The Australian Test squad for the first Ashes Test will be announced tomorrow and there isn’t really anything from this round of Shield and semi-international matches that will impact the likely line-up.
Invers and co have flagged a number of inclusions with a few bowlers getting this week off from match practice for the nets and George Bailey not doing anything to embarrass the selectors public support. It’s really only Watson’s fitness and therefore inclusion at 3 as a batsman only that is likely to be an issue.
Elsewhere, the English have warmed up in contrasting fashion, and the lack of nets facilities indoors at Tasmania coupled with two days of rain have probably set them slightly behind here they’d like to be.
For Australia, Warner and Rogers are in fine form. Rogers, the pro that he is, went back to county cricket after the Ashes and this weekend’s knocks of 88 and a century continue his fine form. He averaged well above 40 through the remainder of the county season including another ton and is seeing them well, as benefits a player with over 20,000 first class runs. He is a great partner to Warner, also seeing them like watermelons at present and particularly savage on Siddle and a fair Victoria attack in his two innings at the G.
Warner to me seems, whilst not a Mensa candidate, to be a cricket sponge and a player willing to listen and take on advice. He contrasts therefore to Watson, he seems self-centred and with only enough room in his head for one thought, that’s about himself. Warner though I think benefits from having a different sort of player at the other end when he bats. His partnership with Cowan at the outset of his career in Tests seemed like the ultimate odd couple (Cowan wrote books, Warner coloured then in) but I think Warner needs and respects that older and wiser head whilst batting. Rogers is great for him and if Australia can get some starts this series, it definitely takes the pressure off Clarke.
One reason Clarke has been hesitant to bat at 3 has been nervousness within the administrative side of the team of having him face the new ball if wickets fell early, as they have often done. Most good number 3 batsmen had the advantage of strong openers to start things off (think of Ponting, Richards, Bradman). A reason Ian Chappell is respected so much as a captain and number 3 was he batted in a period where Australian had a great bowling and middle order side but poor openers and Chappell often found himself walking out in the first hour.
Hughes and Khawaja continue to baffle. Usman it must be said was on a hiding to nothing in the Australia dig in Tassie, batting on the final afternoon as the Poms got bowling practice but he was out to a ball that he should have handled, as opposed to Doolan who after taking on Broad, got a great nut from Anderson. Hughes again gets little starts but failed in his match.
Hughes is the ultimate feast or famine batsmen, and therefore is untrustworthy at Test level. In 49 Test innings, he has an average of 32 with 3 100s and 7 50s. But a closer analysis of his record shows that in those 49 innings, he’s been out for 9 or less 17 times and 10-20 another 11, meaning over half his performances have yielded under 20 runs. At the other end, he has passed 75 9 times (nine times? Nine times) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaxhyNhFYZU
Elsewhere Aaron Finch’s cards are virtually marked as a limited overs specialist after a king pair, Bailey sticks to his first class average by making 34 and 41 and fringe players like Chris Lynn and Jordan Silk are having great seasons.
However, the consistent performances seem to be coming from players from whom we may have thought were out of the selectors consideration, such as White, Forrest and Cowan, but may be retained as back up much as Rogers was recalled.
4 of Australia’s Test batting line up have made strong 100s, as have the Poms, with Cook, Carberry, Trott and Bell all making big scores. KP has an injury and limited batting time, but if you’d back anyone to waltz into a team short on practice and perform at the highest level, it would be him.
As to the Australian bowlers, the squad seems to be selected with Siddle, Harris, Hilfy and Johnson, along with Lyon certainties. However of some concern is that none of them are exactly cutting a swathe through Shield teams in the first two rounds, Lyon especially. Harris has bowled a lot after being ill late in game 1, but hasn’t taken wickets and Johnson is again his enigmatic best, blistering when on but going for around 4 an over.
As to the English, as mentioned a number of batsmen are in form. Carberry has delivered a better knockout blow to Joe Root than Dave Warner did, with his two performances so far eye catching and a certainty to see him stride out to open with Captain Cook. Root however will slot in at 6 and is a back-up keeping option if Prior’s hammies don’t heal.
For mine, the story of the round though is England’s depth. Pound for pound, I think their Test batting line up is stronger, with Carberry, Cook, Trott, KP, Bell and Root a fair group. However, I think the gap between their best and second lot is wide, with Ballance failing again, Bairstow not getting a gig and others not showing enough. Again, with the their bowlers, they are very reliant on Anderson and Swann, and as good as Broad is, and Tremlett likely to play, only Panesar from outside the first selected team seems to be at Test level.
The key to Australia being successful then could be our depth versus theirs, and the limitations that come with a squad when you tour, as opposed to having Australian players getting regular games at Shield level.
Hopefully there are no surprises when the team is announced tomorrow. In recent years, the uncertainty of selection along with a desire to be too clever by half with bolters has injured confidences in the team and impacted consistency. The two teams, despite the score line a few months back, are closer than we think at this stage.