The Investec Ashes 2013 June 23, 2013

Lopsided Australia in search of balance


Were Australia's selectors to be required to choose their XI for the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge today, and be compelled to do so purely on accomplishment and current form, they would include at least six bowlers, one wicketkeeper and, at most, four batsmen. As the tour proper begins in Taunton after the abortive Champions Trophy campaign and the shadow-boxing of Australia A, the imbalance in the visitors' resources is that stark.

John Inverarity and his panel do have the good fortune of another two weeks and two four-day matches to assess the suitability of their players for the task to confront them in Nottingham. But it cannot be ignored that at the same time they are thinking about narrowing down their pace bowling options, there is an equally urgent need to expand the number of batsmen in a confident mood.

So it is that the training and tour matches to come against Somerset and Worcestershire are eagerly awaited, for the clarity they should provide in addition to match practice. In the case of the bowlers, it will be a question of who stands tallest in their chosen fixtures. Regarding the batsmen it is likely to be more a matter of who is left standing, either through solid form or perhaps, in the case of the captain Michael Clarke, merely the appearance of stability after another episode in a painful and damaging saga of back complaints.

Inverarity has revealed something of his plan for running the squad through the county matches. Of the six available pace bowlers, three will play at Taunton and the rest will charge in at Worcester. Among seven available batsmen, five will play in each fixture, and two will have a match each. This leaves the sixth place in the order open to most conjecture, and it may yet be filled by any one of Usman Khawaja, Shane Watson, David Warner, Steve Smith, or even Brad Haddin, should the bold option of four bowlers plus Faulkner be entertained.

"Plenty of runs and plenty of wickets in regards to the four-dayers, and then plenty of training and the guys getting accustomed to being in England," Clarke said of his priorities for the two warm-up weeks. "A lot of the guys haven't been in England, especially some playing in the Champions Trophy, so I'm really excited, I'm looking forward to the guys getting together on Monday and we start our preparation for that first Test match."

Having played against Gloucestershire for Australia A, Ryan Harris has expressed his desire to don the creams against Somerset, and then rest up ahead of Nottingham. James Pattinson and Peter Siddle may join him after sitting out in Bristol, leaving Jackson Bird, Mitchell Starc and Faulkner to swing into the final lead-up match. The variables of their preparations, bowling styles and levels of maturity will all be considered carefully.

For Harris, the thought of another match to regather his rhythm after an Achilles problem is welcome indeed, even if his body creaked with the soreness of most 33-year-old athletes after a sound five-wicket match haul was banked in Bristol. There was the admission of a few indifferent spells in among the incisive ones, especially at the start of Gloucestershire's second innings after Australia A were razed for 111. Bowling again so soon, Harris admitted he had attempted to fight fire with fire when, as Gideon Haigh once noted, it is generally best to fight it with water.

"I don't know if it was warming up well enough or not ... but I think the other thing was we bowled well in the first innings with patience," Harris said. "We probably attacked too much trying to take wickets and that was certainly my idea. I was trying to blast the batsmen out, which can obviously go the other way, and they scored lots of runs off me ... but I rectified that in my next spell, which was good.

"We go into the camp tomorrow with the rest of the boys and no one has talked about the first Test squad with me or anyone yet, but if I was to play the first Test it would be ideal to bowl another 20, maybe 25 or 30 overs in Taunton and then have a couple of days to wind down."

One sighter the Australians may get this week is against the incumbent England Test opener Nick Compton, who endured a difficult recent home series against New Zealand after faring somewhat better against the same opponents during the winter. Harris and the rest of the bowlers have not yet hunkered down to the video analysis sessions likely to take place before Trent Bridge, but like Bird the Queensland fast man has simple, repeatable thoughts in mind.

"It's not rocket science, we've just got to do a similar thing to most batters and keep it nice and tight," Harris said. "Cook is going to be a big man for them, hopefully we remove him early. He's had a good two years and if he gets away they really thrive, but we can't focus all on him. I thought we bowled pretty well in Australia when they were over there [in 2010-11], they just batted out of their skins. If we're consistent hopefully this time we will get a few more nicks and lbw and bowled dismissals."

One factor that should prove informative is the Taunton surface itself, known as one of the purest in England. Batsmen who put their minds to it will have the chance to accumulate large scores without the undue risk of a treacherous seamer, and bowlers will be forced to work more diligently for their wickets than the sporting strips of Belfast and Bristol required. Inverarity will hope that by this time next week the number of viable batting options is closer to the standard six than it is right now.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rohit on June 25, 2013, 10:49 GMT

    I don't think Australia are that Much strong team to be able to Win this Ashes and Even a Draw will be a good result that is very highly unlikely at this moment with so much happening Off the field having Said that Australia has to bat deep and would love to have an experiment with Watson at no.6..they have a good bowling Attack even with part timers but its their Batting that is letting them down. So my playing XI for 1st Ashes would be:

    C Rogers,Ed Cowan, U khawaja, M Clarke, S Smith, S Watson,B Haddin,Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, J Pattsinson, Nathan Lyon.

    Peter siddle will be 1st choice but James Faulkner may be used as another option coz he has got variety and was good in recent past.

