Australia are not ready for Ashes – yet
We may have thumped Sri Lanka, the batsmen may be scoring runs, the bowlers taking wickets and some of the fielders snaffling catches. But the giant elephant in the room remains.
We are in no way, shape or form ready for the Ashes.
Ed Cowan continues to speak highly of his increased drive, understanding and comfort in his Test role. However his batting average hovers precariously at 32.66, well below par for any Test match opener.
Shane Watson, the star all-rounder, has through the media been turned into a poor man’s Jacques Kallis, who doesn’t bowl or score enough runs to warrant his place.
Michael Hussey’s exit leaves a gaping hole of experience and runs in the Australian middle order. He’s as irreplaceable as any retiring great.
Matthew Wade’s glove work continues to draw criticism, as names like Tim Paine and Brad Haddin are touted to be hot on his heels.
Mitchell Johnson appears to have recaptured his best form, at least it looked that way throughout the Perth and MCG tests. Again in Sydney however, when promoted to all-rounder status, he has lacked penetration with ball and runs with bat.
Our fast bowling contingent is heavily depleted and the injury ward overflowing. Patrick Cummins, James Pattinson, Ryan Harris and Ben Hilfenhaus are all part of a group of Test match bowlers to have spent significant time on the side lines recently.
Spinner Nathan Lyon hasn’t been able to produce the big day five hauls, heroics and match winning efforts which Australians expect of their front line spinner. His is increasingly being criticized for an inability to finish sides off.
So we have problems, all of them are significant. I don’t know all the answers, but I’ll try solving some for us right now.
Looking ahead to the Ashes, cricket’s Holy Grail, what do we need to do? A team reshuffle is high on the agenda and will address many issues raised.
The Australian side lacks balance, consistency, experience and clear player roles, so I have rejigged the side in an attempt to alleviate some of these issues and hopefully bring clarity to team.
My touring party to India and England will consist of 17 players. My starting XI is as follows.
1. David Warner
2. Shane Watson
3. Phillip Hughes
4. Usman Khawaja
5. Michael Clarke (C)
6. David Hussey
7. Matthew Wade (wk)
8. Peter Siddle
9. James Pattinson
10. Nathan Lyon
11. Jackson Bird
Warner has proven to be highly effective at setting the tone of an innings straight off the bat. He has a world class batting average for Test match openers and can set you flying high towards victory in the first session of a Test.
The enigmatic and often self-absorbed Watson has his flaws no doubt, however it is undeniable that his quality straight driving and powerful technique provides him with tools to set Australia off to many a solid start. His record at the top of the order is as good as any. His bowling should be approached as a last resort, a luxury and used sparingly.
Hughes has begun his reincarnation to Test cricket promisingly, with two half centuries. He was often exploited by the brand new ball, and number three protects him slightly from this, however that doesn’t mean he doesn’t possess the ability to handle things at 1-0.
Furthermore, Hughes is better suited to facing spin bowling than Watson and Warner and thus protects them a bit more if he is the one to bat at three.
Usman Khawaja is the next most talented batsman in the country. He has a good first class record and is in excellent form. Many believe his inclusion to the Test side is inevitable and I’m happy to have this classy player forming part of the Australian middle order.
Michael Clarke, enough said.
David Hussey brings as close to a like-for-like match to his brother as any cricketer in the world – a proper professional with a wealth of experience, particularly in English condition. Hussey has the first class pedigree to prove he is capable at the highest level and has another two good years of cricket in him. Ample time for another young batsman to step up.
Matthew Wade is on notice. His batting continues to instigate a wagging tail and scoring runs will always be a strength of his. Wade’s glove work has been under immense pressure, but I’m willing to persevere as I’ve seen him play Ryobi Cup and know he is better than he is showing.
Peter Siddle is one of the first two picked these days and walks straight into the touring party as the spearhead of the attack.
James Pattinson has impressed many with his aggressive brand of fast bowling. He brings the in-your-face mentality many of us love. Pattinson will need to cage some of that energy and focus on ripping the pegs out of the ground but his short Test career has demonstrated he has a canny ability to get wickets.
Nathan Lyon’s confidence has taken a shot of late but a tour to India might be the perfect thing for him – rank turners are expected to be a major feature of the landscape on the sub continental tour. Lyon still has far and away the best Test match record of any Aussie spinner since the retirement of Shane Warne and will continue to grow in the role as time progresses.
Jackson Bird has risen quickly from Sydney club cricketer to Test match bowler. He has dismantled the Sri Lankan line-up in two Tests already and has a year and a half of first class dominance under his belt. Bird adds a huge amount of balance to the side – his consistency is something that has been lacking a lot lately and will prove invaluable against a world class batting line-up like England.
I have left out Ed Cowan as I believe he really isn’t up to the standard of Test match cricket. His record is poor and he never displayed the first class dominance in the Sheffield Shield that indicates he would be successful at the highest level.
The remainder of my touring party consists of Alex Doolan – as the in-form, next in line spare batsman – Tim Paine the reserve keeper, Michael Beer as a second spin option who brings the variety of left-arm orthodox to the fore and the fast bowling contingent of Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus.
The two Mitchells miss out on starting positions because of their tendency to leak runs and inconsistent form. If an injury occurs they will slot in nicely but I don’t consider them among the top three fast bowlers in the country at the moment.
And for the record, Johnson is as much an all-rounder as Matthew Wade is a fast bowler. He’s a good number eight, nothing more.
Ben Hilfenhaus has a solid record in England and will come in almost seamlessly if required.
So there we have it. The reshuffle is complete and I believe we now have a balanced side as ready as possible to take on India and England.