November 17, 2013

The Watson and Johnson question marks

If the two won't be fit and ready for the Ashes, how will Australia's selectors spread the bowling load and boost the batting?
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I've reached an age where memory lapses become a concern, and I'm wondering if I only imagined Australia's recent heavy Test losses to India and then England. Didn't those 4-0 and 3-0 losses occur?

I only ask because ever since England landed in Australia, it's all been about the problems facing the tourists and how the home side is settled and in good shape for the upcoming Ashes series.

Sure, England have a few queries. There's Matt Prior's injury, the late change to Michael Carberry as an opening batsman, and also settling on a third fast bowler. Chris Tremlett appears to be down on pace, Steven Finn is inconsistent - fast and bouncy one minute and distinctly unthreatening the next - and Boyd Rankin is both unproven and a liability in the field. Nevertheless, that still leaves the bulk of the England side settled and successful.

Australia, on the other hand, with no recent success stories to fall back on, should have concerns. The two biggest headaches for them are the fitness of Shane Watson and the form of Mitchell Johnson. What if Johnson reverts to type and is profligate in an Ashes series? That will put an unbearably heavy load on the two critical fast bowlers, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris, who both need to be at their best for Australia to remain competitive. And that doesn't even address the matter of the huge confidence boost it'll be for Alastair Cook if Johnson keeps angling deliveries on to his pads like he did at Lord's in 2009.

Watson is just as critical to the batting effort and his latest injury means he has had no time in the centre for a month leading into the first Test. That gives the England bowlers a distinct advantage, and a slow start for Watson with the bat could have serious implications for Michael Clarke and the middle order.

Despite some encouraging signs, Steve Smith still needs to prove he can consistently make big scores against top-quality bowling. He'll be further challenged if Australia don't get good contributions from the top-order players. Following Smith will either be an unknown quantity in debutant George Bailey, or Brad Haddin, who is showing signs that age is starting to win the battle when he's batting.

This is where the selectors face a real dilemma. Do they sacrifice a batsman to fit James Faulkner into the side to provide cover for any Johnson profligacy, or do they forgo variety and leave Nathan Lyon out and play the allrounder in an all-pace attack?

Lyon is a good bowler but too often the quality of his deliveries isn't matched by the results in the wicket column. Nevertheless it's a huge gamble to play a five-day game at the Gabba without a spinner.

Either way, the Australian line-up is desperately short of good catching men and it'll be a blessing for Clarke if Watson can't bowl, because they'll struggle to fill three slip positions adequately without him in the cordon.

There's potential for improvement in the Australian batting line-up and it'll be especially encouraging for the future if both Warner and Smith have a good series. The bowling is a pretty well-known quantity, unless Johnson does rediscover his best form. Then there's a real edge to the attack.

England, meanwhile, are tried and tested and what you see is what you get. The success of the batting will revolve around Cook and Jonathan Trott scoring heavily so Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell can take advantage of a good start to elevate the scoring rate. The bowling will live or die on the form of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann.

If Joe Root continues to improve and Finn finds consistency at Test level, it would augur well for England's future.

There's always a lot of bluff and bluster in the lead-up to an Ashes series and the reality is there are generally more ifs and buts than certainties. On this occasion Australia have more ifs, while England are superior in the number of proven performers. And unless my memory's playing tricks, that means the tourists will start as favourites.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on November 20, 2013, 12:59 GMT

    Ian Chappell as usual presents a realistic scenario of the current situation. Noone can predict the result with certainty, but he clearly explains the Australian fragility against a professional, but not brilliant English team. Oh for a Thommo - that X factor is what you need to really stir up good teams.

  • rm85 on November 20, 2013, 12:55 GMT

    The final scoreline doesn't always present the true picture.. Yes Australia lost 3-0 in Endland, but could easily have won 2-1. It was only in the Lord's test that England comprehensively beat Australia.. All others were close contests..or draws.. The fragile Australian batting lineup managed to score 500+ in one test and 492 in another.. The brilliant English batting lineup couldn't cross 400 even once.. Maybe Australia will loose once again.but the English claims of being the best side in the world are just imaginary wonderings..

  • on November 19, 2013, 13:33 GMT

    We talk of a much vaunted batting line up on one side, the pace of Johnson, the form of Warner, but in the interests of discussion, are these drop in wickets going to have their say above all else? What are the effects in Australia, not having them at home we don't see the results as often as our Aus/NZ counterparts? Is it inconcievable to think that the more durable and creative bowling line up will triumph? In which case you would have to chose an English victory wouldn't you?

  • Surajk on November 19, 2013, 13:08 GMT

    @Martin Briggs, you are comfortably forgetting the fact that SA beat England 2-0 in 2012 in their own backyard and even in the previous series in SA, England were extremely lucky to draw 2 of the games with the help of last wicket pair.Nobody is challenging the fact that England is a good team but they are definitely not the best, that title belongs to SA. And the Ashes obsessed English fans want their team to be recognized as the best in the world just by beating Australia - which was ok in 2005 but definitely not post 2008 As far as India is concerned, the ageing team were annihilated by Eng and Aus but before that the same team had won in Eng (2007), drew in SA (2011) and retained Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia (2004) - against the pre-2008 Aussie team which no English team could ever do. The current Indian team is a new look team with good players of pace and spin and it wont be surprising if they at least manage to draw the upcoming series in SA and win in England.

  • on November 19, 2013, 11:30 GMT

    Inded, the media have done a great job to big this up into something that may become a contest. Australia will have to play to the maximum of their ability for the first 2 matches, because England know, that if they keep the pressure on them, Australia are only 1 session away from calamity.

    Their top 6 is so fragile, that if England bat first and get 450, the odds are they can lose 4 wickets in a session easily. Likewise, if Australia bat first, they might be all gone for 250. So, in the first two matches Australia's top 6 must fire, or the series will be over.

