The Ashes 2013-14 January 1, 2014

'Unchangeables' chase Ashes sweep


Feted by the nation across the Boxing Day Test and by the Prime Minister Tony Abbott on New Year's Day in Sydney, Australia's cricketers want nothing more than to complete a 5-0 Ashes sweep of England with the same XI who walked out onto the Gabba for the first day of a series that has surpassed all their expectations.

Stability has been an important ingredient of Australia's success, after the earlier series in England was used by the new coach Darren Lehmann to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a few players. Two of the greatest moments of Australian Test history were characterised by a similar lack of selection conjecture - the 1989 Ashes victors changed their team only once in six Tests, while Mark Taylor's men won a quasi-world title fight in the Caribbean in 1995 with the same XI over four matches.

None of Australia's pacemen bowled at the SCG on the first morning of 2014, resting up in preparation for a final tilt at England. James Faulkner and Nathan Coulter-Nile, who played for the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash League on New Year's Eve, are in reserve. Brad Haddin, the vice-captain and a heavily influential contributor to the current margin, explained how much the players wanted to go through unchanged.

"It'd be great if we could keep the same group together, that's what we're working towards." Haddin said. "The fast bowlers didn't do much today. They're all in pretty good shape, we just have to see tomorrow after they have a bowl but it's all looking in the right direction that we can hold the same group together and from our point of view that would be a massive achievement heading into this Test with the same group we started with. Pretty special for everyone.

"With back to back Test matches, [the bowlers] had a big work load so they didn't need to do much today. It varies, just monitoring on how they're feeling to be perfectly honest. The staff take good care of that and they all looked in pretty good spirits. Bodies feel fine, obviously tired like everyone is at the back end of a five-Test series but they're no different to what we are. We would love to have the same group go out that we did at the start of the tour and if they are right to go they deserve that right to come out in this fifth Test."

As Michael Clarke's deputy and also wicketkeeper, Haddin is constantly measuring the wellbeing of his team. He looks less for individual efforts with bat or ball than those in the field that emphasise team spirit - returns in from the outfield, backing up, chasing and generally supporting the bowlers. When asked how he viewed England's current state, he observed these areas had looked tellingly deficient in Melbourne.

"I don't think they're in a great place to be perfectly honest," Haddin said. "I think you could probably tell a bit of that in their fielding the other day. I think that's the first thing to go when you're struggling a bit. All the team stuff, all those little one percenters, they're the first thing to go when you're struggling as a team.

"The batting and bowling it's an individual thing but I think the team stuff looked like it was breaking a bit the other day. They can ask themselves those questions [if they can turn it around] and they're the only ones who can come up with the answers."

Sydney's pitch has lost much of its support for spin bowlers in recent summers, tending towards a surface more likely to seam early before flattening out into an ideal batting pitch then turning a little more late in the match. The current strip appeared well-grassed on Wednesday, with Haddin saying the roles of the spinners included in the match would revolve as much around bounce as spin.

"It looks like it's got a bit more grass than normal at the SCG. But that also allows spin early in the game," Haddin said. "It holds and you get some spin early in the game. We'll have a close look at what it's like. I think the one thing with spinners and Nathan [Lyon] is that it's not so much whether it breaks up, it's the bounce. If there's enough bounce in there Nathan will get enough out of it."

As for Scott Borthwick, England's prospective legspin debutant, Haddin offered no deviation from the plan of unrelenting attack that has rendered Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar all but impotent throughout the series. Swann is now retired, while Panesar's omission for Borthwick would be a major blow to his own career.

"It'd be an exciting time for him. It's a first Test and it's an Ashes campaign so it's an exciting time," Haddin said. "But interesting to see how we approach him. No doubt [we'll get after him]."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dinesh on January 2, 2014, 12:48 GMT

    @Greatest_Game ok u dont have any interest in Ashes but still have time to come here and post..hahahah..the truth is u just too frustated that india dont have anythin sort of indian and have always watched ashes with interest..its the most biggest test series of something burning? ther are 1000s of indians who follow ashes..excpt u..avg teams? its because ours below than avg! wait for year or so india will be back to their best desreved rankin NO.6..with series in aus lost 4-0..hope u'll show ur face then or as others do comment with different name...or better as lot of guys like u did after SA series..GO IN TO HIDING

  • James on January 2, 2014, 12:27 GMT

    @Indian fans, don't forget you lot weren't good enough to win against this English side in your own backyard! So at least Australia can still win at home.

