My Australian XI for the first Ashes Test
Date: July 5, 2013 / Posted by Glenn Mitchell
Well here goes. This is my Australian XI for the opening encounter of the Ashes series at Nottingham next Wednesday.
May I say in my preamble that I am making these prognostications with two days remaining in Australia’s final first-class warm-up match.
We know that the openers are cast in stone because coach Darren Lehmann has told us so.
Shane Watson and Chris Rogers had their first stint in each other’s company on Tuesday, the opening day of the warm-up fixture at Grace Road against Worcestershire.
By all accounts it went well with the pair racing the score to 170 before being separated on the fall of Watson’s wicket for 109, made off just 111 balls.
One of the first edicts to pass Lehmann’s lips upon his appointment was to state categorically that Watson would return to the top of the order.
To celebrate the promotion to his favoured spot in the line-up, Watson peeled off 90 against Somerset last week ahead of his century.
In recent times Watson’s best position in the Australian line-up has been debated as hotly as the Federal Government’s leadership.
Some have had him out of the XI altogether while others have said if he was to play it needed to be as an opener.
David Warner’s brain snaps has made the selectors’ job easier.
Watson last regularly fronted Australia’s batting at Johannesburg in November 2011 before stints at three, four and five.
As an opener he averages 43.5 from 24 Tests yet boasts a 41-Test career average of 35.3.
This series looms as the chance saloon for Watson, who has compiled 19 half-centuries and just the two tons thus far.
The fact that he is fit and willing to bowl has no doubt aided his selection.
At the other end will be cricket’s modern-day Lazarus.
Rogers has risen from the ashes of a one-off Test appearance at Perth – as a stand-in for an injured Matthew Hayden – against India in January 2008 where he made scores of 15 and four.
While Australia went through several combinations at the top after the retirements of Hayden and Justin Langer, Rogers was constantly overlooked despite remaining one of the most prolific batsmen in domestic cricket.
The inability of Australia to post consistent opening stands has seen him re-enter the frame.
He has been in outstanding form for Middlesex this season and when he left the club for national duties he was the most prolific batsman in the County Competition with 865 runs at 66.5.
With over 5000 County runs in the past four seasons and a first-class average over 50, Rogers’ selection may be one of the most pivotal for Australia in this series.
He knows his own game inside out and the conditions will hold no fear.
At number three, I have Cowan.
He too has been playing in England for Nottinghamshire where he displayed solid, if not outstanding form, with a return of 478 runs at 43.4.
Once again however, he has displayed his Achilles heel in failing to convert solid starts in to centuries with four half-centuries and highest score of 81.
But he is an obdurate fighter and his unflustered approach may prove handy should Australia lose an early wicket.
Whilst many have extolled the virtues of Phil Hughes technical changes ahead of his latest Test incarnation I still hold some doubts against a brand new ball but I am willing to risk him at four.
He was always going to struggle in India but his first three Tests back against Sri Lanka last summer – 233 runs at 46.6 – showed promise.
His technique will be soundly tested by James Anderson and co.
For mine, Michael Clarke should revert to number five.
He had one of the most prolific periods in the history of Test cricket in that slot in 2012, and back permitting, he will be the lynchpin of the batting again this series.
He may not have been in the initial squad but Steve Smith’s performances for Australia A saw him added to the Ashes party.
Whilst renowned as a good player of spin, he was certainly one of Australia’s most assured batsmen in India where he displayed a new found maturity at the crease.
The Australian middle order can expect to see a fair bit of Graeme Swann so the likes of Clarke and Hughes in tandem could be instrumental.
An innings of 68 not out against Worcestershire will have boosted his stocks.
The absence of Usman Khawaja will rankle with many but at the head of the series I would not have him in there but he is a very real chance to be there by series’ end.
So far in England this year – with Australia A and the Ashes squad – he has batted seven times for 194 runs at 32.3.
HE has had his chances to lock down a spot but a large score has eluded him.
As for Warner, he will have done his time, but given his form on the tour prior to his suspension – 0, 0 and 9 – and no time in the middle for four weeks you cannot really make a case.
Brad Haddin, as vice-captain, is a lock for the keeper’s position at number seven.
At times his batting has lacked discipline, a trait he can ill afford in this series.
As a senior player he has to lead by example.
James Pattinson is perhaps the one gilt-edge guaranteed fast bowler.
He performed well for Australia A and whilst being rested for the current match against Worcestershire he claimed match figures of 7-117 last week against Somerset.
His ability to bowl out-swing at pace will make him a constant threat.
Mitchell Starc also has the capability to be a handful in English conditions, and like Pattinson, he has stood out of the current warm-up match after capturing 4-33 and 2-41 at Taunton.
Ryan Harris made just the one appearance for Australia A with figures of 2-25 and 3-56 against Gloucestershire a fortnight ago.
Halfway through the current match against Somerset he has 0-41 off 15 overs.
His Test record is impressive – 47 wickets at 23.6 – but his lack of bowling in the past five weeks is a concern given his history with injury.
It seems odd that he was not given more time in the middle to build up his fitness.
Like Harris, Jackson Bird’s only match for Australia A was also at Gloucester where he took 0-29 and 3-53.
He has been the pick of the quicks against Worcestershire with 4-38 off 20 overs by stumps on day two.
His metronomic accuracy and high release is Glenn McGrath-like with his two Tests against Sri Lanka last summer – 11 wickets at 16.2 – underlining his abilities after several profitable seasons at Sheffield Shield level.
I would have him as the third specialist seamer which may seem very harsh on the squad’s most experienced quick, Peter Siddle.
Sadly, the man who has captured 150 wickets in 41 Tests – has struggled to find his best form thus far in England.
In three matches against Scotland and Ireland he struggled with aggregate figures of 4-234.
I would not have him in the team for the first Test ahead of Pattinson, Bird and Starc however he would be first reserve.
Given Clarke’s back problem and Smith’s inconsistency with the ball, rather than going for a fourth quick – or a fifth if you include Watson – my final bowling spot goes to Nathan Lyon.
While he may not be prolific he can be steady which will allow Clarke to rotate his quicks at times in short, sharp bursts.
The selectors obviously have a soft-spot for Ashton Agar, who like Smith, was held back after the Australia A series.
Lyon would want to perform early in the series or he may find himself on the outer.
So there you have it.
For me the XI for the first Test is: Watson, Rogers, Cowan, Hughes, Clarke, Smith, Haddin, Pattinson, Starc, Bird and Lyon.
I’ve donned the helmet, pads, forearm guard and box.
Come off your long run ‘Roarers’ and give me your best!
First published on The Roar – theroar.com.au – on 4 July 2013