The 2013 Ashes is only 6 months away. Recent history, Test rankings and players’ experience suggests that England should be outright favourites to retain the famous urn.
But the back-to-back series could see one, if not two, of the closest Test series played in the last decade.
Trent Bridge, a ground that does not hold many fond memories for the Australians, hosts the first Test.
In the 2005 series, England won that Test match by three wickets, gaining a 2-1 lead in the series. In that same test, Australia was forced to follow on for the first time in 17 years.
However, if the selectors go with the right squad, this result will not be repeated and could set the tone for the Aussies to regain the urn.
1. Shane Watson – if he doesn’t return bowling, then Watson must open the batting in this series. Watson averages well over 40 opening, having scored his only two centuries in Test cricket opening. He averages below 25 batting anywhere else.
When he was recalled for the 2009 series as an opener, Watson scored 240 runs at 48 with three fifties.
Like Warner, Watson likes the new ball coming onto the bat and when he plays his shots, especially down the ground (he is one of the best straight drivers in world cricket), runs will come quickly.
Ever since Watson dropped to number three and four Australia have only seen one hundred opening stand.
2. David Warner – he is one of the most dangerous opening batsman in world cricket at the moment in all formats.
Warner has made a fairly good start to his Test career scoring 1068 runs at 44.50 at a strike rate of 75.15 including three hundreds and five fifties. Matthew Hayden, arguably Australia’s best ever opening batsman, scored 536 runs at 35.7 in his first 15 tests.
Warner’s form over the summer so far shows that he is maturing with every Test match, and although wasn’t able to convert four consecutive fifties to hundreds, his ultra attacking style of play may be able to nullify the English attack.
The worry for most people is that the Duke ball swings far more than the Kookaburra and Warner must control his shot selection while still backing himself.
His 85 in the first innings at the SCG was full of control, timing and elegance and his only loose shot was the one that led to his dismissal.
If Warner backs himself, he could have a huge series.
3. Phil Hughes – there still may be questions over his ability against the English conditions but Hughes has improved dramatically over the last year and he will feel he is ready for England.
4. Ed Cowan – this will be a surprise to many but with Watson being a must in the opening position, and Warner starting to become more convincing as an opener, Cowan goes down the order.
He is still in the side because he is capable of making hundreds.
Many will say that Cowan will never be able to dominate a bowling attack and he will probably agree, but what he is capable of is working a hundred out of nothing.
He can be a supporting partner for when Warner, Watson or Clarke gets going. But he must start turning starts into hundreds or else he could find himself without a position.
5. Michael Clarke – Australia’s best batsman and most experienced player.
In recent times, Clarke’s aggressive captaincy tactics and bowling changes have paid massive dividends, and it will be interesting to see how he goes in England.
Clarke will be confident, even after a poor 2005 series, as he bounced back to be the second leading run score in the 2009 series.
Its simple, if Clarke fires and makes the right decisions, Australia will win.
6. David Hussey – junior Hussey is a must for the Ashes, even if it’s just a one-off tour.
Many will disagree with me considering his shield record this season has been abysmal, but his experience, especially in county cricket, will be important to the Australian middle order.
The conditions will not be foreign to Hussey and if he can get off to a good start in the first Test, he could be a major factor in helping Australia win. His off-spinners will come in handy at times as well.
7. Matthew Wade – most of the country will agree to that his keeping needs vast improvement, but when in form and on song, his batting is brilliant and entertaining.
The swinging conditions will test Wade’s keeping ability, as will his job keeping up to the spinners, but if Wade can do well in India, continue his batting form and stay injury free he will just about end Brad Haddin’s Test career for good.
8. Mitchell Johnson – he has made a successful comeback to the Australian test team and will be ready for revenge against the old enemy.
While it is hard to see him becoming a complete all-rounder, he is a very capable bowling all-rounder. If he can get his radar right the English batsmen will have to watch their backs.
9. Peter Siddle – He is the team’s heart and soul. Courageous, lion-hearted and their best bowler, Peter Siddle will lead the Australian attack come Ashes time. There is no doubt he will ready to fire.
In 2009 he picked up 20 wickets and was the second leading wicket taker in that series. If he bowls well with a hint of movement and swing, he will cause problems.
10. James Pattinson – if fit, Pattinson will take the new ball with Siddle.
Despite the fact he has only played seven tests, he is a dangerous fast bowler and his stats show that. 31 wickets at an average of 22 is a phenomenal start to a career that could see him take 350 test wickets if he can avoid injuries.
The Ashes will be a huge test for the young man but if he bowls well, he and Peter Siddle will shake the English batsman.
11. Nathan Lyon – all summer is has been criticized, pressured and questioned over his bowling.
But his stats show that he is Australia’s best spinner even since Warne. 61 wickets at 32 is a good start.
Lyon will no doubt take wickets and maybe trouble the Indians but England will be different again. He slow down a little and bowl more balls just outside off stump on a good length. If he can execute he will takes 20 wickets against England and cement his spot as Australia’s number one Test tweaker.
12. Jackson Bird – in his first two Tests, he has already drawn comparisons to Glenn McGrath and James Anderson. Obviously he is a long way off but at 26, Bird is no rookie and his performances in the first two Tests will see him go to India and England.
I do have Pattinson ahead of him for the first couple of Tests but if an injury occurs, one of the three bowlers performs poorly or if Australia win the series before the five tests are played, then I will have him playing in at least two games.
13. Ryan Harris – if he is fit, then he is a must have inclusion in my squad. Like Shane Watson, Harris’s career has been cut short because of re-occurring injuries and he is among the most frustrated cricketers in Australia.
His record of 47 wickets at 23 in 11 tests shows he is one of Australia’s best bowlers when playing.
The back-to-back Ashes series’ could be Ryan Harris’ last season of international cricket and if he can force his way back in the side, he will play a major role.
14. Pat Cummins – he, alongside Pattinson, will be Australia’s two youngest bowlers going into the Ashes.
In the one test and 16 limited overs matches he has drawn comparisons with Brett Lee in terms of speed and firepower. Cummins is capable of bowling up to and over 145 kilometres consistently.
This young, tall fast man, if fit, will rattle the English batting line-up.