  • on November 19, 2013, 6:06 GMT

    What a horribly negative article! The point that Australia is much more settled than previously is in regards to the fact we have had the 11 all but finalised for about a month now, as opposed to the series in England when he had about 16 players floating around the 11, and it was never truly known what team we were going to go in with.

    We have a really good shot now, those 4-0 and 3-0 losses were played on pitches designed against us, but now we have the pitches to suit, the consistency in selection and the form of key players, Warner is in unbelievable form, Rogers and Smith have been great in the Shield, and Bailey brings a whole new dimension to the team and if he fires we will be well on the way

    If only Pattinson was fit

  • Insult_2_Injury on November 19, 2013, 2:10 GMT

    Like most critics bashing Johnson, Ian, you don't give credit to the mental side of the poms looking at the attack and saying we might get a few 'if' we get in against Johnson, but he is slinging them at pace and from an angle that takes concentration every ball. Pick Harris and Siddle to tie down the other end and let Johnson exploit his superior strike rate to bowl them out twice. Get rid of the pie chucker Lyon and give Agar a series to develop and we'll have a spinner for the future who can actually regularly turn a ball. Let Agar play with the experienced Harris & Siddle and he'll compliment Pattinson, Cummins, Starc, et al for more than a decade. Stop listening to the Barmy Army tools who are only impressed by themselves and let Johnson loose, just like Thomson, Merv and Brett Lee were. Their strike rates are more important than their averages, that's for line & length bowlers.

  • Front-Foot-Sponge on November 18, 2013, 21:15 GMT

    @Train Stationer, train left without you buddy. No more timeless tests so no chance of England reaching 500 lol!

  • on November 18, 2013, 20:38 GMT

    @ Suraj Krishnaswamy, it may have escaped your attention but England won 2-1 in South Africa in 2004-05 and drew 1-1 on their last tour. Considerably better than anything India have ever done recently...in SA or anywhere apart form their own backyard. And roll on the upcoming series when the hyped-up Rohit Sharma, Kohli et al won't be served up the diet of half-volley lollipops that they've just received from the West Indies (barely the standard of one of the weaker counties) and Australia 2nd XI with all the bowling restrictions that ODI's bring...

  • Westend on November 18, 2013, 11:04 GMT

    Yes Ian you are correct. You can,t take much notice of the banter prior to the beginning of a series.Bill Lawry said you were the best batsman in the world before a test series in South Africa and look what happened.

  • on November 20, 2013, 12:59 GMT

    Ian Chappell as usual presents a realistic scenario of the current situation. Noone can predict the result with certainty, but he clearly explains the Australian fragility against a professional, but not brilliant English team. Oh for a Thommo - that X factor is what you need to really stir up good teams.

  • rm85 on November 20, 2013, 12:55 GMT

    The final scoreline doesn't always present the true picture.. Yes Australia lost 3-0 in Endland, but could easily have won 2-1. It was only in the Lord's test that England comprehensively beat Australia.. All others were close contests..or draws.. The fragile Australian batting lineup managed to score 500+ in one test and 492 in another.. The brilliant English batting lineup couldn't cross 400 even once.. Maybe Australia will loose once again.but the English claims of being the best side in the world are just imaginary wonderings..

  • on November 19, 2013, 13:33 GMT

    We talk of a much vaunted batting line up on one side, the pace of Johnson, the form of Warner, but in the interests of discussion, are these drop in wickets going to have their say above all else? What are the effects in Australia, not having them at home we don't see the results as often as our Aus/NZ counterparts? Is it inconcievable to think that the more durable and creative bowling line up will triumph? In which case you would have to chose an English victory wouldn't you?

  • Surajk on November 19, 2013, 13:08 GMT

    @Martin Briggs, you are comfortably forgetting the fact that SA beat England 2-0 in 2012 in their own backyard and even in the previous series in SA, England were extremely lucky to draw 2 of the games with the help of last wicket pair.Nobody is challenging the fact that England is a good team but they are definitely not the best, that title belongs to SA. And the Ashes obsessed English fans want their team to be recognized as the best in the world just by beating Australia - which was ok in 2005 but definitely not post 2008 As far as India is concerned, the ageing team were annihilated by Eng and Aus but before that the same team had won in Eng (2007), drew in SA (2011) and retained Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia (2004) - against the pre-2008 Aussie team which no English team could ever do. The current Indian team is a new look team with good players of pace and spin and it wont be surprising if they at least manage to draw the upcoming series in SA and win in England.

  • on November 19, 2013, 11:30 GMT

    Inded, the media have done a great job to big this up into something that may become a contest. Australia will have to play to the maximum of their ability for the first 2 matches, because England know, that if they keep the pressure on them, Australia are only 1 session away from calamity.

    Their top 6 is so fragile, that if England bat first and get 450, the odds are they can lose 4 wickets in a session easily. Likewise, if Australia bat first, they might be all gone for 250. So, in the first two matches Australia's top 6 must fire, or the series will be over.

  • on November 19, 2013, 6:06 GMT

    What a horribly negative article! The point that Australia is much more settled than previously is in regards to the fact we have had the 11 all but finalised for about a month now, as opposed to the series in England when he had about 16 players floating around the 11, and it was never truly known what team we were going to go in with.

    We have a really good shot now, those 4-0 and 3-0 losses were played on pitches designed against us, but now we have the pitches to suit, the consistency in selection and the form of key players, Warner is in unbelievable form, Rogers and Smith have been great in the Shield, and Bailey brings a whole new dimension to the team and if he fires we will be well on the way

    If only Pattinson was fit

  • Insult_2_Injury on November 19, 2013, 2:10 GMT

    Like most critics bashing Johnson, Ian, you don't give credit to the mental side of the poms looking at the attack and saying we might get a few 'if' we get in against Johnson, but he is slinging them at pace and from an angle that takes concentration every ball. Pick Harris and Siddle to tie down the other end and let Johnson exploit his superior strike rate to bowl them out twice. Get rid of the pie chucker Lyon and give Agar a series to develop and we'll have a spinner for the future who can actually regularly turn a ball. Let Agar play with the experienced Harris & Siddle and he'll compliment Pattinson, Cummins, Starc, et al for more than a decade. Stop listening to the Barmy Army tools who are only impressed by themselves and let Johnson loose, just like Thomson, Merv and Brett Lee were. Their strike rates are more important than their averages, that's for line & length bowlers.

