Wayne Smith, in The Australian, 25 April 2013
DECORUM dictated that the Poms should at least wait until Australia’s Ashes squad had been named before ridiculing it but given how many starters there will be in that fiercely contested race, it was inevitable someone would jump the gun. Not leaving anything to chance, respected English cricket writer Mike Selvey rushed into print in The Guardian on Monday with the breathless prediction that “Australia’s fragile Ashes hopes (would) rest on the frail, flabby and fallible” — as his headline writer neatly summarised his thesis. The only leavening in this weighty condemnation was that his assessment of the Australians as “flabby” referred not to their waistlines but their batting technique, although there would be many in this country dubiously eyeing this 16-man squad who would happily exchange its (generally) lean athleticism for the courage and skill of such portly fighters as David Boon and Colin Cowdrey.Not since Allan Border led his side to England in 1989 has Australia gone into an Ashes series relying so lopsidedly upon one batsman and unsurprisingly this time it is once again the captain, Michael Clarke. It used to be that Australians could console themselves with the fact that at least one other player in the side averaged over 40 in Tests, but sadly following his second-innings eight in Delhi, David Warner’s average dipped to 39.47. It’s a little unnerving to realise that Clarke has more Test runs to his credit, 7275 of them, than the other six specialist batsmen combined. Indeed, toss Matthew Wade’s 623 runs into the mix as well and Clarke still has them covered.
Still, as magnificently as Border batted in that 1989 series, scoring 442 runs at an average of 73, he wasn’t alone in defying England. Mark Taylor made two centuries in the series, one of them a double. So, too, did Steve Waugh and Dean Jones while Geoff Marsh contributed another at Trent Bridge as the underrated Aussies, losers in the two previous Ashes series, swept David Gower’s England aside 4-0. So while Selvey and his colleagues might sneer, there is at least some cause for bravado, if not genuine hope.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That’s the mistake the selectors made, believing they could make long-term plans that involved Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey not only staying in the game through to this Ashes campaign but also staying at the peak of their own games. There is such seductiveness about the old saying that form is temporary but class permanent that even a sensible, thoughtful man like chairman of selectors John Inverarity could come to believe that the two classy veterans could defy time in much the same way as they had defied Steve Harmison and Andy Flintoff and James Anderson back in the summer of 2006-07, the last occasion Australia won the Ashes.
They couldn’t, of course, though Hussey was still making a fair fist of it right to the end. But when both men finally cried “enough” within a month of each other last year, the foundations on which Australia’s Ashes plans were built utterly cracked. In desperation, the selectors introduced a swag of swaggering youths for the tour of India and in the process not only consigned them to its dustbowl pitches but quite possibly to the dustbin of history as well.
Steve Smith, Moises Henriques, Xavier Doherty, Glenn Maxwell and even Mitchell Johnson all would have been cursing their selection for India when the Ashes squad was announced yesterday, with their names conspicuously missing. Long-term planning, they sadly discovered, had bowed — as it always does — to short-term expediency.
There’s a lot to be said, most of it good, about the selection of the two 35-year-old comeback “kids”, Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers. Clarke might only have missed one Test because of injury in his 92-Test career but unhappily it was the last one Australia played and the selectors sensibly have covered the possibility of his bad back misbehaving again in England by naming Haddin as vice-captain. That entails jettisoning another long-term plan, the one that envisaged Wade keeping in this Ashes series, but Haddin has what the Maori refer to as “mana”, authority, and besides Wade made it an easy call for the selectors by keeping so poorly in India. Never mind that Haddin lately has been keeping him company with his own glovework.
Rogers must look back on his solitary Test appearance, against India at the WACA in January 2008 with some regret, and not just because he made 4 and 15. Had he never played that game, he would have had Hussey’s record of scoring 15,000 first-class runs before making his Test debut cold. He has scored 19,107 of them and of course, leaving aside his vast experience in England, he also has the added advantage of being a left-hander.
Seemingly whatever else this Australian side might lack, the selectors are adamant is will not be lacking in lefties. They can’t get enough of them — Warner, Cowan, Hughes, Khawaja, Wade, Starc, Pattinson (when batting) and now Rogers. Johnson must be wondering, “Why me?”
Why? Because the one area in which Australia is strong, possibly even as strong as England, is in the fast bowling department.
The indefatigable Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris will nag away, if asked, from the first ball of the Trent Bridge Test on July 10 to the last at The Oval on August 25, while Pattinson, Starc and aggressive newcomer James Faulkner provide the hurry-up. And yet possibly the best of them all might be Jackson Bird, who has such an aura of Glenn McGrath about him that coach Mickey Arthur should assign someone exclusively to him, just to make sure he doesn’t tread on any stray balls in warm-up.
Fragile, frail, flabby and fallible . . . the Poms do love f-words, it seems.
So here’s another. No, not that one but this — folly. That’s just what it might be if they start reading their own press.