Do any of the Ashes contenders’ measure up to Bo Derek? A quick look through the squads does not throw up one perfect 10. The two class batsmen on either side are Ponting and Pietersen. Ponting is still capable of dominating once he gets over the initial overs. But this will depend on the batsmen around him.
The positions 4, 5 and 6 need to support Ponting in partnerships.
On form, I would rate Ponting as an 8. He could surprise and have a stellar summer, in which case he may shade Pietersen.
Pietersen is a big match player and I would discount his recent poor form. He lifts against Australia and will be keen to stamp his authority. I expect him to be the standout batsman for England and rate him at 8.5.
Watson is in superlative form and looks the most confident of the Aussie batters and he can set up the innings along with Katich. I would rate Watson as 8 and Katich as 7.
Andrew Strauss is batting well and is the key to England’s chances along with KP. Australians like to target the opposing captain and how Strauss handles the initial barrage will be crucial.Siddle will be the bowler to trouble him with his natural inswing leaving the left hander.
Strauss is an 8 and his partner Cook could be the weak link in the batting. I rate Cook as no more than 6.
I am working on the premise that Bollinger will not recover for Brisbane.
Jonathan Trott will be given the crucial number three and I am not convinced about his capabilities. He plays away from the body and tends to reach for the shot through cover. A suspect 6.5
Bell could be the surprise packet of the tour. Though yet to score a century against Australia he has the technique to succeed in Australian conditions. I would rate him 8. He may well be fighting with Morgan for the number six spot.
Collingwood I believe is past his best and I would not expect him to dominate. At best a 6.
Clarke is struggling for form but should come good in Brisbane. He has the class to be Australia’s best performed this summer and I rate him at 8 along with Watson.
Hussey will have to get lucky to score big. I see him scrapping to a few good fifties and generally being a support batsman rather than a dominator. A 6 for Mr. Cricket. More a Master than a Mister.
Marcus North is a second innings specialist and ranges from cornucopian to Siberian. This inconsistency grants him a 5.5.
The wicketkeepers cancel each other out and Prior may just have more street smarts than Haddin. Prior a 7.5 and Haddin 6.5. Haddin has to stop splurging on the 100-1 in the last at Moonee Ponds.
Johnson at 8 deserves an 8 and is neck and neck with Stuart Broad. I expect Johnson to pull away later in the series with his superior fitness. The Ashes is more a Melbourne Cup than the Golden Slipper.
Hilfenhaus is an 8.5 and shades Anderson at 7.5. Anderson will struggle in Brisbane and Adelaide.
This leaves Siddle and Finn. Siddle is bowling fast and straight and could be Australia’s best in this series. I rate him 8.5. Finn is a work in progress and 6.5 at this stage.
This brings me to the two spinners. Swann is the standout bowler in these two squads and the only one I would rate 9. Hauritz, if he is picked, would rate 5.5 on current form. I believe his confidence will take a long time to recover.
The eleven Australian players total 79.5 out of a possible 110.
The England players mentioned above total 81.5. This two points margin could be crucial and probably see England retain the Ashes.
The obvious weak links for Australia are North, Hussey and Hauritz. Khawaja, Smith (or O’Keefe) and Hughes (Ferguson) could tip the balance back in Australia’s favour. In the end it is, maybe, just one spinner and one batsman that make all the difference.
It is a telling statistic that not one batsman from either squad is ranked in the ICC top ten test performers. Ponting’s highest ranking was in 2006 and Pietersen’s in 2007. Both have a point to prove. Still good but past their best? This will be one of the subplots of these Ashes.
Swann and Anderson are ranked 2 and 4 as the best performed Test Bowlers. Johnson at 7 and Bollinger at 9 are also in the top ten.
In the end form is only a guide.
Who will lift and who will sink? This will be a test of character and when it is 39 degrees at the Adelaide Oval, will the superior fitness of the Aussies be decisive? The Aussies may not look pretty at the moment but by summer’s end we may be whistling in appreciation of the perfect 10.