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Four quicks the only way to retain the Ashes

James Pattinson is running out of time to get his body up to Test standards. (AAP Image/Julian Smith)
Expert
1st January, 2013
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So, it’s 2013, and another Ashes year is upon us.

For cricket-loving Australians, it doesn’t get any better, and all talk between now and the commencement of the five-Test series in July will focus on our best chance of getting the precious urn back.

While most of the focus has been on what shape the batting will take after the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, I’d argue that’s the wrong angle to be coming from.

The batsman’s job is to make sure you don’t lose matches, but it takes bowlers to win them.

As it stands, Australia’s only chance of regaining the Ashes in England is to go with a four-man pace attack.

Our long-form batting stocks are thin, with, outside skipper Michael Clarke, a list of players that are either unproven or untried at the highest level. And as admirable as Nathan Lyon’s efforts have been, the spin bowling cupboard is also bare.

But all are agreed the depth in the Aussie fast bowling ranks is strong, albeit half of them can’t walk to the letterbox without the approval of sports scientists, and the other half get injured on the way there.

Of course, what this means is that Lyon must make way.

Defenders of the former Adelaide Oval groundsman point to his respectable record of 59 test wickets from 18 matches at an average of a tick under 31, his speed to 50 wickets, and his age, a still-young 25.

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Detractors argue that too many of his wickets are tail-enders hitting out, he lacks penetration on final day pitches, and of course, his speed both of delivery and between balls.

Personally, I think he’s done an adequate job, but will be easy pickings for a strong England batting line-up in home conditions. Do they want him in the side?

Yes, I fancy they do.

Even Lyon’s most ardent admirers would concede he isn’t in the best four bowlers in the country. Almost all would suggest he’s not in the best six. Many would say his name wouldn’t be called out if stretching that to Australia’s best dozen.

If you’ve got five left-handed batsmen in your top-six, do you choose the best right-hander available for the sixth spot, even if the next best three options are lefties?

I do concede the variation a spinner provides can be an integral part of a day in the field, but it makes no sense to take up one of the four front-line bowling positions with nothing more than an honest toiler.

Based purely on statistics, I’d much rather see Glenn Maxwell be given the chance to shine, which would also include taking up the spot at six soon to be vacated by Michael Hussey.

With a first class bowling average of 33.81 (almost five runs a wicket better than Lyon it should be noted) and batting at 42 whenever he ventures to the crease, he should be selected there in Sydney and for the entire series in India.

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This gives us the variation required, but also allows us to unleash the best four bowlers to take 20 wickets in English conditions.

Right now, for mine, that line-up is James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson and Jackson Bird.

Pattinson is already the best bowler in Australia, and can be for the next decade if fitness isn’t an issue. His combination of movement, pace, and downright hostility, mixed with instincts that see him rarely make the same mistake twice, can see him become one of the greats.

Bird should share the new ball with him, based on his superior first class record and impressive debut against Sri Lanka at the MCG. Tall, blessed with control and the ability to move the ball both ways at reasonable pace, he seems tailor-made for English conditions.

Siddle is the lionheart, and we know what we’re going to get from him. To paraphrase Jason Gillespie, if the wicket is green, he’ll pitch it up, if it’s brown, he’ll bang it in.

He can be relied upon to strike with aggression or keep the runs to a minimum. He also has the important knack for getting a key wicket at a crucial time, and then following it up with one or two more.

Which leaves us with the riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma that is Mitchell Johnson.

Fit, firing and in form, his inclusion is a luxury that can be afforded within my set-up. Just as happy sending batsmen to the emergency ward as back to the pavilion with an unplayable ball, he is a strike bowler in every sense.

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A pleasing benefit with this bowling line-up is that Johnson, Pattinson and Siddle could make a case as the best eight, nine and ten batsmen in the world.

On a side note, any and all talk of Mitchell Johnson being a legitimate all-rounder needs to immediately cease, and those responsible reminded that it is not yet April 1st.

The Australian selectors seem committed to rotation, so we’ll need like-for-like replacements either with the touring squad or playing county cricket. Pat Cummins, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Starc and Ryan Harris can fill in to give my four support if required.

The common word we use for a bowling line-up is ‘attack’, and if Australia stands any chance of regaining the Ashes this year, that is exactly what they need to do – with a full frontal pace assault.

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