Watson questions England batting depth
Australia have identified England's use of five specialist bowlers as a point of weakness to expose in the forthcoming ODI series, reasoning that the hosts' longer tail will place pressure on the middle order provided early wickets can be taken.
Shane Watson, the allrounder and vice-captain to Michael Clarke, pointed out that an England XI featuring Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann had tremendous depth in bowling but not so much in batting. This was particularly so as the top three of Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott had done the vast majority of the team's run-making in recent ODI matches against the West Indies and Pakistan.
Ravi Bopara, Eoin Morgan and Craig Kieswetter have had less to do in the wake of Cook's prolific efforts as ODI captain, while Bell's recent return has covered for the premature limited overs retirement of Kevin Pietersen. Watson said Australia's pace attack, likely to include the still slippery Brett Lee alongside the speedy 19-year-old Pat Cummins at Lord's on Friday, will be seeking to get them out into the middle early on.
"For England to be able to go in with four frontline quick bowlers is a very good thing for them against our batting line-up, but I suppose playing for out-and-out quick bowlers and one main spinner as well means if we're able to make inroads into their batting line-up early it means they might be one batsman short," Watson said. "That's something that we see as very important for us to have success here, to try to make early inroads.
"That's been one of England's strengths over the last period of time with their batting, being able to score heavily in the top three really, so we know if we're able to make inroads it might expose a part of the English team that hasn't really been exposed over the last little while as well. Hopefully that's something we're able to do, on the flipside of that we know England have got a very strong bowling line-up with no weaknesses there at all, so it's going to be a very good challenge."
In their 179-run pounding of Essex at Chelmsford on Tuesday, Australia opened with Watson and David Warner, leaving No. 7 in the highly capable hands of Matthew Wade. By contrast, England have promoted Tim Bresnan to accommodate the extra bowler, and Watson said that while he respected Bresnan's batting ability, he was happy to have someone of Wade's promise as his opposite batting number.
"I'll never sell Tim Bresnan short, I think he's an excellent cricketer, he's a very highly skilled bowler and he got 70-odd against us in the semi-final of the Champions Trophy a few years ago as well, so I know he can bat," Watson said. "But there's no doubt it does put a bit more pressure on him batting at seven, and Matthew Wade has had some pretty good success in his short career anyway opening or batting at seven as well. That could be to our advantage."
Bresnan had earlier padded away the suggestion that he might be one place too high in England's batting order, saying he was comfortable with where he stood. He was more forthcoming about the circumstances in which he had been left out of the team for the washed out third ODI against the West Indies at Headingley, admitting that his training efforts had slackened in recent weeks.
"It's always difficult in training, you are a little bit lethargic but can always get up for game, but if you are not preparing as well as you can that's always to the detriment of the team which suffers," Bresnan said. "So I felt I was lethargic and saving myself in training for games and that's a bad habit."
"I wanted to play at Headingley, but I understand the other side of the coin which says there's a lot of cricket coming up. We're off the back of a lot of cricket, I've bowled a lot of overs and if Andy [Flower] and the medical staff think I looked tired and need a break I respect that decision. I would rather take one game out and rest than be forced to take an extended spell out because of injury.
"They have a lot of communication between themselves, Andy and Dave Saker and the medical team, and the walls have ears, so if you whisper to somebody that you are tired it's going to get back to the coach pretty quickly."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here