  • Front-Foot-Sponge on November 18, 2013, 21:15 GMT

    @Train Stationer, train left without you buddy. No more timeless tests so no chance of England reaching 500 lol!

  • on November 18, 2013, 20:38 GMT

    @ Suraj Krishnaswamy, it may have escaped your attention but England won 2-1 in South Africa in 2004-05 and drew 1-1 on their last tour. Considerably better than anything India have ever done recently...in SA or anywhere apart form their own backyard. And roll on the upcoming series when the hyped-up Rohit Sharma, Kohli et al won't be served up the diet of half-volley lollipops that they've just received from the West Indies (barely the standard of one of the weaker counties) and Australia 2nd XI with all the bowling restrictions that ODI's bring...

  • Westend on November 18, 2013, 11:04 GMT

    Yes Ian you are correct. You can,t take much notice of the banter prior to the beginning of a series.Bill Lawry said you were the best batsman in the world before a test series in South Africa and look what happened.

  • on November 18, 2013, 10:11 GMT

    England's side oozes class, but when I look at Australia I don't see much class. Watson is a gritty player, Clarke has class but looks mentally fragile. England will be looking to bat big and has a batting line-up capable of posting 500 on a regular basis. There bowlers are a lot more consistent than Australia's. This has all the makings of a very one-sided series.

  • on November 18, 2013, 10:06 GMT

    Very interesting analysis, in my opinion the entire Australia build up for the series is premised on the England team playing far worse than they have done recently, and Australia playing far better then they have done for a long while. Whilst this is possible, a hardened professional England should be favourites for this series.

  • willsrustynuts on November 18, 2013, 9:32 GMT

    First balanced analysis I have seen. IC has been watching the cricket and not simply repeating every press release from CA/ECB.

  • dmat on November 18, 2013, 5:48 GMT

    Aus needs to win at least 2 tests and draw 2 others to win the ashes. Other than a complete brain fade in Adelaide, that match will be a draw (and a waste of 5 days). So, if we can somehow win in Brisbane and Perth, we need to draw either one of Sydney or Melbourne. Brisbane is crucial in this plan but all the curators need to understand that we expect result wickets - not roads. Of course, there are still lots of doubts about our ability to win but we need to make sure there is at least an opportunity.

  • SoverBerry2 on November 18, 2013, 5:36 GMT

    Commentary on the first ball on day 1 .

    "Mitchel Johnson to Al Cook. Down the leg side for four. Clarke looks sheepishly at the bowler"

    Second Over... "Oh, no! Ryan Harris is walking back to dressing room with a hamstring..."

    Rest 88 overs "Peter Siddle bowling and England batting"

  • Winsome on November 18, 2013, 5:01 GMT

    This is pretty much how I feel about the Aussie chances. Their batting is still fragile and the bowlers are prone to injury (plus I can't see Johnson holding his nerve come the Gabba). Ian Chappell is dead right about the catching problems, they haven't had a proper slips cordon for years. Clarke is not good to his right, Watson can't always judge well with the wickie and everyone else is not experienced enough to play with any comfort in slips.

  • Bonehead_maz on November 18, 2013, 3:14 GMT

    @ landl47 on (November 17, 2013, 22:51 GMT) you sir are completely correct. That's exactly what we did against SA last year and nearly stole it. BUT weather conditions to prepare the "road" at Gabba, havn't happened. I grew up on that ground, and afternoon thunderstorms change it all (ask if you could Freddy Brown or Len Hutton). We have good covers and drainage now. If it gets to 5th afternoon and weather predictions are correct, it'll play like a 3rd day surface. So this will become a different match to that CA originally planned. (just silly opinion of a 'Gabba kid ...... from 1960's)

  • class9ryan on November 18, 2013, 1:18 GMT

    This Australian unit is the most injury prone I have seen in the past. I just wish all of them stay fit, if Australia are gonna compete in this Ashes. The problem for Australia is they do not have enough quality batsmen in their ranks at this point of time. Lehmann has to make sure he takes this team at least till 2 years. There is raw material with a few world class players, but if they don't play enough it could make Australia the Windies of today.

  • on November 18, 2013, 0:44 GMT

    @PrasPunter And Dhoni scored a double hundred on that with no.11 for company. Same at other venues where Dhawan, Kohli, Vijay rattled off centuries, which only goes to show that Aussie batsmen lacked test match temperament. Wish they do better in AUS, would hate to see Pommies claim they are the best even though they still haven't found a way to win in SA!

  • VivGilchrist on November 18, 2013, 0:36 GMT

    So much criticism directed at Watson which I think is unfair as his record v England is quite respectable. The simple equation is that Australia have to win at the Gabba. To do this they need to take 20 wickets. If Johnson plays (which he will) and if Watto can't bowl, Faulkner must play. It's unfortunate to say but if MJ is bowling a stinker and leaking runs, Australia will risk overworking the other bowlers and therefore need the backup of JF. This should not happen at International level, I know, but the fact that Pattinson, Starc, Cummins, Bollinger, and Bird are all injured and the selectors don't want to give Sayers a shot yet, so MJ it is.

  • on November 18, 2013, 0:30 GMT

    why is no one talking about Aston Agar, the one test wonder does well in Ashes Opener tests.

