improved so much with the bat, that he can now be considered as a genuine all-rounder alongside Hauritz. Averaging 23.63 with the bat and having in excess of 150 Test Match wickets, Johnson is arguably Australia’s most crucial player and his performance will likely decide the result of the series. On his day, Johnson is as hard to face as any bowler in world cricket and the Australian’s will be looking for early wickets to cast doubts in the minds of England’s top order.
Positions 10 and 11, the remaining two fast-bowlers positions will likely go to Ben Hilfenhaus and Doug Bollinger, two men who have grabbed the opportunity of playing Test cricket with both hands. Averaging 29.28 and 24.65 respectively, Bollinger will rely on pace, bounce and a McGrath-like consistency to snag his victims, while Hilfenhaus will rely on his late swing, a technique which proved successful in the last Ashes contest in England last year. The two complement Johnson and Hauritz well and together, they form an attack which is full of variety and once which will keep the English on their toes.
In addition to the starting eleven, Hughes, Smith and Paine, the Australian’s have plenty more talented crickets in reserve, especially in the fast-bowlers shed. Victorian duo Peter Siddle (who averages 31.53 with the ball in Tests) and Clint McKay (22.81 in ODI’s) will be fully fit and eager for an opportunity to re-gain their place in the starting eleven. Both men offer more variety for captain Ponting and the pressure is well and truly on Bollinger and Hilfenhaus to perform and keep their spot.
Finally, the pick of the reserve top order batsman floating around in domestic cricket is Michael Klinger, the Victorian turned South Australian who has made a dramatic rise up the pecking order since moving states two seasons ago. Klinger, who was restricted in game-time in Victoria smashed his way to 1203 runs at 70.76 in 2008/09 and followed it up with a further 886 runs at 63.28 last summer. In addition to this, his form for the Australian ‘A’ team in recent tours has also been impressive and should Watson or Katich slip up, Klinger will no doubt be ready to pounce. The other reserve batsman are Usman Khawaja and Callum Ferguson who would slip nicely into one of Ponting, Clarke or Hussey’s position should either of them get injured. Khawaja, born in Pakistan, averages an impressive 48.56 from his 20 First Class Matches whilst Ferguson, who averages just 35.08 in First Class cricket, has proven himself to be more than capable on the international stage by averaging 46.07 in his 25 ODI’s thus far.
Whatever way the final eleven reads, Australia will need to be at the top of their game against a confident English outfit. The series will be much closer than the last in Australia which resulted in a 5-0 whitewash in favour of the home team, however I believe Australia will rise to the challenge and regain the little, treasured urn, winning the series 3-1.