Blindside’s Australian Ashes Team

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Don’t forget to check out our Ashes in England preview and predictions before the action gets underway at Trent Bridge

Think back to 2005, the year the England won the Ashes for the first time since 1987 and the battle for the urn regained the mantra of the world’s greatest sporting contest. Remember Australia’s team? It basically selected itself.

Hayden and Langer, quite simply the best opening combination of their time; Ponting and Martyn, both with individual Test averages exceeding 50; Gilchrist and Warne, masters of their craft, reformers of the sport and two of the three most influential cricketers of the modern era, alongside Sir Vivian Richards. That’s not to mention McGrath, Lee, Katich or Gillespie, all tremendously prolific cricketers, guaranteed selection in any Test side of the last 20 years.

Last but not least is Michael Clarke, the sole relic of the era in which Australian Ashes sides were selected almost without consideration and certainly without difficulty, after all, it wasn’t like defeat was fathomable.

Eight years on and so much has changed. With a new coach at the helm and the Test captain relinquishing his position on the selection panel, the composition of Australia’s XI for the 1st Ashes Test of 2013 remains a complete mystery.

Australian Ashes Test Squad
Michael Clarke (c) Brad Haddin (vc) Ashton Agar Jackson Bird
Ed Cowan James Faulkner Ryan Harris Phillip Hughes
Usman Khawaja Nathan Lyon James Pattinson Chris Rogers
Peter Siddle Matthew Wade David Warner Shane Watson

 

The recently appointed yet accomplished Darren Lehmann has just two Tour matches, against Somerset and Worcestershire in which to gain an intimate understanding of the players on which his success will rely. On face value though, not only does he inherit a side in managerial and disciplinary disarray, but also one that has failed to perform adequately on the field.

But with Shane Warne and Craig McDermott accepting informal positions within the Ashes camp and the players seemingly buying into Lehmann’s system, Australian cricket has a sense of national pride about it for the first time in a long time. Something exciting is coming, it is just whether it comes in time to salvage this coming Ashes series.

Whilst last Australian summer saw the Test side finish with 3 wins, 2 draws and 1 loss, most of that success was due to Michael Clarke’s individual brilliance, Sri Lanka’s ineptitude and a series of supreme bowling performances. Following the disastrous Indian campaign however, cracks have begun to appear when standout individual displays aren’t forthcoming. The team simply hasn’t been good enough for some time, it is just that a few players have managed to mask the inadequacies of others.

Regardless, the appointment of Lehmann signifies a time of change that must be both embraced and exploited to reform a Test XI previously lacking.

There are few certainties heading into the 1st Test at Trent Bridge on July 10. We know Shane Watson will open alongside Chris Rogers, Michael Clarke will bat in the middle-order alongside Phillip Hughes and that James Pattinson will head the pace-attack with Mitchell Starc. Beyond that though, there are no shortage of options for Australia to make the dramatic changes many feel need to be made if a series victory is to even be considered.

As it stands, here is what we think should be Australia’s XI for the 1st Ashes Test of 2013:

 

Shane Watson

Role Tests Batting Average Bowling Average
2013 Ashes All-Rounder 41 35.34 30.06
Last Ashes All-Rounder 22 39.94 28.20

 

Darren Lehmann’s public assurance that Shane Watson would open in the 1st Test is as much a recognition of his under-performance as it is a sign of change. The former vice-captain’s clear preference in the order, Lehmann’s acquiescence to Watson’s wishes restores their most prolific opener to his rightful position for the first time since April 2012. Averaging 43.07 as an opener and just 23.62 in the middle to lower order, the fact he wasn’t there all along is a travesty and has undoubtedly contributed to his disappointing performances and tarnished reputation.

Having bowled in the recent Champions Trophy, Watson’s all-round capabilities are sure to be on show in England. Subtle swing and seam movement are his trademarks and with both be assisted by the English conditions. Watson’s taking of wickets is almost guaranteed however; the great mystery is whether he can score runs.

Expect this talented and bullish yet highly immature player to be one of the greatest beneficiaries of Lehmann’s coaching reign. The 2010 Ashes saw the realization of his true potential; can 2013 present him the same opportunity once more?

 

Ed Cowan

Role Matches Batting Average Bowling Average
Test Record Opener 17 32.90 N/A
First-Class Record Opener 97 39.65 N/A

 

Disclaimer: It has already been announced that Chris Rogers will open with Shane Watson. We feel that Ed Cowan should be granted the first opportunity though with Rogers finding his most ideal position a little further down the order.

