My Australian XI for Cardiff

Date: July 8, 2015 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell

WarnerIt’s always good fun to play selector, so here we go. With the first Ashes Test at Cardiff to get underway tomorrow night here is my Australian XI.

There is no doubt that David Warner will be one half of the opening combination. His last series against West Indies (98 runs at 24) ended the pugnacious left-hander’s run of four consecutive series in which he averaged 53 or better.

From the start of the last Ashes series in November 2013 up until the Caribbean tour he scored 1732 runs at 64 in 14 Tests with nine centuries. He will once again be vital to the tone of Australia’s batting and while he is no longer the full throttle opener he once was he still has the ability to find the boundary regularly, especially on the small English venues.

With Chris Rogers ruled out of the two-Test series against West Indies with severe concussion Shaun Marsh was elevated to open. He was serviceable – 112 runs at 37 from four innings – but with Rogers fit and with some solid time in the middle in the lead-in games he has to return to the top of the order.

England is not the place to utilise a part-time opener which is what Marsh is at Test level. Whilst he has opened regularly in ODI and T20s facing the red ball is a different proposition.

Rogers has honed his technique against the new ball through a 16-year first-class career, much of it spent plundering runs in the County Championship.

In 2013, despite taking his place in the Ashes series he still had time to amass 1068 runs at 56 for Middlesex. Last year he scored double centuries in the first and last rounds of the Championship en route to a 1300-plus run season.

The Warner-Rogers combination has proved profitable since they were first paired together in the fourth Test at Chester-le-Street two years ago. Their asymmetrical styles help the other prosper and each requires a totally different approach from the bowlers.

Steve Smith at number three is a lock. There is little more than can be said about his form since the start of last summer – five centuries in six Tests and 1052 runs at 131. He moved to first drop in the Caribbean and celebrated with a Test-best 199 in the second Test.

Former England off-spinner Graeme Swann fired one of the first barbs of the pre-series phony war by questioning whether Smith’s technique will stand up in English conditions. There is no doubt he will need to be mindful of the swinging ball when employing his characteristic shots from off-stump and outside through the leg side. It is however worth remembering that he scored two centuries when he played his only other series in England.

Michael Clarke will be at four. The skipper struggled in the Caribbean with his three innings totalling just 79 runs. A second innings knock of 77 against Essex in is final warm-up hit will have settled the nerves.

Once again, Stuart Broad will dish up plenty of short stuff to Clarke on the back of success with the same tactic in Australia. With England likely to include Mark Wood, who hit 147km/h against the Black Caps a little earlier this northern summer, Clarke will need to have his back-foot game well under control.

The next two spots in the order are contentious.

At number five I prefer Adam Voges to Shaun Marsh. It is a tough call on Marsh who performed soundly last summer against India with 254 runs at 42. But it is hard to go past Voges who burst onto the scene in the Caribbean – albeit at 35 years of age – with a man-of-the-match winning debut innings of 130 not out at Roseau, the only knock over 74 in the game. His only other innings in the series was 37 at Kingston.

Voges knows his game inside out, producing his best Sheffield Shield season last summer with six centuries in an aggregate of 1358 runs at 104. Like Rogers, he is a veteran of England conditions and his vast experience could prove crucial.

The all-rounder spot at number six is between the incumbent Shane Watson and Mitchell Marsh. Marsh put his case to the selectors with swashbuckling centuries in the two first-class warm-up games – retiring for 101 off 104 balls against Kent and a 188-ball innings of 169 against Essex. At the same time Watson was also spending quality time in the middle with scores of 81 and 52.

From all reports Watson looked the better bowler in the warm-up matches. Whilst he is not a prolific wicket-taker he is usually adept at closing down one end for Clarke while the specialist quicks attack from the other.

Marsh can be genuinely lively with the ball although his 61 overs in Test cricket to date have netted just one wicket. Personally, I would go for Marsh because I think his time has come and he is in career-best form with the willow but I wonder if the selectors will be of the same mind.

Should Marsh get the nod and fail to perform the only solution is to back to the 34-year-old Watson, an outcome that would smack on face value as a retrograde step if he is overlooked for Cardiff. For that reason I feel the selectors may go with him for the opening two Tests with Marsh in the wings if he falters.

Brad Haddin will be the first choice for wicket-keeper despite his modest returns of late with the bat. He has passed 50 only once in his past 19 Test innings, during which time he has averaged a paltry 15.3.

The reserve keeper, Peter Nevill, is a well-credentialed performer with a batting average of 44.3 through his 55 match first-class career. He is a smooth operator behind the stumps and showed with his innings of 78 against Essex that he is in decent form with the blade.

Should Haddin continue to struggle, and particularly if Australia falls behind in the series, Nevill could well find himself in the baggy green on this tour.

With the sudden and sorrowful retirement of Ryan Harris, Australia has been dealt a blow. Even before the dire prognosis was delivered on his troublesome knee there was little chance he was ever going line up at Cardiff.

That left Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood with Peter Siddle a support act on this tour.

Johnson has a point to prove this series. The England public has yet to see the rampant left-armer at his best. Fresh from being named ICC Player of the Year in early-2009, he struggled during the Ashes that year with his rhythm and control and looked a shadow of what he was just a few months earlier in South Africa. At 33 this time tour be his last opportunity to terrorise England on its own soil.

Starc thrilled one and all with his man-of-the-series winning heroics at the World Cup. Once again he will be under the microscope with the red ball in hand. England should suit him down to the ground and his match figures last week of 9/77 against Essex will have him champing at the bit.

Hazelwood appears to improve with every outing. He enters the series with 24 wickets at just 19.1 from his five Tests to date. His high release, stump-to-stump bowling will prove a handful for England on pitches that provide any assistance.

Lastly, the spinner’s spot goes to Nathan Lyon. In the West Indies he became Australia’s most prolific Test finger-spinner surpassing fellow offie Hugh Trumble’s 111-year record of 141 wickets. He enters the series as the most accomplished spinner across both sides but he can expect to be taken too early in each of his spells.

He got a taste for that against Essex when the locals did their best to paste him various to parts of the ground as he returned match figures of 1/200 off just 36.4 overs.

So there you have it.

First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 7 July 2015, soliciting 55 comments