Hysterical bias married with a good helping of gamesmanship always accompanies the term ‘The Worst Ashes Squad Ever’, with it more often than not leading to egg being left on the faces of the ones so eager to exalt it.
The sad reality of the upcoming Ashes series from an Australian point of view is that it is not only the British using this to mock our chances, but even expert voices on our own shores bemoaning it as an accurate depiction of our team.
This reality is inescapable, with the Ashes being very much set up as a David versus Goliath affair, with England expected to crush us into oblivion. As in that analogy, England with its might and power should lord it over us, but if we think smart and outside the square then we have an outside chance to take them out in what would be an upset for the ages.
The stone in the pouch of the Aussies is their pace bowling line up, which has an unwanted ‘sick note’ fragility as well as a threat. When they are fit, they could be a factor that is so decisive in the Ashes that it could conceal the rest of the team’s gaping flaws. The key for this is in the selection of the team so as to accentuate the pace corps’ chances, allowing them to carry the rest of the team on its back.
To aid in making this a reality, the selectors must admit that variation for the sake of variation is a fundamentally flawed concept unless the choice is able. This means that the innocuous spin of Nathan Lyon must be sacrificed.
Fans of Lyon will be outraged by this suggestion and will automatically point to his chances of success in the Ashes, with the English batsmen having a much-publicised weakness against spin.
The point has merit going on their performances against spin, but they can easily be dismissed when you realise that most of their struggles have been in unpredictable Asian conditions and against unorthodox spinners.
In these conditions, the English are made to do what they are adverse to doing with regard to using their feet to the tweakers rather than their more trusted practice of playing off the back foot, knowing the bounce is always true in England.
A look at recent performances by spinners in English confines supports the view on Lyon:
Imran Tahir: 8 wickets at an average of 47.25
Harbhajan Singh: 14 wickets at an average of 49.78
Anil Kumble: 36 wickets at an average of 41.41
Danish Kaneria: 20 wickets at an average of 51.4
Aside from Tahir, all of these bowlers have much greater skill and respect than Lyon, but still have struggled mightily in England. In comparison, as you run the rule over Lyon you come to the conclusion that he is a bowler with great heart, but is very limited in his variety and subtlety in deliveries.
In a sense, he is a bowler in the infancy of his career, one who lacks the know-how that is so necessary in the art of spin. He would be a recipe for disaster in England because he would not only pose little threat, but also struggle to represent a defensive aspect within the attack to compliment the attacking bowlers.
In the process, he would be undermining Australia’s greatest hope for success in the potential might of its pace battery.
If Australia finds the courage to sit Lyon, it gives them a ‘have their cake as well as eat it’ potential in their line up in regard to being able to solidify their batting as well as accentuate their bowling potential. Automatically, people will assume this is a move to accommodate five pace men in the attack, but five is superfluous in conditions that should favour ball over bat.
The key in this plan is Shane Watson deciding to bowl, allowing him to be the defensive bowler in the attack and letting the likes of James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc bowl in short and sharp spells.
Then, the swing man would be Ryan Harris, who is a bowling workhorse able to bowl long spells that exude a consistent excellence in the precocious threat that he poses. He could also dry up the scoring rate like a thirsty sponge.
This bowling attack, if it performs to its potential, would trouble any batting line up in the world, meaning the batting would have the benefit of the scoreboard on its side. Additionally, with the dropping of Lyon, and his place being taken by a batsman, it would also provide a chance to potentially strengthen the team’s Achilles’ heel, its batting.
Having six specialist batsmen, and with Watson employed as a bowling all-rounder at seven, would give the team greater batting depth, with Brad Haddin to come in at eight. Thereby, the team would have its greatest chance of success in the Ashes.