It is with great reluctance that Ed Cowan is mentioned in a positive light in this article. The man is more talented with a pen in hand than he is a bat and his selection would have Jimmy Anderson licking his lips with the knowledge that he gets the first chance at a man who specializes in improving bowling averages.

David Warner’s suspension however has forced our hand and with a shortage of middle-order players, Cowan retains his place over Faulkner and Wade who could bat in the lower order and force Rogers to open. Undoubtedly the ‘flex’ position in Australia’s team thanks to Rogers’ versatility, Cowan is given this opportunity through the absence of an alternative, as reward for not throwing a punch at Joe Root and in acknowledgment of his admirable efforts in India.

One Test century in 30 innings isn’t good enough though, especially when a start (20-100 runs) was made in a further 18 innings and not converted. Peter Siddle can make those contributions with the bat and he doesn’t even make our Test side. As such, Cowan is the one of two players in the top 7 whose position we consider to be dependent on performance. Almost all other players should be given the series to prove themselves, but Ed finds himself in a position whereby any player could replace him and Australia’s order could adjust adequately.

 

Chris Rogers

Role Matches Batting Average Bowling Average
Test Record Opener 1 9.50 N/A
First-Class Record Opener 239 51.25 N/A

 

Whilst no Australian cricketer of the past 15 years can claim to be as unlucky as Brad Hodge when it comes to Test selection, Chris Rogers isn’t far off. Despite a prolific first-class career spanning fifteen years, experience in England and being in a rare vein of form, we wouldn’t have been surprised if the 35 year-old didn’t get a run this series. With Lehmann assuring him a spot as opener in the 1st Test, he’ll get his chance, but not in the position we’d like to see him in.

The perfect compliment to Watson’s aggression and Hughes’ inconsistency, Rogers exemplifies the work ethic of the incumbent opener Ed Cowan, yet provides a more polished end product whose good innings are big centuries, not well-constructed 40s. The leading run-scorer in County Cricket this season with 790 runs at 65.83, Rogers beats out his other rival David Warner thanks to his superior Ashes preparation and temperament. Darren Lehmann may have announced that all players have a ‘clean slate’ under his reign, however Warner’s omission is more an acknowledgment of his not playing cricket for a month than it is anything else.

Playing the ball late, self-aware and patient, Rogers is an exemplary opener, however finds himself at number 3 in our order mainly due to his talents being more adaptable than his opening counter-parts in Warner and Cowan. Highly regarded in England as a mature and insightful cricket mind, the West-Australian product is the consummate professional, a rare commodity in the Arthur era and a man built in the mould of ‘Boof’ Lehmann himself. After all, Australia aren’t lacking players who can ‘take the game away’ from England, they’re lacking the players to keep them in the contest. Chris Rogers is exactly that.

 

Phillip Hughes

Role Tests Batting Average Bowling Average
2013 Ashes Middle-Order 24 33.00 N/A
Last Ashes Opener 7 51.25 N/A

 

Earlier this year I wrote a piece on Hughes’ development and how he will eventually emerge as a figure comparable in stature to the imposing Michael Clarke. The moving ball has always been his weakness though and if his performance against spin in India was any indication, swing in England should provide plenty of adversity for the 24-year old to overcome.

Back-to-back half centuries against Somerset have secured his place in the middle-order, however Hughes’ position remains under threat with Usman Khawaja, Matthew Wade, James Faulkner and David Warner and possibly Ed Cowan waiting in the wings. In all honesty, Hughes’ position is no longer tenable if he continually fails to replicate domestic proficiency in the Test arena, however his immeasurable talent means that the more exposure he can receive to the greatest bowlers in the world, the greater he’ll become.

With Warner hypothetically missing the Trent Bridge Test, Hughes can play his natural aggressive game in the middle order. Surrounded by the impervious Clarke and the mature Rogers, the stage is set for extreme improvement, especially with spin-specialist Lehmann now his mentor.

 

Michael Clarke (c) 

Role Tests Batting Average Bowling Average
2013 Ashes Middle-Order 92 52.33 37.43
Last Ashes Opener 64 48.91 38.52

 

Under Mickey Arthur, Michael Clarke’s adamance that he should bat at 5 and no higher was to the detriment of his team. With Watson, Warner, Hughes and Wade surrounding him, Australia needed a steadying influence earlier than when they were 3 wickets down. Should the experienced Rogers be selected, Haddin replace Wade and Watson return to opening, the composure that is restored to Australia’s horrifically turbulent batting order allows the captain to bat in his preferred position.

Sources indicate that Clarke will bat at 4 this series, ahead of Hughes. Should Warner play, such a move provides an anchor in the middle of the Australian order, however with Rogers partnering Watson at the top of the order, Australia might be best served leaving their best player where we have, at number 5.