  • Dam on June 25, 2013, 8:09 GMT

    If it is ultimately only about winning the ashes. The most in form batsmen in australia below.

    1) Rogers 2) Watson - No doubt over watto when he was opening 3) Katich 4) Hughes/Smith/Robson - prob Hughes on form before India 5) Clarke 6)Ponting - if they asked nicely he would return 7)Haddin

  • Dummy4 on June 24, 2013, 23:01 GMT

    Rumours of a lack of batting depth are a little overblown. Assuming that the selectors want to back the pace bowlers and go with 5 batsmen, a keeper and 5 bowlers (not too bad a plan considering the batting ability of the tail) the most consistent 6 at the top would be Rogers, Cowan, Smith, Clarke, Haddin plus one less consistent type like Hughes/Khawaja at #3. For six bats + wk include both Hughes and Khawaja. This lineup looks better than one that relies on the out-of-touch Watson, Warner or Wade but unfortunately for political reasons at least one of the three W's will be included. Next year it looks like we could draw on Maddinson, Burns, Silk, or Doolan plus there are others in the mix who will be viable once they sort out some issues (Cosgrove, possibly Maxwell).

  • Mashuq on June 24, 2013, 17:37 GMT

    Look guys. This 5-1-5 selection doesn't work anywhere so why should Aus adopt it? The Ashes are still up for grabs and so is a batting spot. A few months ago I wanted Watson out (I still do!), but why must that happen and Hughes stay? And Cowan? The way to go atm is just leave Warner out of the equation and give the other 6 a go at first. Whoever stands out as the worst flop drops out and Warner returns. Having Smith around will be useful, but the original guys need to be given the chances they were selected for. Only in desperate straits should 5-1-5 be adopted. I'm guessing that once you expect a bowler to bat like a regular he'll fail because of just that pressure. Neither Faulkner nor Haddin should bat in the top 6. Just be prepared to cull the failures ruthlessly and we'll be OK given time.

  • Scott on June 24, 2013, 12:18 GMT

    For starters, it wasn't an abortive CT campaign, it just didn't work out so well mathematically! We played poorly in the first game agaist England - fine. We should definitely have done better and beaten a lowly ranked English ODI side. Against NZ wer were denied a chance to win the game (with 243 on the board, I think we c/should've managed that). Then due to the NRR of the extremely low scoring SLvNZ game we were at pretty long odds to overcome that deficit to score at over 8po for 30 overs. It's a bit tough to then turn around and say we had a horror show as we didn't win any games under those circumstances. Nonetheless, it's almost plain stupidity to only incl 7 specialist batsmen in a squad where batting is our weaker card. Worse still are some of the names included in that 7. They certainly wouldn't be my first choice 7. As for playing 5 bowlers, people should look at our batting totals before saying such ridiculous things...

  • Simon on June 24, 2013, 10:21 GMT

    The last genuine Middle-order batsman to play test cricket for Australia (according to cricinfo's player profile database and apart from Clarke) is Marcus North in 2010. North is the 409th cricketer to play test cricket for Australia. Of the next 24 cricketers, none were Middle-order batsmen. This is where Australia's problems lie.

  • Priyavrat on June 24, 2013, 10:17 GMT

    My Australia XI For 1st Ashes Test:- 1.Watson 2.Cowan 3.Rogers 4. Hughes 5. Clarke(c) 6.Haddin(wk)7.Faulkner 8.Harris 9.Siddle 10. Lyon 11. Pattinson

  • Simon on June 24, 2013, 9:34 GMT

    Australia's batting cupboard is so bare that you can't pick a proper batting order. Australian batting is about 99% top order players (batting at 1-3) and one percent genuine middle order players (batting at 4-6). In 2013 the people who have batted in the middle order for Australia in test matches are: Clarke Playing role: Middle-order batsman Haddin Playing role: Wicketkeeper batsman Hughes Playing role: Opening batsman Hussey Playing role: Middle-order batsman (retired) Lyon Playing role: Bowler Smith Playing role: Allrounder Wade Playing role: Wicketkeeper batsman Watson Playing role: Allrounder

    According to cricinfo's database, there is only one genuine Middle-order test batsman (who is not retired) who has played for Australia this year.

  • Basil on June 24, 2013, 9:27 GMT

    This is great news even 16 days before the Ashes as the team couldnt possibly do any worse than the way they were heading. The first move I'd do if I were Boof - Draft Sayers into the main squad and send Starc on the 'A' tour to Seth Afreeka. Sayers will be a match winner over there. He has been the pick of the bowlers in the Shield and the tour games so far. His wickets are through tight swing bowling , perfect for English conditions. If Australia don't use him they can miss out on 25+ wickets.

  • Hamish on June 24, 2013, 6:58 GMT

    @myself, forgot to include Haddin lol! Although that brings up another matter, Matthew Wade just had 23 byes against him in one innings, surely he's superior to Haddin! I mean, I can think of 10 wickets off the top of my head that Wade has fluffed up off Lyon's bowling and cost him an under 30 average, and more significantly, cost us the Adelaide test match against SA and tried to cost us a test match at Sydney against SL. Surely Wade with all his bowling and keeping skills is the best keeper in Australia!