Six months out, here’s my Ashes squad

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Peter Siddle appeals for and celebrates taking a wicket in one motion (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

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There are still four Tests to be played, half a first-class season remaining here at home and 194 days until next year’s Ashes series begins.

So when you’re on holidays and it’s 40 degrees in Perth, what better way to spend an hour than gazing into a crystal ball and trying to frame a squad to tour the Old Dart.

Let’s start by assuming that the National Selection Panel goes with a 17-man touring party and let’s begin with the batting.

There are some obvious must-picks starting with skipper Michael Clarke who has taken his personal game to a new level since being elevated to the captaincy.

In his 20 matches at the helm he has scored eight centuries and averaged 71.4.

And aside from his form with the willow he has proven to be an innovative and aggressive skipper who is willing to gamble with declarations and the use of his various bowling options.

Interestingly, whilst his 1595 runs in the calendar year is a new Australian record, the second most prolific batsmen in world cricket through 2012 has been his England counterpart Alastair Cook, who amassed 1249 runs.

The form of both will have a large bearing on the outcome of the series.

Age proved a factor for Ricky Ponting this summer, but not so Michael Hussey, who at 37, has scored three centuries.

He is the anchor of the middle order and his ability to bat with the tail will again be crucial.

While some people are still unconvinced by David Warner’s place at the top of the order long term, there is no debating that he is the best of the current openers in Australia.

On the small English grounds he could prove a major thorn in the English side.

I would also be imploring him to work on his part-time leg-spinners as much as possible given England’s historic struggle with wrist-spinners.

Shane Watson will definitely be chosen to tour but what role he fills is still largely undecided.

It was stated by CA’s high performance manager Pat Howard a few weeks ago that to be selected he had to be able to bat and bowl.

Perhaps it is time though to ask him to focus entirely on his batting given his predilection to breaking down with ball in hand.

For mine, he would be best suited to opening alongside Warner for it is where he has produced his best and most consistent performances.

If he is still chosen as an all-rounder, Ed Cowan is likely to get the nod to remain at the top of the order despite a rather lacklustre showing through his first nine Tests – 474 runs at just 31.6.

He will turn 31 during the campaign and given his first-class career average is just 40.1 his longevity in the line-up has to be questioned.

His next four Test outings may decide his fate, either way, pre-Ashes.

Usman Khawaja deserves another opportunity, as highlighted by his selection once again as cover for Clarke for the SCG Test.

At 26 and with a first-class career average of 43, he is one of the more successful fringe players in the country.

The fact he has already tasted the pressure of the Test arena will also be in his favour.

Phil Hughes will also get the nod and will be desperate to atone for his last tour where he was cast into the international wilderness.

He has made slight technical adjustments to his game and seems to be heading in the right direction, running between the wickets aside.

The selectors know what he can do when on song – two centuries in his second Test versus South Africa is testament to that – and he will be very much in the mix for the number three slot.

A large problem confronting the selectors is the current dearth of batsmen in Sheffield Shield ranks who are demanding consideration.

On that basis, I would take Alex Doolan, who has had a fine season, boasting a first-class average of 81.4, including a knock of 161no for Australia ‘A’ against the world number one Proteas.

As the second all-rounder, I would lean in favour of Andrew McDonald.

A ‘veteran’ of four Tests he is a true all-rounder with a first-class average of 39.8 with the bat, including 11 centuries, and 201 wickets at 28.6.

His high-arm action and ability to swing the ball could be handy, if required, in England.

At 25, and still learning his game, I would leave Moises Henriques at home in favour of McDonald, a more seasoned campaigner.

In a similar vein, I would choose Brad Haddin as the second ‘keeper.

He has displayed fine form with the bat for New South Wales this season, averaging 67.4.

If Matthew Wade fails to perform behind the stumps it is imperative that an experienced man takes his place, hence for mine, no Tim Paine or Chris Hartley.

A lack of quality spin options in Australia at present sees Nathan Lyon chosen as the only specialist.

Now, to the quicks.

The major problem here is fitness and injury concerns.

With that in mind, one of either James Pattinson or Pat Cummins is worth the risk.

Given Cummins has hardly bowled a red ball in anger since his Test debut two years ago, it has to be Pattinson.

From seven Tests, his 31 wickets at 22.1 proves he is a potential match winner.

Warhorse Peter Siddle is a certainty, so too in my mind are Mitchell Starc and Jackson Bird.

Starc could be a massive handful with his left-arm in-swing and Bird has shown over the last two seasons, and one Test, that he has the makings of a long term member of the Australian attack.

Don’t be surprised if he is Australia’s most successful Ashes tourist.

That leaves the fifth pace position.

Mitchell Johnson will get the nod of approval despite his disastrous showing last time around.

In two Tests this summer he has shown what he is capable of – 102 runs at 51, 12 wickets at 20, a man-of-the-match at the MCG and two Sri Lankan broken hands.

But, he will be given little margin for error.

If he plays early in the series, bleeds runs and lacks penetration, he will be quickly discarded.

So there you have it.

It is a somewhat dicey prospect choosing a squad this far out especially with the Australian rooms often looking like a triage ward.

But, if I get it horribly wrong (read – probably will!), I will just blame the fact that my crystal ball had a crack in it!

So, my 17 – Clarke, Watson, Hussey, Cowan, Warner, Hughes, Khawaja, Doolan, McDonald, Wade, Haddin, Lyon, Siddle, Pattinson, Starc, Bird, Johnson.

Over to you Roarers!

After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.
Phillip Hughes has tragically passed away. RIP Phil, and The Roar's thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.
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