Having relinquished his role on the national selection panel, Clarke has the potential to work with Lehmann to build a better relationship with his players and rebuild the team’s image. Not only can players now approach their most talented team-mate with their concerns without fearing being dropped, but Clarke can now focus his efforts more acutely on the field. Renowned for his innovative and at time risky captaincy, Clarke will need ever ounce of his generally inspired nous to make up for his team’s relative talent deficiencies.

 

Usman Khawaja

Role Matches Batting Average Bowling Average
Test Record Middle-Order 6 29.22 N/A
First-Class Record Middle-Order 65 42.27 N/A

 

Darren Lehmann is the kind of coach who would refuse to pigeon-hole a player based on their performances under another coach. That is the sort of mentality he demonstrated when Khawaja arrived in Brisbane last season to play for the Bulls following his move from Sydney.

Whilst not having his best season statistically, Khawaja undeniably progressed and his relationship with Lehmann is regarded as extremely positive. Having had stints in County Cricket for Derbyshire in which he averaged 45.05, Usman knows the English conditions and has shown that as expected, his compact technique is suited to playing the swinging ball.

His great weakness remains an inability to identify when he should attack or defend. Pre-meditated defense too frequently leads to frustration whilst attempts to blindly loosen the shackles lead to his downfall all too often. Improvements under Lehmann have addressed this to an extent, however it remains the primary barrier to his emerging as an international sensation.

Khawaja’s prospects have undoubtedly been renewed under Lehmann, however he unfortunately remains the other player – next to Cowan – whose position is dependent on performance. At 6, Matthew Wade, Dave Warner and James Faulkner are all direct replacements for the 26-year old and could prove more than adequate replacements.

 

Brad Haddin

Role Matches Batting Average Dismissals
2013 Ashes Middle-Order 44 35.50 164
Last Ashes Middle-Order 23 37.54 55

 

The appointment of Brad Haddin as vice-captain for the Ashes tour is possibly the most bizarre of Cricket Australia’s many strange decisions of 2013. Matthew Wade’s batting last Australian summer was more than acceptable and any wicket-keeping deficiencies seemed to have been at least partially remedied when keeping on the erratic pitches of the subcontinent.

Having always been an advocate of Wade’s, selecting the veteran Haddin seems a step backwards, however with ‘Arthur’s Australia’ a thing of the past, Lehmann’s era needs to begin with as much consistency as possible. At 35-years of age, Haddin would be one of five players in Australia’s top 7 who are over 30. That is every top-order player available in that demographic. A better gloveman than his rival in Wade, Haddin has the potential to offset his counterpart in Matthew Prior.

Demonstrated in his 2 Ashes centuries, scored with strike rates of 47.38 in Brisbane and 80.13 in Cardiff back in 2009, Haddin can play a variety of roles and more importantly, provides a pillar of support for those around him. With Watson at 1, Rogers at 3 and Clarke at 5, having another experienced campaigner at 7 seems the logical and safest option.

 

James Pattinson

Role Matches Batting Average Bowling Average
Test Record Left-Arm Fast 10 28.77 23.37
First-Class Record Left-Arm Fast 27 20.29 22.60

 

An undisputed leader, Pattinson personifies the new era of fast-bowling talent central to the hopeful Australia’s return to Test Cricket’s summit. Whilst Peter Siddle has fronted the attack admirably since the retirement of Brett Lee, it is time to acknowledge that sheer effort and grit is no longer enough to be a member of the nation’s pace arsenal.

Pattinson’s typically Australian attitude mirrors that of Siddle, but the complimentary raw ability is something absent in his Victorian counter-part. His aggression has the potential to inspire those alongside him and the value he assigns his wicket provides valuable runs more often than not. The second player selected behind Clarke will be key to his side’s chances.

 

Mitchell Starc

Role Matches Batting Average Bowling Average
Test Record Left-Arm Fast 9 32.70 34.03
First-Class Record Left-Arm Fast 35 24.53 31.73

 

Another Australian fast bowler with attitude, Starc is the team’s left-armed and swing bowler in one incredibly tall package. The ultimate alternative to the intermittently destructive yet often horrific Mitchell Johnson, Starc’s career statistics fail to adequately convey his prodigious talent. Impatience and a failure to probe at a consistent length are the only weaknesses preventing his incredible ODI and T20 form being replicated in the Test arena, however Australia need to give the 23-year old the chance to prove himself this Ashes in the absence of another legitimate swing bowler to offset James Anderson.

