Australia can regain the Ashes if …

Date: July 9, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

Australia will start as a significant underdog when the Ashes series gets underway at Trent Bridge on Wednesday.

However, like Allan Border’s surprise tourists in 1989, Australia is not without a total hope.

To regain the Ashes the team must play smart, disciplined cricket and there are several key areas and individuals that will dictate the fortunes.

Here are some of the key requirements if Australia is to spring an upset.

Michael Clarke has to have a big series

The Australian skipper is the standout batsman in the side – just as Border was in 1989 – and he has to lead by example at the crease.

Since assuming the captaincy his batting has been sublime.

In 24 Tests at the helm he has averaged 66.1 and peeled off nine centuries, including three doubles and one triple.

At home throughout his career he has averaged 64.9 while on the road he has averaged a modest 42.0.

He has to be able to replicate his Australian form during this series whether he bats at four or five.

His teammates will walk taller if Clarke is amongst the runs

Brad Haddin has to reward the selectors’ faith

Haddin enters the opening Test as Clarke’s deputy.

Up until this series he has spent much of the past two years living in Matthew Wade’s shadow.

It is imperative that Haddin performs at his best as his counterpart, Matt Prior is a redoubtable fighter who has often saved his country with bat in hand whilst also being particularly sound behind the stumps.

He needs to at least equal Prior’s contribution if not eclipse it.

A veteran of 67 Tests, Prior has scored seven centuries and 26 half-centuries en route to a career average of 44.3.

He has shown an ability to get quick runs or grind it out with the tail depending on the match situation.

Haddin makes a return to Test ranks with an average 35.5.

Whilst his ‘keeping is still the most important facet of his game he must contribute solidly with the bat.

Known on occasions to fall to errant and overly ambitious shots, he has to bat with resolve in this series.

Australia must not gift wickets to England

In recent times Australia has a very poor record when it comes to losing top order batsmen to casual and careless running between the wickets.

The England bowlers will provide enough trouble without batsmen digging their own holes.

Shane Watson has often been a culprit and at times Ed Cowan has fared little better.

Mind lapses have to be eradicated.

Take all that is offered

It is a well-worn phrase, but catches truly can win matches, if not series.

While Shane Warne’s fumble off the edge of Kevin Petersen’s bat at The Oval in the final Test of the 2005 series did not hand England a match win it did see them regain the Ashes.

Australia has historically been known as one of the best fielding nations in world cricket.

The current side needs a near blemish free series to be in the contest.

Nathan Lyon has to do his job

From the moment Lyon comes to the bowling crease during this series he will be a marked man with the likes of Pietersen and Prior looking to collar him early.

He has to be up to the challenge.

It is imperative that he restricts the flow of runs from his end to allow Clarke to utilise his quicks in short, sharp bursts thus keeping the pressure on the England batsmen.

If Lyon fails to deliver the onus will likely fall on the shoulders of 19-year-old Ashton Agar – a tall order for such an inexperienced bowler in the pressure cooker of an Ashes series.

Let their game do the talking

England, as favourites and holders of the little urn, will be chirpy.

The Australian players cannot afford to get mired in a verbal slinging match.

In the end, all that matters is the scorecard.

The focus has to be entirely on the task at hand, especially with bat in hand.

Make the Duke ball swing

We know England will move the ball through the air – it has been a key and successful weapon in the last two Ashes series they have hosted.

Too often Australia’s pace barrage has failed to come to terms with the English ball.

They have to master it this time around.

The likes of James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc will be a handful if they can consistently get the ball to move through the air.

Knock over Alastair Cook and Jonathon Trott early

This sounds a lot easier than it will be in reality but Australia has to remove these two early.

Australia knows full well how this pair, in partnership, can grind down an opposition and compile massive partnerships thus setting a foundation for the likes of Pietersen and Bell to make merry.

Australia needs to adopt the philosophy of the great West Indian teams of the 1980s and look to ‘behead’ the opposition’s batting by claiming the skipper early.

Build partnerships

It is a simple theory but Australia in recent times has often failed to execute it.

Too many times in the last few series the batting has collapsed at key times with a rapid succession of wickets removing any chance of putting pressure on the opponent.

Upon the fall of very wicket, it is imperative the new pair establish a base and build upon it.

Patience has to be maintained

Test cricket is just that – a test.

A test of skill – both mental and physical.

In this era of Twenty20 and maximum entertainment and considerable risk, Clarke’s team must go back to the tried and tested traditions of the longer form of the game.

Whether in the field or at the batting crease, patience will be a key.

Lose it and you lose the contest.

Harmony has to be restored

To many column centimetres and talkback radio segments have been filled of late with issues surrounding the personalities within the Australian dressing room.

To have any chance in this series, everyone must be reading from the same hymn book and pulling in the one direction.

Clarke’s man management skills will be tested, especially if things go astray early.

Together with the new coach Darren Lehmann, the pair has to be able to smooth the waters and ensure every member of the squad is striving for the collective goal unfettered by petty jealousies and factionalism.

If Australia can achieve these aims it has a big opportunity to push England over the next two months.

If only a few of the boxes are ticked any remote chance of regaining the Ashes will be nigh impossible.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 8 July 2013