The Ashes 2013 April 24, 2013

Australia's Ashes squad: a team for the here and now

This Ashes squad won't strike fear into the hearts of the England players but it will give Australia their best chance of an upset

Two 35-year-olds recalled, one as vice-captain. Five openers. Three specialist batsmen averaging sub-30 in Tests in the past two years. An injury-prone 33-year-old fast bowler. Only one spinner. England could look at these facts about Australia's 16-man Ashes squad and wonder if it is a touring party or a touring wake. Certainly this is the weakest group Australia has sent on an Ashes campaign since the 1980s. Just as surely, there is little the selectors could have done to improve it. England remain firm favourites, but this squad is Australia's best chance of an upset.

The batting needed to be bolstered after the misery of the India tour; Chris Rogers has the technique and record to do it. An experienced and in-form vice-captain was desirable after Shane Watson stood down; Brad Haddin fit those criteria. Of course, reverting to two men whose Test careers appeared to be finished raises the issue of why there is so little depth in Australian first-class cricket, especially among young batsmen. Why did nobody but Rogers and Ricky Ponting score more than two Sheffield Shield hundreds last summer?

That is an important debate, but one for another day. What's relevant now is that John Inverarity and his selection panel have picked the best group they could. The squad is neither a throwback nor a forward gamble; it is a team for the here and now. And in a year featuring two Ashes series, what else matters but the here and now? Haddin and Rogers are past the age limit for Contiki tours but this is a trip that requires a couple of older, wiser heads, not just young men out for a good time.

Australia's awful batting in the post-Michael Hussey era in India and the uncertainty surrounding several of their top six meant that Rogers had to be included. He has spent the past nine years piling up runs in county cricket: no Englishman has made more first-class runs in England than Rogers since 2010. Perhaps he will open, perhaps he will bat in the middle order, but wherever he comes in he will inspire confidence in his team-mates - 19,000 first-class runs tend to have that effect.

Similarly, Haddin is a sturdy operator who will provide Clarke with important on-field support as vice-captain. It is easy to recall his irresponsible batting in South Africa in 2011 and the poor form that followed during the home summer against New Zealand and India, but equally it cannot be forgotten that in his two Ashes campaigns he has averaged 45.57 and he was one of the standout batsmen in the most recent Shield season.

Haddin, 35, will be the first-choice gloveman, which leaves Matthew Wade, 25, likely to be dropped. Little separates the two men on field and Haddin's importance as a second-in-command to Clarke has given him another opportunity. Had there been another obvious candidate for the vice-captaincy, things might have been different. But if Clarke's back gives way on the morning of an Ashes Test, nobody in this squad is better equipped than Haddin to take charge.

Wade has been a solid Test performer, but it's not as if he's Adam Gilchrist. It's not as if he's Robinson Crusoe either, in terms of having underperformed on the recent Indian tour. One of the few men who did thrive in India was Steven Smith, who is the omitted player who deserves the most sympathy. But Smith's success in India, where he averaged 40.25, was down largely to his footwork against spin. England is a different proposition, and Usman Khawaja was preferred.

All the same, Phillip Hughes, David Warner, Ed Cowan and Watson will be under pressure to perform early in the Ashes series, Hughes and Watson especially. In the past two years they have each played 14 Tests, Hughes for a batting average of 28.46 and Watson for 24.11. Watson will bowl in the Ashes but it's runs he most needs. As the best all-round option he had to be in the squad, and should start in the XI. But his chances are running out.

The batsmen should perform better in England than in India, but it is the bowlers who really hold Australia's hopes. In swinging and seaming conditions, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Jackson Bird, Ryan Harris and Faulkner form an imposing group

Watson's presence as an allrounder meant there was no room for Moises Henriques and Glenn Maxwell, who figured in the Indian series. Such bits-and-pieces players were luxuries Australia could not afford. James Faulkner, who is in the squad, cannot be characterised the same way, for although he averages 29 with the bat he is viable as a frontline bowler. Tasmania have been the best Australian state team for the past three years and Faulkner has been their player of the season in each of those seasons, with Sheffield Shield wicket tallies of 36, 36 and 39.

Faulkner might not start in the XI but he will be a strong backup option. In fact, the makeup of Australia's attack for the first Test is hard to predict, for all of the bowlers in the squad can make a strong case for selection. The batsmen should perform better in England than in India, but it is the bowlers who really hold Australia's hopes. In swinging and seaming conditions, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, Jackson Bird, Ryan Harris and Faulkner form an imposing group.