Showing great potential with bat in hand, Starc, alongside Pattinson, are the reasons why Australia can justify not selecting James Faulkner and can instead shift their focus to either Ryan Harris or Jackson Bird, two players likely to outperform Faulkner with the ball but who lack the batting technique to be relied upon for runs.

 

Ryan Harris

Role Matches Batting Average Bowling Average
Test Record Right-Arm Fast 12 17.66 23.63
First-Class Record Right-Arm Fast 61 19 27.16

 

The selection of Harris is a risk that Australia probably shouldn’t take given the considerable uncertainty already associated with their team. Battling a personal favourite in Jackson Bird for this final opening in the Test XI, Harris wins out purely because he has never set a foot wrong when playing for his country. With Darren Lehmann’s statement that previous good will counts for nothing, Peter Siddle’s recent form slump essentially rules him out of contention in our opinion, and rightly so.

Viscously fast and adept at swinging of the new ball, Harris is unique in that he provides more variation than Siddle and is 10-15km/h faster than Bird. Essentially combining the two, his selection is an absolute must, however as we mentioned above, isn’t without risk.

For Australia to win this upcoming Ashes series, they can’t afford for anything to go wrong. The nightmare scenario would be Harris’ injury-prone frame breaking down mid-way through a Test match and Australia essentially forfeiting their chance at victory in that particular fixture. We can only hope that injury to any player on either side isn’t a deciding factor in the series.

 

Nathan Lyon

Role Matches Batting Average Bowling Average
Test Record Off-Spinner 22 14.50 33.18
First-Class Record Off-Spinner 42 11.23 38.19

 

At their best, every Australian from 1-10 has the potential to match the performance of their English counterpart. Regardless of how well he performs in the upcoming Ashes series however, Nathan Lyon cannot rival the match-winning abilities of Graeme Swann. As such, Lyon is a complementary piece to Australia’s series-winning puzzle and will have to sacrifice personal statistics for the benefit of his team.

Recently in India, Lyon had the chance to prove himself as the game-changer Australians have longed for since the retirement of Warne and MacGill. Despite taking 15 wickets in just 3 Test matches, only once did his bowling shift the tide of a match – Australia went on to lose by 6 wickets regardless. If we learnt anything though, it is that our expectations might be a bit too high for the former Adelaide Oval grounds-keeper. As such, Lyon needs to tie up an end with the ball, building pressure for the fast bowlers to strike at the other end. He’s also the most likely candidate to be a stubborn night-watchmen with the bat when required. Who could forget when he was mistaken for Ricky Ponting in the batsman’s final Test match!

The English pitches may be curated to assist spin bowling to exacerbate Swann’s advantage, but Lyon can’t stray from his complementary purpose. He may bowl 35 overs in an innings, finish with figures of 0/90 and still contribute positively to the Australian cause. Lyon needs to be prepared for that and Michael Clarke needs to facilitate that with his field placements. How the Australian captain treats his spinner will be something to watch this series, but with Shane Warne now in an informal coaching role, expect Clarke to develop even further as a fielding captain when it comes to spin.

 

David Warner – 12th Man

Sublime fielder who needs to be kept around the team. Beats out Faulkner thanks to his previous Test experience and Wade because… well… who’s ever heard of a keeper being 12th man?

Warner will come back into the team at some stage, but in the spirit of change, we don’t think it should be as an opener. If he replaces Cowan at some stage, as we’re expecting, it would be nice to see the New South Welshman try his hand at number 6. Rogers would move to opener, Khawaja or Hughes to 3 and Clarke to 4. With less pressure, Warner could really find his niche as a player capable of taking matches away from the opposition in a similar manner to Adam Gilchrist in that infamous 2005 team.

And now we’re back to where we started, trying to emulate the great teams of the past in order to build a great team in the present. This Ashes XI is unlikely to be the best side ever fielded by Australia, nor is it likely to win the Ashes, but it at least gives them a chance and more importantly, gives the XI best Test cricketers in the country an opportunity to develop heading into the all-important Ashes in the Australian summer of 2013/2014.

 

Few invested observers of the Australian Cricket Team doubt the ability of Lehmann to restore a culture of respect and work ethic to the national side, the main question is how quickly can he get the job done? It would take some bravery to select the squad we’ve set out. No Dave Warner, no Peter Siddle and no Matthew Wade are all major changes from what the Australian public have gotten used to in recent times, however are all sacrifices which have to made before the 1st Test to ensure improved team balance and a chance at pulling off the most unlikely of series wins.

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On twitter @rombarbera. Australian sports by day, international sports by night. Co-founder of Blindside Sport. Fantasy sport addict.

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