  • MrKricket on November 17, 2013, 23:44 GMT

    As an Aussie fan I am just hoping to be competitive. If we can pull a drawn series that will be victory enough. It may all come together but even if England is a few men down they still have a good seven players who are very experienced and at least a few of them will come good in any match. Hard to say that about Aus. Probably not as bad as the last series looks but they will have to make the most of any chances. You'd hope it can't be as bad as the last Ashes in Australia. But then again it was 1-1 going to the MCG where it all went to hell in a single stupid session. Let's hope for no repeats. 1-1 I predict. Lots of rain on the east coast this summer - those three Tests could be drawn.

  • landl47 on November 17, 2013, 22:51 GMT

    I'm surprised no-one's really mentioned this, but wouldn't Australia's best chance be to neutralize the bowlers by providing dead flat, easy-paced pitches which allow the batsmen to play at though these were ODIs? Warner, Watson, Smith. Bailey, Faulkner- all much better short-format players than FC players. England has a much more FC-oriented squad. In a hitting contest, I'd back Australia. If the ball is seaming or turning, England has a much better chance.

    Dead pitches won't make for exciting cricket, except to those who think bowlers should only be there for batsmen to humiliate, but it's Australia's best hope.

  • thejesusofcool on November 17, 2013, 22:46 GMT

    Simply, Aus had 8 opportunities in a row over here to skittle us, having us 20-2 or 30-3 in the first 4 Tests last summer. They lost one to rain at OT, the other 7, they only got us out for under 300 twice & never under 200.

    So, unless they can take those chances, if presented again, or suddenly start making pressuring scores of 500/600 every 1st innings, how are they going to win Tests against a side who is used to doing both of the above?

    Not to say they can't, but it means reversing the polarity of recent displays & history & that needs at least one or two major catalysts added to this summer's performances. From whom?

  • Freak7820 on November 17, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    Australia's lack of faith in youth will hurt them in the long run.

    It's time to dump Watson & Haddin out of test cricket for good. Bring in the youngsters like Phil Hughes & Nevill/Paine and stick with them for more than 1 test series.

    The difference between Australia and England: Australia has 1 top-class batsmen (Clarke)...England have 3 (Cook, Bell & KP) and England also have two outstanding wicket-takers in Anderson & Swann.

  • Cpt.Meanster on November 17, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    @PrasPunter: So what you are telling me is that the Indian team were BETTER than their Aussie counterparts to play on a fragile surface. MS Dhoni was a better over all player than ALL Aussie batsmen combined to make a hundred ! Thanks, you have indirectly complimented the Indian cricket team and slammed the Aussie cricket team for their lame performance.

  • kensohatter on November 17, 2013, 21:37 GMT

    @Mitty. Hang on I said the strongest squad not the most in form squad (although on that point its worth mentioning that prior to the 2010 ashes tour at least 3 bats were out of form.. Collingwood as you mentioned plus Strauss and Pieterson both avg under 25 in the two prev tours v pakistan and SA plus like you say the bowlers are in form). Teams are identical aside from the following. Strauss v Carberry (admit Strauss a far better option plus had leadership qualities but like I said was out of form), Collingwood v Root (Id give this to Root. Collingwood was horribly out of form avg 13 or so in that ashes series. Root looks dangerous.) and the the reserve paceman Shazhad v Rankin (no contest. Rankin. Shazhad has barely been seen since then). Ill admit its very close but yeah i think this is the strongest squad sent to australia and i think the results will beat the 2010 squad. Care to explain how you arrived at your statement of 'double the quality'!! Back in your box and have a niceday

  • Bonehead_maz on November 17, 2013, 21:33 GMT

    The weather outlook is interesting. Brisbane thunderstorms ...... :). The pitch will already be made and will get a couple of days baking to harden right up. Will refresh every afternoon and evening (i.e stay young). There is likely to be bounce, swing and seam. Weather conditions very similar to preparation of Gabba test V NZ (Pattinson's debut) I personally would have chosen Cameron White at 6, asked him to bowl a bit and played the 4 seamers. With this squad I don't know who should sit out, but believe Faulkner should play. On the other hand, Lyon seems to take more wickets in first and second innings than 3rd or 4th (strange for a spinner ?). I'd be tempted to play a batsman short. Unfortunately Bailey, along with Rogers & Warner aren't slippers, so Watson with Clarke and Smith, HAVE to play. If only they'd thought of White ! This series will I believe come down to slip catching.

  • on November 17, 2013, 21:25 GMT

    England are deservedly favoured to win the series. Australia's batting is too fragile. they need to scrape up a 500 plus first innings total to give the bowlers a chance and it just doesn't look on the cards with the current line up. Having said that a lot depends on how the first test pans out. A good start will be a huge confidence e boost and set the stage for a competitive series. A first innings batting collapse will set the tone for the rest of the series.

  • WeirPicki on November 17, 2013, 21:24 GMT

    It's sad when Watson and Johnson are considered vital to Australia's hopes. Neither is much chop.

  • Front-Foot-Lunge on November 17, 2013, 21:00 GMT

    Ian Chappell's right: There seems to be no talk of just how far Australia are behind their Ashes rivals or recognition of recent results. It's like no one in their media and fanbase wants to talk about the cold facts of the case. Number one being that the last Ashes series finished 3 (but basically 4) nil. Last time in Aus England absolutely hammered them. Australia were whitewashed 4-0 by India recently too. It amazes me that this isn't the main issue, but there again this is the lead-up to the Ashes, a lead-up in which Oz don't have much to cheer about.

  • MinusZero on November 17, 2013, 20:46 GMT

    Watson only gets selected because they hope he will eventually live up to the hype. If form is the question, form happens over a period of time...not one innings. Take out Watson's career saving 170-odd and he has no form. He should not be selected on batting alone. Ask this...how many top 6 test batsmen average 36? Sub-40 is not test class.

    Johnson is another issue. He was picked on ODI form. Since when is ODI and Tests even remotely the same. In his first F/C game for WA he got spanked as usual

  • on November 17, 2013, 19:25 GMT

    Chappell doing what he does best. Trying to plant seeds of doubt in the Aussie team.