The recall of Harris, 33, was neither surprising nor unwarranted. Although he missed most of the home summer after having shoulder surgery, he reappeared late in the Shield season with a rush of 19 wickets at 22.26 in three matches. Injuries have kept Harris to only 12 of a possible 35 Test appearances since his debut in 2010, but he is a match-winner when fit. Even if he is rested more often than he plays, he can still be a key man.

Certainly the selectors expect more of the pacemen than they do of the sole spinner. Three Tests ago, Lyon was dropped in Hyderabad but now he is the only slow bowler considered required on a five-match Ashes tour. The conditions are unlikely to warrant a second spinner, but by naming 16 men the selectors have left themselves room to add another player if required, perhaps Ashton Agar if he performs well on the Australia A tour of England that precedes the Ashes, or Fawad Ahmed if his passport is fast-tracked.

Whatever happens, they have given themselves the soundest squad they could have to begin the series. It is not a Dad's Army, but nor is it a troop of callow cadets. Without doubt it appears a sturdier outfit than the one that toured India, though that's not saying much. The pace bowling is strong, the spin serviceable and the leadership improved. If the batting holds together, and Rogers will help in that respect, a sneaky upset is not impossible. Improbable, yes, but not impossible.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Gregory on April 28, 2013, 11:44 GMT

    I'm afraid a lot of the optimistic talk (such as it is...) about Aus's chances in the Ashes series is missing the key point that the team is going to be woefully underprepared at the start of the series, and by the time they are acclimatised, may well be 2 down. A maximum of 8 days' cricket (and that's assuming uninterrupted fine weather - in England!!) is simply nowhere near enough for an inexperienced side like this one. By way of comparison, the 1989 side (which some are comparing the current side to) had 27 days' cricket before the first test. No comparison, really, is it? I realise that this is the order of the day for touring parties in the modern era, but it all adds up to a huge advantage for the home team, and in this case almost certain defeat for Aus.

  • Andrew on April 28, 2013, 9:32 GMT

    @Ozcricketwriter on (April 28, 2013, 8:56 GMT) - I don't think Haddin had his best ever season this summer. Just prior to his Test call up, he was regularly averaging over 50 for the entire Shield season. The difference between Wade & Haddin in batting & Keeping is minimal. I agree that Hartley is the best keeper in the country & I wouold say that Ludeman is the 2nd best, but Ludeman's batting (early days) is not up to it, & Hartley is a bit off the pace as well.

  • Adrian on April 28, 2013, 8:56 GMT

    Good job keeping up with Australia's 4th best gloveman in Haddin. At least he had his best season for the past 4 years, but he is still a mile and a half behind Wade and Hartley. Haddin, remember, has the record for most byes conceded in an innings, before any of the ignorant types think he is a good keeper. Haddin as a batsman, of course, had his best ever FC season, and averaged over 50. It is a marginal call to include him as a specialist batsman, but there is no question that he can't keep wickets. Phil Hughes, remember, has a test record in England of 19, and an Ashes average of 17. His last Ashes he averaged 15. In India he averaged 19. He can be in as good a form as he likes against weak bowling - the fact of the matter is that English bowlers have his number, and will be licking their lips if they are fortunate enough to get to bowl to him. Those two in this team are a disgrace and the selectors need to wake up a bit. Fingers crossed they both get dumped mid series.

  • Jason on April 25, 2013, 12:47 GMT

    Sanity has finally broken out amongst the NSP. Youth policy or not, dropping Haddin for Wade has been incredibly costly for our Test results. Matty needs to get his glovework up to scratch and Hadds knows how to keep the tail together (which somebody has to do now that M Hussey has ridden off into the sunset to actually have a life with his family.) One wonders just how much of the Wade experiment has had to do with Haddin's desire to spend time with his own sick child. I suspect Nathan Lyon has breathed a huge sigh of relief, this decision will probably net him an extra wicket per match for the tour. I'd love to see Matty impress in the nets and get himself a place on his batting alone, and this is a distinct possibility. Brad can also be trusted with the team if Clarke can't take his place on the field. Chris Rogers is a great selection. He knows England, he performs better there than any of England's batsmen and he has a solid technique. And he has nothing to lose.

