Five Openers, no HOWLERS in Aussie Ashes Squad

Patrick Smith, in The Australian, 25 April 2013

 Chris Rogers prof.ashx Australian batsman Chris Rogers, 35, pos Chris Rogers–Pic from AFP

THE first question — the essential question — that needs to be asked is: can we make that Test squad bound for England any better by fiddling with the work of John Inverarity and his mates? The summer gone has us fretting.  If there are no obvious places that need to be overhauled or even fine-tuned, no names chucked overboard, then Inverarity, Mickey Arthur, Michael Clarke, Rod Marsh and Andy Bichel have settled on a sensible, fair and uncontroversial collection of players charged to bring the Ashes to Australia. That doesn’t mean they will come back with anything more than battered limbs and tarnished reputations, rather just that we have gathered together the best of a bad lot.

First up, are there any bowlers? Sorry, that should read howlers. Well, there is just one spinner and 37 opening bats. Nathan Lyon, considered not good enough for that disastrous second Test in Hyderaverybad is now elevated to the status of an all-spinning, all-dipping, all-flighting one-man band. To pick just Lyon is a reasonable conclusion to reach. He is the only spinner we have capable of bowling above Sheffield Shield standard. He is young and getting better. A spot is left for fair-dinkum Aussie in-waiting Fawad Ahmed if required or when available and the precocious teenage spinner Ashton Agar will tour with the Australia A team.No other spinner was worthy of consideration.

It will be an awkward moment at Trent Bridge come July 10 when five Australians walk out to open the batting. The toss of the coin to begin the Test will be followed by tosses of coins as a quintet of Aussies see which three must retreat to the safety of the pavilion. That Chris Rogers is among them is reassuring if not surprising. The selectors could not spell his name this past summer. Yet he should not be considered as the reserve batsman. He is 35, a veteran of more than 233 first-class games with a superior average of 50. He has probably played more county cricket than Jonathan Trott so he brings maturity and experience. His ability to play the moving ball might well see him as one of the most important batsmen of the tour.

Presumably, David Warner and Ed Cowan would get first chance to glue themselves into No 1 and 2. Rogers and Phil Hughes could then bat at three and four. Clarke is best at No 5. Watson deserves to bat no higher than six and even then maybe not ahead of Usman Khawaja. That said, the selectors have probably named Khawaja just to torment the kid even more. Hey, Usman. Put the pads on and sit over there. See you at Heathrow in a couple of months.

Brad Haddin back as keeper is the result of a shabby tour of India by Matthew Wade. The Victorian is a feisty little man and the more he appeared consumed in battling the Indians verbally, the more distracted his keeping became. By the end he looked a grabber and not a glover of the ball. The lack of surety disappeared from his batting, too, and so he swiped rather than stroked.

Haddin was also needed to be Clarke’s deputy. Watson failed in that task, unable to fulfil a reasonable request from team leadership to seek personal input on how individuals might better face the complexities of the Indian tour. If he was of no mind to do it himself, then Watson owed it to the team to make sure the rest of the players did. He failed and so betrayed Clarke and Australian cricket. If this Ashes touring party has a lucky passenger, it is Watson.

It was generally agreed yesterday that if Australian batting was wobbly then its fast bowlers were not. That belief needs more clarification. Individually the bowlers are honest, quickish, (dare not say healthy) and wicket-takers.

Peter Siddle persists at good speed and mostly the right length, Mitch Starc can swing the ball but not always in places that discombobulate batsmen. James Pattinson is fast, probably the quickest, and he thinks he is even quicker. That is not a bad thing for it feeds his aggression. Batsmen do not like facing him.

Ryan Harris has a wheelchair as his bowling mark but he is an unconventional bowler nonetheless. He is fast enough, ornery enough, capable of getting movement off the track or through the air but most importantly bowls with imagination. A little Bothamesque. He, like Pattinson, makes life uncomfortable for the pad wearers. But it is Jackson Bird who is the critical bowler for Australia. He is only two Tests old but he has 11 wickets at 16. His economy rate is an exciting, miserly 2.8. In first-class cricket where he has been more exposed his figures hardly suffer. On average no wicket costs him more than 19 runs and he keeps batsmen to scoring well under three an over. He might just be the bowler the England bats seek to knock out of the attack and the team. For if they allow him to maintain his rhythm, his line and his edge then he becomes as close to a Glenn McGrath clone that we have.

The critical next step is which bowlers will do the work around him. An effective mix would be Pattinson with the new ball, Bird from the other end and Harris relieving Pattinson as the pair bowl short, quick spells. Watson to give assistance if it so pleases him. Then the spin of Lyon.

But it might be that selectors elect to win this series with speed and swing. Which leaves Starc, Siddle and James Faulkner to play for the fourth bowling duties.

It is fair to say the selectors pretty much got the ingredients right yesterday after some inedible offerings through summer. As always, though, it is the recipe that’s going to count.



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