Watch out England! Australia is going to take back the Ashes
Australia's Peter Siddle celebrates after dismissing Sachin Tendulker.
Michael Clarke wouldn’t mind contesting the Ashes series right now, after Australia defeated India 4-0 in the just-completed Test series.
The former England captain Michael Vaughan, however, reckons that England’s fast bowling attack is more potent than Australia’s.
‘In fact England have 2 better seam bowling attacks,’ he twittered or twattered as this sort of arrant nonsense deserves to be called.
The truth about where Australia is and its chances of regaining the Ashes in 2013 lie somewhere in between these two extreme (in my reckoning) points of view.
First, let’s deal with Clarke’s men. It was an unexpected triumph for the bowlers (and the coaching staff) for Australia to take all 80 Indian wickets in the four Tests.
Admittedly, the much-vaunted Indian middle batting order is less formidable outside India than it is playing at home. But Rahul Dravid had had a superlative series in England. But Siddle and the others reduced him and the other all-time Indian greats, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman to journeymen status.
In terms of bowling, Australia is well-equipped now and probably even more so by 2013 to present an attack that will bundle out virtually every batting side it comes against.
Patrick Cummins and James Pattinson are youngsters who have already won Tests with their bowling. Both of them look like being handy batsmen too.
Hopefully by 2013 they will be over their injuries and ready to wreck havoc on the English pitches.
The old-timers in the fast bowling attack have bowled superbly in this Australian summer. Ryan Harris (32) probably won’t be around in 2013 but Ben Hilfenhaus (28) and Peter Siddle (27) should be as good then as they are now.
This is especially likely if the Australian Cricket ensures that the new bowling coach, Craig McDermott, is kept on.
The improvement in Siddle’s bowling, particularly, since McDermott came on board has been startling. The McDermott doctrine of pitching the ball up and giving it time to swing should be even more effective in England than it is in Australia.
Watching Shane Warne bowl in the Big Bash is a cruel reminder that we are unlikely to see an Australian leg-spinner of his quality in our life-times. And this thought should allow us to respect spinners who are less brilliant but who, despite this, can play an important part in the balance and success of the Australian bowling attack.
This brings us to Nathan Lyon (24). He is proving to be (in the absence of a Warne) the ideal spinning back-up to a dominant fast bowling attack. Lyon has the virtue of throwing the ball up above the eye-line of the opposing batsmen. He has good flight.
Right now he is not an especially fizzy spinner of the ball. But he has excellent control. He does not bowl very many, if any, bad balls. He has dip. And he is working on an arm ball that goes the other way.
He is a better off-spinner at this stage in his career than Graeme Swann was when he started playing for England.
Lyon could be crucial in England. England folded in Abu Dhabi against Pakistan over the weekend being bowled out for 72 (their lowest total ever against Pakistan) when chasing only 145 for the victory.
The Pakistani left-arm finger-spinner Adbul Rehman took 6 – 25 and in doing this exposed a weakness against spin by Kevin Pietersen that Australia has struggled to cash in on in past Ashes Tests.
Andrew Strauss who scored 32 out of the 72 is struggling to score runs. If the Strauss-Cook opening partnership becomes vulnerable then England will struggle against Australia in 2013.
England do have Stuart Broad who is developing into one of England’s finest all-rounders. Like Sir Ian Botham, Broad has the knack of winning Tests with a bowling or batting burst.
Right now, with Shane Watson out injured, there is no Australian equivalent of Broad. Perhaps Watson will be fully fit by 2013. Let’s hope so because a fit Watson batting at, say, number 6, and being the fourth seam-bowler, is crucial to the balance of the side.
The weight of runs scored by Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke in the series against India somewhat covered up problems with the batting line-up, in terms of who should bat where and whether certain players will hold up until 2013.
Let’s not forget that this summer, admittedly in South Africa, Australia was bowled out for 47 in one Test innings. And in Hobart against New Zealand, Australia could not score 240 or so in a second inning chase.
We might be being a bit tough on the New Zealand bowling attack in being critical of Australia’s failing run chase. On Saturday this attack bowled Zimbabwe out twice in a day (after batting themselves for a further hour earlier in the day).
I think the selectors will be less happy with the batting. Admittedly, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey scored massively. But Hussey and Ponting are of an age that a couple of failures will see their places in the Test squad in jeopardy.
They have to score in the Tests before the Ashes and even then they will be under pressure if they get that far. Remember, too, that in the last Ashes series in 2010/2011 Ponting had 8 innings, scored 113 runs, with a 51 not out, and averaged 16.14.
As I see, David Warner will be preserved with as an opener. He scores quickly, very quickly often. The Indians found him out twice with an off-spinner at the beginning of his innings. But he will learn to deal with this. He brings a lot to the team, especially with his enthusiastic fielding and his occasional leg-spinners.
Ed Cowan has done enough to stay in the side, for the time being. He does not strike me as being a long-time Australian Test cricketer. He is rather like his mentor Peter Roebuck, in that he has made a lot with the limited cricketing gifts he has.
Shaun Marsh must be finished. Who replaces him at the crucial number 3 batting position?
And there is the consideration of where Shane Watson fits into the squad. It seems clear that if he is to continue as an all-rounder he can’t open the innings or go first drop as well.
In the time leading up to the 2013 Ashes series, a number of batsmen not in the current squad could force their way in. Philip Hughes and Usama Khawaja are both going to play country cricket this year. I would not write off either of these players scoring their way back into the side. Callum Ferguson and Nic Maddinson are other possibilities.
You would expect Brad Haddin (35) to be dropped for the next Test series. Either Tim Paine (if his finger ever recovers) or Matthew Wade, with his 43 average in first class cricket, look to be the obvious claimants for the job.
England are a side that has peaked and his now growing older and less dominating. Australia is on the rise. By the time the Ashes series starts I expect Australia to be a dominant Test side. And, right now, the good news is that they are least halfway to this stage with plenty of time to complete it.
Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.