Australia’s touring party for this year’s Ashes series isn’t decorated with the household names of the past. Unless your one for regularly watching the early hours Sky coverage of Australian cricket over our winter months, chances are the squad contains a few unfamiliar names. To fill you in, this piece of reconnaissance aims to establish what each Aussie squad member brings to the team, as well as providing a few hints as to how I think England might go about combating them. Let’s start with the batsmen…
Michael Clarke (capt)
Australia’s best batsmen with 7275 test runs to his name at an average of 52.33. Registered a remarkable four test innings of 200 or more in 2012, but he has only made one century in 10 test matches in England. Without question the tourist’s best player of spin and unlike many in the modern game when facing spin, he likes to use his feet and hit over extra cover rather than sweep square of the wicket. The Australian middle order is likely to be packed with left handers which will play into the hands of Graeme Swann but Clarke ought to provide most resistance. In Ashes series, it’s a given that both sides will make a special effort to target the opposition captain, so where can England get at Clarke? Well in past series, they’ve felt he is susceptible to driving on the up, perhaps due to the back problems Clarke suffers from occasionally. This can sometimes prevent him from transferring his weight fully through the shot, causing the ball to be hit aerially. So expect some unorthodox fields from Cook, with some close catchers in strange positions. England have even employed a silly mid-on to Clarke in the past, extremely rare when a fast medium is bowling, who is positioned no more than a few feet to the right of the umpire. The aforementioned back injuries are one of two doubts hanging over Clarke. The other being his role off the field, after he stepped down as a selector following the sacking of coach Mickey Arthur which occurred today at the time of writing.
If you hadn’t heard of David Warner when the squad was announced, chances are you have by now. Following the ban enforced by the Australian Cricket Board for his late night antics in a Birmingham Walkabout, the first test at Trent Bridge would be his first competitive game in some time. Whether they do select him, given the fact he may be a bit undercooked, is going to be a dilemma for the Australian selectors. But what about him as a player? He first caught the eye when he made his international debut in the T20 format as a powerful and flamboyant opener, in the mould of ‘a Jayasuriya’ or ‘a Hayden’ as optimists claimed. Still finding his way as a Test opener, he has just 19 caps and an average of 39.46. Struggled for much of Australia’s most recent test series India, however conditions there will be nothing like what he will face in England. Lots of solid knocks came over the winter against Sri Lanka and South Africa back home, but Warner only converted one of his numerous good starts into a hundred. Can undoubtedly score and score quickly, but how he deals with the lateral movement both through the air and off the pitch in England will determine how he fares.
An experienced opener in first class cricket for his state side Tasmania. Made his debut at the 2011 Boxing Day Test match and has since cultivated an average of 32.90 over his 17 test caps. Cowan will probably open in the first test alongside Shane Watson, in preference to the unpredictable Phil Hughes. Much like Warner, his record over the winter show a plethora of 30’s, 40’s and 50’s but a century is conspicuous in its absence. An orthodox left hander who won’t give the England attack too many surprises, but a short spell for Gloucestershire was his only experience of the first class game in England. Seems strong off his body so I would imagine that England, particularly Jimmy Anderson, will look to push the ball across him early on and try and get him caught behind.
Hughes was a selection for the last Ashes series in England 2009, and was billed as a precocious young talent. Hughes had made two centuries during the tour of South Africa prior to that series. However, he struggled at the top of the order in England and was dropped for the third Ashes test. He has since accumulated 24 Test caps and his average stands at a moderate 33.00. His selection this time around however, is proof that there is a genuine will amongst selectors to see him succeed for Australia. More recently he was moved down the order to three or four during the winter tour of India which is where we are most likely to see him, if selected. Loves width and will throw his hands at most things, so England will try and bowl a tight line. England has targeted him with the short ball in the past, so I would expect to see more of the same. But, if this tactic fails, then they have Graeme Swann who will fancy his chances of claiming any left handers wicket.
Described by Mike Atherton as a ‘un-Australian’ selection, because Australia are usually reluctant to select players over a certain age who have previously been deemed sub-standard. However, Rodgers (35) could prove to be quite a shrewd selection. He has great experience of the county circuit in England having played for Middlesex, Northampton and Derbyshire over the years. Rodgers has an impressive average of 50.38 over his 239 first class appearances. Another left hand bat, he will be more familiar to England’s bowlers than most of the touring party and will naturally be more used to the conditions here. Whether the selectors will be brave enough to hand him his second test cap at the age of 35, in an Ashes test, remains to be seen.
Khawaja hasn’t played a Test since December 2011 so it would appear unlikely that the selectors would thrust him into an Ashes XI. The left handed batsman made his test debut in the final test of the 2010-2011 Ashes series at his home ground, the SCG. Played in six tests throughout 2011 and averaged 29.22 batting predominantly at number three. Khawaja hasn’t really made much of an impact during the Australia ‘A’ games played around the UK in recent weeks scoring 51, 8, 0, 6, 29*. However with question marks over the behaviour of David Warner, the pedigree of Phil Hughes, and the lower back of Michael Clarke, Khawaja might well get a chance at some stage of the five test series.
Next up, Impact will scout the Australian all-rounders.