  • on November 17, 2013, 19:23 GMT

    @prasPunter@Anthony Smeltink jst 2 weeks ago you guys said indian wickets are like highways....now its a mine field?? jst making excuses aghhh....we went there and won 2-0...it seem indians prepare different wickets for us folks

  • GeoffreysMother on November 17, 2013, 19:07 GMT

    It is psychological isn't it. After last summers constant tinkering the selectors want to give the impression to everyone (including the players) that they know their best team and they back them. There is nothing wrong with this at all; they just have to be careful that, like the Johnson will be Man of the Series statements they don't overplay their hand. Looking sure but being circumspect is the best approach - even if it is the last thing much of the media want. It is good to see Chappell keeping some of this in perspective.

  • on November 17, 2013, 19:02 GMT

    Not sure why isn't Australia trying to make Batting All-Rounders out of Warner and Steve Smith. Both are decently capable leg spinners. Who should be able to give Clarke 20 some overs of leg spin between them. Also, given Clarke's back issues he is unable to bowl but if he is fit, he should look to bowl some overs himself. Australia doesn't have a spinner that can be considered a strike bowler so if filling up overs is what is needed to give fast men a rest, then this should be considered a good alternative. I would play Faulkerner and given his batting form, I'll play him a ahead of Haddin in the line up.

  • PrasPunter on November 17, 2013, 16:55 GMT

    @Chetan Asher, really ? what we saw in india were excuses for test-match wickets. Cant forget how the chennai wicket was, with dust flying all around. I could see only narrow layer in the middle with dust and loose sand all around - and a test match was played on that.

  • on November 17, 2013, 15:24 GMT

    England will definitely start off as favorites. Australia's batting line-up is very unreliable and it's hard to say who they are going to rely on to score the runs. Clarke is a world class batsman and he needs to lead from the front. Rogers did well in England so a lot is being expected from him, I suppose. Smith also batted well but I don't see him as a test quality batsman and I believe he will struggle in the long-run in test cricket. Watson can bat but he isn't one to score heavily consistently; he can give you 40's and 50's but not scores in excess of 100 regularly. It will be interesting to see if Bailey can reflect his ODI form in the longer version. One-Day Cricket is very different from Test Cricket and it is a lot harder to succeed in the latter.

    England have a much steadier line-up with the likes of Cook, Bell, KP, Trott, Prior, Anderson, Broad and Swann. There are a few new faces and hardly an unproven player in their XI.

  • on November 17, 2013, 14:05 GMT

    @Chetan Asher: Mate, Them pitches you blokes provided in India were anything but a batsman's paradise!

  • Mitty2 on November 17, 2013, 13:10 GMT

    @Jason Bray, along those lines.. what's worst is how old our squad is. Older than England's so we can't use the 'we're rebuilding' excuse or 'all your players will be gone in five years and we'll smash you then'. The reality is is that we haven't selected the younger option even if he's the better option or will have the same output: this meaning Haddin over Paine/Neville and Watson over Faulkner. There's also Bailey and Hughes/Doolan - but I'm not at all objected to Bailey's selection - and there's MJ and Cutting/Sayers in which I have no idea which way I'd go. MJ's last 2 Ashes give me nightmares but the other two might not have enough penetration.

    @kensohatter, the 10/11 Eng squad is double the quality of this current one. All batsmen + the WK except Collingwood were in test form and their third/fourth seamer was more than serviceable. They only have Bell and maybe KP in test form currently (although their top 3 seamers are in form), so how exactly are they the strongest squad?

  • Mitty2 on November 17, 2013, 12:50 GMT

    On what Ian said, I'll go point by point. As much as I despise Watson and his test batting, he has a very good record against them and has the wood on Anderson and Swann.

    Lyon had a good series as everyone said at the tine despite the lack of confidence elicited from the ridiculous selections of Doherty, Maxwell and Agar over him. He got Bairstow out a few times and considering how good KP is against spin, did very well against him. Even the notorious FFL stopped calling him a "seamer" after lyon equalled Swann on the 'rev counter'.

    MJ's test form since coming back isn't bad. In India on the grave yards from Mars he had about a few catches dropped and a million that fell short because of the keeper standing too far back. He bowled well enough against SA in Perth considering their demolition and demolished SL. Considering the injuries and his improved balance at the crease, there's no better option.

  • Mitty2 on November 17, 2013, 12:44 GMT

    I'm incredibly surprised by the build up, I mean, since when did hometown advantage not mean anything. It's barely been mentioned. When was the last time Eng won at the Gabba/Waca again? Last Summer was widely commended as a very good summer for the test team, even including the Perth test: had the better of the first two tests against the number 1 team (Eng number 3) who then showed their class in the third and then walked over a poor SL team. Obviously with the 0-7 result since then there was a fair bit of papering over the cracks in the performance (ie Michael Hussey was key to that summer's success), but that doesn't change the fact that you can expect an increase in output from all Aussie batsman, and of course the bowlers. Warner and Clarke are the case in points: Warner averages 50 at home and 25 away. And Clarke's average over the last two summers would be nearing a 100 with a 45-50 average away. All of our bowlers have better records in Aus, except for maybe Lyon in SL.

  • on November 17, 2013, 12:28 GMT

    My thoughts exactly. I know every Aussie wants the test team to be at its peak for the Ashes, but they are just not there yet. Some pieces fell into place in the last three Test in Eng with Smith, Rogers and Harris finding their feet, and i think Lehman's doing a good job morale wise, but I absolutely agree with Chappell in that there are still question marks over several batting positions. I believe we are still a good year to 18 months off settling into a strong team. Hope I'm wrong but Rome wasn't built in a day.

  • on November 17, 2013, 11:36 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Sponge, the way the Aussies were getting out in Batsman friendly conditions in India, England's 2 effective bowlers might be one bowler too many for the Aussie batting line-up at the Gabba. Let's remember that George Bailey who got the bulk of the runs in India comes in low down AND is an unknown entity in testing conditions.

