In a recent Spectator, the English sports writer James Nicholls argues that this should be the Australian XI to play the first Test at Trent Bridge in July: Rogers, Marsh, Khawaja, Clarke, Warner, Watson, Wade, Johnson, Pattinson, Siddle, Lyon.
There is a lot to admire about this side. Rogers is a one-Test veteran who has a much better first class average than the more favoured (by the selectors) players, except I would think Philip Hughes, an exclusion from the Nicholls side.
The three Ws in the middle of the order, Warner, Watson and Wade, although not a patch on the original three Ws, Weekes, Worrall and Walcott, have a certain pugnacity to their batting that is appealing.
But there is a lot wrong with the side, too.
It does not take into account the fact that the selectors, with no more Tests to play before the Ashes series starts, cannot start experimenting with new opening pairs and batting orders that are significantly different from those they’ve played with for the last few Tests.
And the inclusion of Johnson ahead of Starc does not fairly balance the merits of the two left-armers. In my view, Johnson’s card should be marked, ‘never to play Test cricket again.’
The fine mess the selectors have got themselves and the baggy greens into means that they are in the situation where they only tinker with the squad they’ve been using throughout the last couple of series.
Luckily for them, the New Zealand team, which threatened to defeat England twice in the just-finished series has given the selectors some strong feed-back on how to win back the Ashes.
First: Have a strong opening pair. My suggestion here is that Hughes should be promoted to open with Cowan. Hughes, as an opener, scores his runs fast enough to balance the tortoise-like pace of Cowan’s efforts.
Second: I would play Warner at first drop. He plays fast bowling well enough to handle the fall of an early wicket. He is also a better player of spin than Hughes, with the capacity to hit someone like Swann out of the game if things fall in the right order for him.
Third: I would bat Watson at four and tell him to stop the posing after a shot that always reminds me of body builder going through his posing routines.
I would get into Watson’s head that scoring runs is preferable to his penchant for trying to look good.
Be ruthless and use the power he has to get into the England bowling by batting the way he does in the one-day and T20 matches.
New Zealand hit 12 sixes in their mammoth first innings at Eden Park, while England scrapped up one six in their two battling innings.
Four: Restore Clarke to the number five batting position.
He is more comfortable there. He has scored massively in this position but has struggled when he’s been moved up the list.
The way he bats at number five enables him to turn innings around the way McCallum did for the Kiwis with his quick-fire innings as captain at Eden Park.
The England attack, which relies a lot on cut and movement off the pitch, looked pretty innocuous on a pitch that didn’t do much.
Five: Forget about the hit-and-giggle merchants like Smith and Maxwell. Wade goes in at number six in the order. He has scored a Test century, and given some sound tactical advice is good enough to bat this high in the order.
Six: The key to beating England is obvious but difficult.
You have to bowl them out twice, something that is incredibly hard to do as they showed twice against New Zealand, and against Australia in recent Ashes series.
Australia is not going to post massive scores against England unless Clarke has another one of his Bradman-like run of a double and triple centuries.
England will have to be beaten by being bowled out for relatively low scores that Australia can better.
NZ almost did this with an pop gun attack compared with what the Australians have in their arsenal.
The key to this was the success of their left-arm pace bowlers. This makes the inclusion of the best of the Australian lefties, Starc, an absolute requirement.
Seven: stack the attack with three more quickies, Pattinson, Siddle, Bird. Use them relentlessly against an England batting line-up that, with the exception of the Pietersen and Prior, is a grinding outfit.
Eight: Use spinner Lyon for the opening Tests, but if there are Tests that have to be won be prepared to gamble on Fawad Ahmed and his leg-spinners.
Nine: Drop Clarke as a selector.
It is difficult enough captaining an Australian side that outside of himself lacks any other great player.
But the difficulty is compounded when the captain is associated with some of the more bizarre selectorial decisions that have been made.
Ten: Take heart from New Zealand that this current England side is beatable by a side that plays relentless, hard and efficient cricket.
This is not beyond whatever Australian side that takes the field, and certainly is not beyond the line-up I’ve suggested.