  • damien on January 2, 2014, 12:16 GMT

    @cpt.meanster if the Indians are "reasonably happy" with letting a team chase a record 458 (I know they didn't get there but they should have) and then losing by 10 wickets then I feel very sorry for their fans, they should be gutted as I am sure the captain and management are. I guess with the Indians dismal away record that sort of result is a win, a bit sad really. @neill99 , I know you have become the 3rd forced retirement of this ashes series with your ex username FFL, but if you start your new identity with absolute mindless rubbish like FFL used to babble on about people will soon realize that you are just an FFL in sheeps clothing. At least we know your real name now (and probably your highest ever score).

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2014, 12:13 GMT

    Australia is a long way off being the no1 test team but at least I am no longer filled with dread at the thought of heading to SA! I think the series will be very close and you never know Mitch may retire a couple more for SA...sure Smith is not looking forward to facing Johnson in form again!! @ Capt. Meanster having been an interested observer of both India in SA and WI in New Zealand I think most of the worlds cricket lovers are interested in Ashes as in both series the commentators and players were well aware of what was happening in Aus

  • Arnab on January 2, 2014, 9:58 GMT

    @Shaggy076 Don't say that!! Many people outside Aus and Eng follow and care about the Ashes ( not like Cpt.Meanstar though ). I am an Indian and I support Aus over Ind every time they play ( much to the dismay of my family and friends ) and am truly ecstatic to see this performance of theirs.

    @Cpt.Meanstar it would be better if people like you who can only write negative things about things they don't give a damn about don't comment here!!

  • Graham on January 2, 2014, 8:34 GMT

    Cpt.Meanstar; We would be very happy if people outside England and Australia didnt care about the Ashes, so happy if they just didnt care to comment. That so many people comment suggests interest. I think a lot of us would be happy to go through a comment section and not read the unrelated "India is so awesome' comments.

  • Xiong on January 2, 2014, 7:23 GMT

    @neil99 You obviously don't know much about SA v Aus. We have very similar views on pitches, Lyon will be just as effective in SA as Aus as they don't, just as we don't, flatten out their pitches. Lyon+bounce=effective

    Why would Clarke automatically fail? Makes no sense. Johnson never performed for 4 tests in a row ever before that I can recall, his technique is new and improved and for the first time ever I have confidence in him to continue, at the very least, to not bowl all over the shop for an entire day of test cricket.

    Comments on Haddin make no sense, his keeping is not a flash in the pan it's genuinely MUCH better than it was. His batting is what it is. As for Warner I'm interested to see if he does fail. His technique has improved (the t20 game messed him up for the MCG imo) since he made that century in Hobart on a green monster, SA is a good test. We shall see.

    If you want to take a shot, target the batsmen, and Clarke is last on the soft target list.

  • Matthew on January 2, 2014, 7:01 GMT

    @Protea et al, while we are getting things off our collective chests, what's with a 2 Test series for 1 v 2? I agree that SA v Ind was a great series, but can you can call 2 Tests a series? (I'm not sure it qualifies by definition!) This is the unfortunate product of dysfuctional ICC programming - it shouldn't be half done yet. Don't you wish for 2 or 3 more Tests?

    As for The Ashes - it will always be of interest to Aus and Eng, don't need to make that argument. But a lot of non-nationals are interested - the number of other cricket fans who post here suggests as much. I daresay any genuine cricket fan would be at least a bit interested. Sorry Cpt.Meanster!

    Re Aus v SA ... should be fantastic. SA are #1, and Aus needs to be tested against them to find out how much they have improved. Can't wait to see if Aus quicks can rattle SA guns like ABdV and Amla, and see if Aus bats can keep out Steyn, Philander and Morkel - contests like this are why we watch cricket!

  • Graham on January 2, 2014, 6:45 GMT

    Joseph Langford;My philosophy is pick the best batsman regardless of age. I wouldn't have picked Bailey at the start of the series but since they have I'm not for changing it now. Looking at Maddinson record au can't see why anyone is calling for him at this stage of his career at the moment he is simply not ready, As for Lynn he was out of the Wks side at the start of the year and has had a good year but so have many others. Simply put Lynn needs to perform longer than 3 games before he is considered for test cricket either. Personally I would be looking at Voges or Fergusson for 6 but as Bailey has been chosen the team is gelling I'd give him some more chances.

  • Darren on January 2, 2014, 6:44 GMT

    9 or more ashes tests where side winning toss has not lost. It's all about the toss, man.

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