  • Barnesy4444 on November 17, 2013, 10:48 GMT

    Watson should not be bowling. There is another top order batsman scoring double centuries in shield cricket at the moment if Watson can't play. It is risky if Johnson sprays it, the last thing we can afford is Harris injured. Lyon has to play.

  • on November 17, 2013, 9:57 GMT

    Watson is the most over-rated player in the Australian team. Go back to 1993-94, Australia is playing SA, Steve Waugh gets injured & is the top Aussie batsman at the time - what does he have to do? - go back & play another Shield game before he comes back in the team - he scores 200 & shows his fitness - try it again today - no match fitness for Watson - put a fit player in

  • skilebow on November 17, 2013, 9:31 GMT

    what's very interesting is the idea that Aus are more settled is even being written in the UK papers. You could dismiss it as Aussie tactics if it were just the aussie papers. Its great though as I think it is taking the pressure of the England boys. Its starting to sound like they are the underdogs!

  • xtrafalgarx on November 17, 2013, 8:42 GMT

    @Usapsunil: Good point actually, Watson has never averaged under 40 against England. Infact over the past 3 ashes series he has been our best performed Ashes batsmen...

  • on November 17, 2013, 8:34 GMT

    Every one keeps forgetting that Watson was 2 highest run scored last ashes, second only to Bell, In India he was the second Highest Australian in the Run scoring collumn, what was just As Important his Economy allowed for the other Bowlers to build pressure, Best Economy for the series!

  • cricketsubh on November 17, 2013, 8:24 GMT

    simple answer lan chappel ashes series played in australia austrlia is favarate they know their condition

  • Rags57 on November 17, 2013, 8:12 GMT

    Well said, Ian. Not a shadow of doubt about Australia starting as serious underdogs. If they win any test, that will be a big achievement. Drawing a couple would be almost as good as a win. So in a sense, they have everything to play for and nothing to lose. If they want to make an impression they need to have more self-belief and go out there and enjoy. If they can do that, may be, may be, they may surprise all of us. Good luck, Australia!! We need you to get back to winning ways. Give England a run for their money!!

  • usapsunil on November 17, 2013, 8:08 GMT

    watson has good record against england , playing as batsman it will give him time to concentrate on his batting , currently in Australian set they don't have batsman to replace him .

  • Front-Foot-Sponge on November 17, 2013, 8:04 GMT

    @Drakester Bomber, I don't think you can predict poor performances. The guys you mention are in form right now and England hardly have a scary bowling attack. By my calculations they have 2 bowlers with a chance to be effective at the Gabba and that is 3 bowlers too few. Broad and Anderson also lose it when they are put under pressure, Chappell always has a negative tone to his columns, we'd expect him to knock the Aussies. I'm confident Australia will win this series well. I'm prepared to com back here and eat my hat if I have to as well!

  • peeeeet on November 17, 2013, 7:51 GMT

    @kensohatter You mention that you would not have Bailey in the team based on ODI performances, yet offer Marsh as the alternative who incidentally has a lower first class record than Bailey. In the past we picked players such as Clarke and Symonds for the test team after playing them in multiple one day games. I think Bailey is a good choice and could be similar to Paul Collingwood, who also had a relatively modest first class record yet averaged over 40 in test cricket and played some very valuable knocks or England. If Bailey can do anything like that for a few years he would have served us well. In regards to this article, if Watson can't bowl then the team is unbalanced. Johnson is a liability with the ball and in my opinion can only be part of a five man attack in order to cover off spells. In a four man attack I'd have someone more consistent to allow Harris to attack. And Lyon is our best spinner, he must play.

  • maawan on November 17, 2013, 7:03 GMT

    Watson is an over rated test player..he was a failure as an opener and will be at number 3 position..and I dont think Smith is a test quality batsman..I hope Australia find their replacements soon i.e. test quality batsman not bits and pieces players..It was disappointing to see Usman Khawaja failing to grab the fair chances given to him. Batting is the real concern for Australiai as I think fast bowlers will perform well..

  • on November 17, 2013, 6:56 GMT

    I would have made three changes to this set up 1) Alex doolan for Warner, 2)JC silk or Cosgrove for Watson 3) Hazelwood for Siddle, BTW I am not a Tassie, but an Indian and a die hard Aussie fan

  • on November 17, 2013, 6:48 GMT

    when I was a boy, growing up in the Chappelli era, we always played a leggie at Brisbane, occasionally two (1970-1 and 71-2, for instance), and a couple of part-timers as well. That pattern stuck until the 80s, and re-surfaced with Warne.

    surprised Chappelli hasn't talked more about this. England don't have many weaknesses, but legspin is one of them. rather than obsessing about Watson's hams, I hope Clarke is envisaging some overs from Clarke and Smith (and maybe, just maybe, they might go with Faulkner ahead of Lyon because of this, although how he JF is even in the squad is beyond me. a bowling allrounder whose bowling is not test class. yet, and unlikely to be.)

  • on November 17, 2013, 6:25 GMT

    over rated English team needs to be tested firmly by taking home advantage. five fast bowlers (with two all rounders ) will be good choice. batting needs to click.

  • on November 17, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    Watson is not a question mark - he will certainly perform below the required level for a number three. Johnson is not a question mark - he will certainly not be the strike bowler required to put pressure on the Poms. Warner, for all his panache, is not a Test batsmen's bootlace and will always not perform when technique is required.

    The biggest question I have is when the selectors will opt for a generational change and pick and stick with some youngsters who will be the next successful Australian team - Maddinson, Bird, Doolan will be the mainstays of the future - give them a chance!

  • on November 17, 2013, 5:27 GMT

    I would prefer having 5 bowlers. with faulkener in the side. That will not only cover johnson's off days, but johnson being there as a batsman will provide batting depth. I mean he almost has 2 test centuries, both achieved against a very good SA attack.

