My Australian XI for Trent Bridge
And so with the tension barely bearable, my Australian team for the first Ashes Test is:
Simon Katich, but given the Australian selectors retired him to keep Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting, and because he didn't get on with the captain, and because he was 35, we'll go with Chris Rogers, 35, at pole, because he has plundered 19,572 runs, many of them in England, at 50.38 with 60 hundreds, 90 fifties and a highest-score of 319. He, friends, will do.
Shane Watson Yes, Mighty Thor, the classically proportioned ball whacker, equally capable of 50s, 60s, or even 70s at a good rate. I asked him once why he struggled to convert his scores into hundreds, Watto said it was because he cares too much about the outcome. I asked a sports psychiatrist about it and he said words to the effect that this was garden-variety choking. Watto, like many of us, is a sensitive soul. But Watto, unlike many of us, beats the cricket ball like it's shot out of a cannon. He is too good not to score hundreds in England this Test series. He will score hundreds. And when he goes big, he will go massive. Go him.
Ed Cowan Because Phil Hughes' wafts outside off stump would reward James Anderson with ten wickets caught at second slip, Edward old chum, you are your country's No. 3. Solid and patient, equally adept and pace and spin. I like you, Ed, always will. I did consider Usman at three given he's batted there, and is good. But I want him coming in a bit later on. And after his captain, who's in next. I want those guys batting together. Talking shop in the middle. Enjoying themselves. Batting. "Playing" cricket.
Michael Clarke Lots of respect. Top, top batsman. The prodigal boy become the main man. He is one of the best five or so batsmen in Test cricket. The Poms' big wicket. How many he gets before they get him will be one of the series' defining aspects.
Usman Khawaja Technique-wise, there's no man the cricket nerdo would rather watch. Fine timing, "classic" technique, a languid streak that almost resembles David Gower's. But he also has a first-class average of 42. And six Test matches at 29. He's looked good getting his runs but is not around long enough, often enough. Batting with the men above him will help. Batting with those below will probably not. Career-defining Test series for Usman Khawaja.
Steve Smith When I first heard Steve Smith had made the Ashes squad, I thought: Who are the selectors? Have they watched cricket before? Steve Smith, help me lord! No! But then I find he has scored a few runs for Australia A. And given I can't have David Warner in so soon after his disdain for the tenets of the No Jerks Policy, and there doesn't seem to be anyone else, Smith gets the gig at six. He also bowls legspinners, but if Clarke tosses him the ball you'll know the Poms are 500-odd for 3. Not exactly SK Warne, SPD Smith.
Brad Haddin The man to take the game up to the Poms' fearsome wickie-blaster, Matthew Prior. Haddin is all Queanbeyan-steel, with punchy pugnacious counter-strokes, and straight driving the equivalent of any man alive in the whole world. The whole world. Think about that. Also a better batsman and keeper than Matthew Wade.
Mitchell Starc Tall, quick, left-handed, Starc is Mitchell Johnson without the tongue-stud and tattoos, and propensity to leak runs like Gandalf Drake riding along in a sled with a tarpaulin covering all his money. Something like it. But Big Mitch is very good from over or around the wicket, is 7ft 4in tall, or something like it, and is a handful from on high. Remember Bruce Reid? Like him but more athletic.
Ryan Harris Bustling and at 'em, shaping it both ways, Rhino Harris is a Test cricket paceman in a breakdancing lawn bowler's body. Man is frail. And if Australia gets three Tests out of him they'll be ahead. Possibly 3-0, because Harris can sling the nut, friend.
James Pattinson Tall, quick, angry and at 'em, James Pattinson comes from a long line of Australian crazy people (President: Jeff Thomson) and will definitely trouble the Pommy top order. But the Pommy top order is bloody good. Alastair Cook has Boycott's patience and Justin Langer's eye for a short one wide. Top batsman. One of the defining contests of this series will be Pattinson, Harris and Starc against Cook and Jonathan Trott, the run machines.
Jackson Bird That's right - no spinner. Steve Smith can bowl his weirdo legspinners and the captain can hurt his problematic back. It's the Ashes, baby, you take the pain. Jackson Bird? As close as Australia has to Glenn McGrath-redux. Not quick, but patient and hyper-accurate. And while these things aren't as sexy as sweat and spittle and Captain Cook's middle peg tumbling back and almost taking out the wicketkeeper's eye, Bird's skillset takes Test wickets. McGrath has 563. Bird has 11 wickets in two Tests. And you reckon there's a couple hundred more in him.
Matt Cleary writes for several Australian sports and travel magazines. He tweets here