  • Chris on April 25, 2013, 4:52 GMT

    Ozcricketwriter - I like D.Hussey, but you honestly would prefer Johnson, our worst bowler in India, a 30yo+ who will never be remembered as great, but an inaccurate, inconsistent bowler who averages 30+ vs Bird, a much younger bowler with great potential, holding a FC/test average almost half of Johnson's and can bowl accurately with great control, seam/swing and bounce, ideal for England? Bird may or may not perform well in the ashes, but he sure as hell deserves his chance. The only big change required is dropping Starc for O'Keefe. As a bonus, I'd prefer Nevill over Haddin and I'd like to see D.Hussey, Cosgrove, Silk and Burns in for Watson, Cowan, Hughes and Khawaja, but I'm more lenient on batsmen getting second chances than bowlers due to the innate nature of batting.

  • Peter on April 25, 2013, 2:56 GMT

    @Ozcricketwriter. As goldeneraaus suggests, I would question whether you have even looked at any Australian fc cricket results this past season. Hughes, appalling? (912 runs @50.66). Hussey, who averaged 23 during the season deserved the trip? Mitch Johnson devastating the last 2 Ashes series? (Perth yes, the other 9, disgraceful!).Wade a better gloveman than Haddin? (Did you even watch him in the Sri Lankan & Indian series?). Methinks you got some real credibility issues. At least we agree with Marsh!

  • Andrew on April 25, 2013, 1:36 GMT

    @Mitty2/kruther - rally the troops boys! We can win back the Ashes over there, although it would of been a darn sight more probable if we had Mr Cricket anchoring the middle order. Ages ago - I felt win/lose or draw in India was irelevant, I slightly changed my mind after a 4nil hammering. I thought it could create unneccessary pressure, it may of been a blessing in disguise as it seems to have a led to re-think by the NSP. It is certainly a case of whether or not our pacers can crack Englands well-credentialed batting line up. I think there is some holes in the batting line up & having someone like Prior @ #7 is a bit daunting, but I think we have the cattle to take 20 wickets! C'mon Ozzy!

  • arnab on April 25, 2013, 1:11 GMT

    Ozcricketwriter: are you kidding me?! Johnson was a laughing stock in 09 and had ONE good game in the 2011 ashes, he was dropped for good after that series and only injuries kept him in the frame recently, he is far to unpredictable to be worthy of a spot. I also wonder whether you follow First Class cricket at all to mention Bailey and D.Hussey who had HORRIBLE seasons averaging in the low 20's. Phil Hughes may have had a rough time recently but the man has 20 FC centuries, they are Hayden-esque figures and his struggles thus far are reminiscent of the man himself, he deserves a chance.

  • Dummy4 on April 25, 2013, 0:03 GMT

    @ Mitty2

    I'm with you mate. Everyone who is honest realizes that the English mob are favourites with about the second best batting lineup around. However, in the current collection of quicks who average in the low 20's the Aussies have unarguably the second best pace attack in the world after the Steyn/Philander/Morkel trio. I absolutely refuse to believe that the quicks will not be able to win at least one test by themselves, and if the Anderson/Swann duo fail or a couple of the Aussie batsmen stand up (the ones who average 40+ in FC games, so no mugs) the first series could go much closer than the English would ever dream.

  • Guy on April 24, 2013, 23:09 GMT

    @landl47, I think you're pretty close, so I'm not sure it's such a mystery. I'd start with Harris and Patto and then rotate them from Test 2 onwards. @vrn59 is also pretty close to the mark. @Earl John - cold start to the winter down there in Tassie eh? @Ozcricketwriter - Johnson was 'so potent' in the last 2 Ashes???What planet are you on? @Mitty2, not sure those back-ups are 'formidable' but in general I agree that the present attack is superior to '09 and vastly so to 10/11 when all our bowlers were out of form. @Edwards_Anderson, having Haddin as a right-hander might actually help neutralise Swann - as others have pointed out, lots of lefties around! @kruther, averages can be misleading. England have 6 key players in the peak 28-32 age: Cook, Trott, KP, Bell, Prior, Anderson. Conversely, Australia only has Clarke, Watson, Cowan and Siddle. Everyone else scatters either side: Hughes, Warner, Patto, Starc, Lyon (young); Haddin, Rogers, Harris (old).

  • No featured comments at the moment.