Who could be the wildcards of the Ashes?
You can begrudgingly accept through gritted teeth the appearance of an Ace or dip your hat in homage of something regal as represented by a ‘picture’, but when a Joker falls it always turns everything on its ear.
Its relation to cricket is in the rise of those nondescript players to be difference makers in either a game or a series with them having the moniker of ‘wildcards’.
These men come out of nowhere to have a profound effect on contests and tip the balance while the ‘greats’ seem to lock horns, trade brilliance and play out virtual score draws.
Keeping this in mind, here are a few likely wildcards in the upcoming Ashes:
Brad Haddin (Australia)
If I were to say to you that it is a certainty that Brad Haddin will improve Australia’s score in a Test match by a 100 runs, you will almost certainly pass me the Dunce Cap and make me sit in the corner.
Consider this, he has replaced Matthew Wade, who as a rule would mess up two to three chances in a match, which could easily amount to some extra 100 runs I referred to.
Think of how defining this could be in the upcoming Ashes in bowling conditions where 300 will be seen as a very good score in most matches.
The ‘wildcard’ nature of Haddin does not end with his safeness behind the stumps; it also translates into a boost to the psyche of Australia’s greatest weapon, their bowling.
With them knowing that they will be supported by an adequate glove man behind the stumps rather than be pushed to the verge of a mental meltdown like Nathan Lyon felt due to Wade’s missed chances in India.
Steven Finn (England)
The focus on the English bowlers will fall on James Anderson and his mastery of swing, and the associated media/fans’ claims of him being comparable to Dale Steyn.
There’s also the case of the virtual ‘little girl with the curl’ in Stuart Broad and whether he can be very, very good or very, very bad.
Then there is Graeme Swann, who will be desperate to achieve some Ashes credibility after averaging 40.13 in his 10 previous Ashes Tests.
It all leaves one feeling very much unloved in Steve Finn, who in no way is guaranteed a place in the XI for the 1st Test with Tim Bresnan neck and neck with him.
With respect to Bresnan, who is a big hearted and accomplished performer, hopefully sanity would prevail and Finn would be chosen.
He’s a bowler who has everything in his kit bag to be a devastating spearhead with pace, bounce and the ability to swing the ball as well as make it talk off the pitch.
I can see him being devastating in the Ashes for the Aussie batsmen will be so much focussed on seeing off Anderson and neutralising Swann that they might, to their demise, have lapses against Finn.
Steve Smith (Australia)
You had to feel for this young lad with him being labelled as ‘The Next Warnie’ out of Australia’s desperation to fill an irreplaceable breach.
Sadly, this desperation led him be introduced to Test cricket when he was no way equipped for it, leading to inevitable failure followed by associated ridicule.
He sunk without a trace we all thought, only to see him rise once more in 2013 for the India tour.
When we of the peanut gallery assumed that he would fail again, he left us with eggs on our faces. He had grown and his sheer relentless desire to succeed had stood out amongst all the other Aussies who were so willing to give up.
He fought and fought, and fought some more.
He was ridiculously overlooked for the Ashes squad earlier. But now that he has been added, you can almost see him struggling with the standard of the bowling and the difficult conditions in the Ashes, but just finding a way to make a contribution.
Meaning that he will finish the Ashes not referred to as ‘The Next Warnie’ , but as ‘The First Steve Smith’.
Jonny Bairstow (England)
I love the irony with the current Ashes, the example being the spotlight shining bright on one Yorkshire man in Joe Root with all and sundry assembling to already give him a Knighthood.
Which is indeed justified, for the lad indeed is a fabulous talent.
But it seems to overlook the presence of another young gem from Yorkshire in the flamed haired Jonny Bairstow.
He’s a player who has been on the outskirts of the English set up, but now is a certainty in the top 6 with the move of Root to the top of the order and the somewhat unfair axing of Nick Compton.
This move, in my mind, is a master stroke, a show of real faith in Bairstow by the team management in the lead up to the Ashes, telling him that the no. 6 position in the line-up is his.
Don’t be fooled either for this lad can play, and it is not only his talent that appeals but the dexterity of his batting gears with him being able to play a back-to-the-wall gritty innings like his 95 against a brutally great South African attack last year, or hammer home an advantage through his clean and huge hitting.
Look for him to be an unexpected thorn in the Aussie side in the Ashes.