Ashes squad set to be named
The Australian batting is powerful, and settled, so the reserve batsman will probably spend much of the tour carrying the drinks. Brad Hodge had plenty of practice in New Zealand and will probably edge out Mike Hussey, the left-hander who is likely to be named on the one-day squad. Simon Katich has done enough to secure his place, while Michael Clarke, despite his recent poor run, is set for his first Ashes series.
The four pacemen - Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz and Brett Lee - will be supported by an extra seam bowler. Shane Watson is a candidate, after making his Test debut against Pakistan, at Sydney in January, but with their batting strength, and the option of playing Adam Gilchrist at No 6 they are likely to go for a specialist bowler, with Nathan Bracken or Shaun Tait the favourites. If the Ashes were being played in the first half of the season Bracken would be ideal, with his ability to swing the ball and his experience with Gloucestershire. But the pitches will have dried out by the time the series starts in July, so outright pace is more likely to cause damage, and Tait certainly has that. Despite a chastening experience for Durham last summer, where he sent down 18 overs for 176 runs, he bounced back during the Australian domestic season, taking 65 wickets at 20 apiece. Tait is also seen as the next spearhead of the Australian attack so an Ashes tour would be valuable experience.
Support for Shane Warne is the other bowling dilemma to be solved. The Australians always favour an attack of three quick bowlers and one spinner, unless the pitch is crumbling on the first day, so it is unlikely two spinners will play - but a broken figure can't be ruled out so back-up is required. There has been talk of Dan Cullen, an offspinner from South Australia, being a surprise pick following a successful domestic season, where he took 43 wickets, but MacGill was outstanding for New South Wales, and won the man-of-the-match award at Sydney in the only Test he played. After claiming 54 wickets at 24 apiece and being named the NSW player of the year, MacGill could count himself very unlucky if he misses out on a first Ashes tour.
As is the case with modern tours, once the Test matches start they come thick and fast - five in seven weeks - so any squad members will have limited time to get match practice. However, a reserve wicketkeeper is the other consideration the selectors will make, if only to give Adam Gilchrist a rest in the non-international matches. Brad Haddin has been his understudy for the last couple of years and there is no one else pushing him, especially after making 902 runs at 60 in the Pura Cup.
The one-day squad for the Natwest Series and Challenge will also be named, but even though those competitions take place before the Ashes all thoughts are already focused on July 21 at Lord's.
Possible Test squad Ricky Ponting (capt), Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich, Brad Hodge, Adam Gilchrist, Brad Haddin, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Michael Kasprowicz, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath, Shaun Tait, Stuart MacGill
Possible one-day squad Ricky Ponting (capt), Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Damien Martyn, Michael Clarke, Andrew Symonds, Simon Katich, Mike Hussey, Shane Watson, Brad Hogg, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee, Michael Kasprowicz, Glenn McGrath