  • on November 17, 2013, 5:22 GMT

    @Dave1970 - what about Stuart Macgill -surely better than all the others bar Warne and definitely better than Tim May.

  • landl47 on November 17, 2013, 5:13 GMT

    England is a pretty settled side. 8 names go down automatically (9 if Prior's fit) and the other two or three are going to be experienced cricketers. Much as I like Ballance and Stokes for the future, I don't see them playing much of a part in this series unless injury intervenes. The 3 main bowlers, Anderson, Broad and Swann, were each the major wicket-taker in one of England's 3 wins in the last series- Anderson with 10 in the 1st test, Swann with 9 in the 2nd and Broad with 11 in the 4th. Australia had Harris, who bowled brilliantly, and a decent performance from Siddle with 8 in the 1st test and that was it. In batting, 5 of England's top 6 have FC averages over 45 and test averages over 40; Australia's numbers are 2 and 1.

    However. Australia does have an explosive team, based on their ODI prowess. All the batsmen except Rogers are fast scorers. Johnson is by some distance the fastest bowler on either side. If they all come off, they can be devastating. Will they? We'll see.

  • kensohatter on November 17, 2013, 4:41 GMT

    Mitch Johnson for me is the key to the series. On his day Mitch Johnson is the most destructive bowler in world cricket (ask the saffas!). Yes hes inconsistent and ina bowling attack that cant support him its a nightmare. But in a team with ever reliable Siddle and Harris he is worth the risk cause he wins games and injures key batsmen. Id pick Faulkner as bowling back up and Lyon and drop Watson who is just as unreliable as johnson but not a match winner (also hes a toxic influence on the team). My XI would be Rogers, Warner, Marsh/Khawaja, Clarke, Smith, Haddin, Faulkner, Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon. Bailey is NOT an option hes only shown form in ODIs and thats not a basis for test selection hes also not a long term prospect. Marsh and Khawaja are better options. Adding Faulkner means everyone goes up a spot. remember Johnon also adds something with the bat. Engl still too strong. Ive backed them 4-0 but if Johnson finds form Eng 3-1. Best Aust can hope for is a 2-1 loss

  • on November 17, 2013, 4:29 GMT

    To me there are 3 main If's for Oz and they are Rogers,Warner and Johnson.My reasoning is that good starts are essential for Oz success in batting and bowling. Watson has far more chance of succeeding at 1-80 odd than 1-0.If Australia are able to consistently see off the opening spells of Broad and Anderson,then Watson should be able to gradually find his batting rythmn without too much pressure. Likewise;if Johnson makes early inroads, then England will have significant concerns in combating a vengeful express bowler with his tail up.Harris's performances on the other hand are near bankable.I am starting to think that it might be best for Australia to bowl first and try to skittle England on what should be a greenish wicket.One significant improvement over the last series for Oz is that they will field their strongest team from the outset. Harris and Lyon are huge ins compared to the 1st test Team that came within 14 runs of snatching victory in the first test in England!

  • scarab666 on November 17, 2013, 4:05 GMT

    I wouldn't risk having Watson and Johnson in the Australian Test team. I would rather see Alex Doolan replace Watto and Trent Copeland replace Johnson. Trent is well experienced in our domestic comp. and NSW major wicket taker, he hasn't done anything wrong to not receive a test recall. Doolan has shown he is ready for test cricket……lets give him a go. Watson is not a test player and his stats prove that plus he is getting injured again and he's not getting any younger. Johnson has had his time but nowadays he's just to wayward with his bowling.

  • kensohatter on November 17, 2013, 4:00 GMT

    Very accurate article. Im an ardent aussie fan but I just cant see us taking a test off what will be a very disciplined, well drilled English side who have sent probably the strongest squad in 50yrs to our shores. Sure Priors injury is a set back but Anderson, Swann and Co. will create plenty of opportunities against a very unsettled australian batting line up. If anything bringing Bairstow lengthens their tail. Carberry is a plus for England he is in form and allows Root to bat in the middle order. Even if he just takes the shine off the new ball makes 40 odd and sees out Harris and Siddle it will be enough. The last 'issue' of the 3rd paceman slot is no more alarming than Australias. Essentially the person in this spot... whether its Finn, Rankin or Tremlett is there for one reason to get Clarke. The bounce has unsettled him and Flower knows if they get Clarke for less than 100 is game over. Im ashamed to say it but ive got $50 on England 4-0 (only cause we have had heaps of rain!)

  • Ozcricketwriter on November 17, 2013, 3:39 GMT

    My line up had the reliable and consistent Faulkner who can bowl forever. You only get problems if you insist on playing Lyon.

  • Dave1970 on November 17, 2013, 3:29 GMT

    The continual question mark over Watson and Johnson adds frailty to an already insecure side with "what ifs" against Warner, Smith, Haddin & Bailey: least of all Rogers who may not be able to back up a reasonable start to a long waited test career. This leaves Clarke, who should have a "what if" tag due to his ongoing back problems, and Harris - "What if" Harris breaks down.

    Siddle - a one main certainty, & Lyon who should be a certainty but for some reason is doubted left right & center when his record, considering the environment of the current team, is better than previous spinners given a go since, excluding that freak Warne, Tim May.

    The key is getting consistency, building partnerships, with no one star show which has been happening for sometime now. Hundreds & big hundreds would be great, but consistent scores at the same time can still give a side good scores to win a match and outs all players in a confident frame.

    Fingers, knees, toes & eyes are crossed for a close series

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  • Dave1970 on November 17, 2013, 3:29 GMT

    The continual question mark over Watson and Johnson adds frailty to an already insecure side with "what ifs" against Warner, Smith, Haddin & Bailey: least of all Rogers who may not be able to back up a reasonable start to a long waited test career. This leaves Clarke, who should have a "what if" tag due to his ongoing back problems, and Harris - "What if" Harris breaks down.

    Siddle - a one main certainty, & Lyon who should be a certainty but for some reason is doubted left right & center when his record, considering the environment of the current team, is better than previous spinners given a go since, excluding that freak Warne, Tim May.

    The key is getting consistency, building partnerships, with no one star show which has been happening for sometime now. Hundreds & big hundreds would be great, but consistent scores at the same time can still give a side good scores to win a match and outs all players in a confident frame.

    Fingers, knees, toes & eyes are crossed for a close series

  • Ozcricketwriter on November 17, 2013, 3:39 GMT

    My line up had the reliable and consistent Faulkner who can bowl forever. You only get problems if you insist on playing Lyon.

  • kensohatter on November 17, 2013, 4:00 GMT

    Very accurate article. Im an ardent aussie fan but I just cant see us taking a test off what will be a very disciplined, well drilled English side who have sent probably the strongest squad in 50yrs to our shores. Sure Priors injury is a set back but Anderson, Swann and Co. will create plenty of opportunities against a very unsettled australian batting line up. If anything bringing Bairstow lengthens their tail. Carberry is a plus for England he is in form and allows Root to bat in the middle order. Even if he just takes the shine off the new ball makes 40 odd and sees out Harris and Siddle it will be enough. The last 'issue' of the 3rd paceman slot is no more alarming than Australias. Essentially the person in this spot... whether its Finn, Rankin or Tremlett is there for one reason to get Clarke. The bounce has unsettled him and Flower knows if they get Clarke for less than 100 is game over. Im ashamed to say it but ive got $50 on England 4-0 (only cause we have had heaps of rain!)

  • scarab666 on November 17, 2013, 4:05 GMT

    I wouldn't risk having Watson and Johnson in the Australian Test team. I would rather see Alex Doolan replace Watto and Trent Copeland replace Johnson. Trent is well experienced in our domestic comp. and NSW major wicket taker, he hasn't done anything wrong to not receive a test recall. Doolan has shown he is ready for test cricket……lets give him a go. Watson is not a test player and his stats prove that plus he is getting injured again and he's not getting any younger. Johnson has had his time but nowadays he's just to wayward with his bowling.

  • on November 17, 2013, 4:29 GMT

    To me there are 3 main If's for Oz and they are Rogers,Warner and Johnson.My reasoning is that good starts are essential for Oz success in batting and bowling. Watson has far more chance of succeeding at 1-80 odd than 1-0.If Australia are able to consistently see off the opening spells of Broad and Anderson,then Watson should be able to gradually find his batting rythmn without too much pressure. Likewise;if Johnson makes early inroads, then England will have significant concerns in combating a vengeful express bowler with his tail up.Harris's performances on the other hand are near bankable.I am starting to think that it might be best for Australia to bowl first and try to skittle England on what should be a greenish wicket.One significant improvement over the last series for Oz is that they will field their strongest team from the outset. Harris and Lyon are huge ins compared to the 1st test Team that came within 14 runs of snatching victory in the first test in England!

  • kensohatter on November 17, 2013, 4:41 GMT

    Mitch Johnson for me is the key to the series. On his day Mitch Johnson is the most destructive bowler in world cricket (ask the saffas!). Yes hes inconsistent and ina bowling attack that cant support him its a nightmare. But in a team with ever reliable Siddle and Harris he is worth the risk cause he wins games and injures key batsmen. Id pick Faulkner as bowling back up and Lyon and drop Watson who is just as unreliable as johnson but not a match winner (also hes a toxic influence on the team). My XI would be Rogers, Warner, Marsh/Khawaja, Clarke, Smith, Haddin, Faulkner, Johnson, Siddle, Harris, Lyon. Bailey is NOT an option hes only shown form in ODIs and thats not a basis for test selection hes also not a long term prospect. Marsh and Khawaja are better options. Adding Faulkner means everyone goes up a spot. remember Johnon also adds something with the bat. Engl still too strong. Ive backed them 4-0 but if Johnson finds form Eng 3-1. Best Aust can hope for is a 2-1 loss

  • landl47 on November 17, 2013, 5:13 GMT

    England is a pretty settled side. 8 names go down automatically (9 if Prior's fit) and the other two or three are going to be experienced cricketers. Much as I like Ballance and Stokes for the future, I don't see them playing much of a part in this series unless injury intervenes. The 3 main bowlers, Anderson, Broad and Swann, were each the major wicket-taker in one of England's 3 wins in the last series- Anderson with 10 in the 1st test, Swann with 9 in the 2nd and Broad with 11 in the 4th. Australia had Harris, who bowled brilliantly, and a decent performance from Siddle with 8 in the 1st test and that was it. In batting, 5 of England's top 6 have FC averages over 45 and test averages over 40; Australia's numbers are 2 and 1.

    However. Australia does have an explosive team, based on their ODI prowess. All the batsmen except Rogers are fast scorers. Johnson is by some distance the fastest bowler on either side. If they all come off, they can be devastating. Will they? We'll see.

  • on November 17, 2013, 5:22 GMT

    @Dave1970 - what about Stuart Macgill -surely better than all the others bar Warne and definitely better than Tim May.

  • on November 17, 2013, 5:27 GMT

    I would prefer having 5 bowlers. with faulkener in the side. That will not only cover johnson's off days, but johnson being there as a batsman will provide batting depth. I mean he almost has 2 test centuries, both achieved against a very good SA attack.

  • on November 17, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    Watson is not a question mark - he will certainly perform below the required level for a number three. Johnson is not a question mark - he will certainly not be the strike bowler required to put pressure on the Poms. Warner, for all his panache, is not a Test batsmen's bootlace and will always not perform when technique is required.

    The biggest question I have is when the selectors will opt for a generational change and pick and stick with some youngsters who will be the next successful Australian team - Maddinson, Bird, Doolan will be the mainstays of the future - give them a chance!