Cricket: Champions Trophy campaign over, fragile Australia looking to Ashes

David Warner, 2012, currently out of favour with the Aussie side (photo mine)
David Warner, 2012, currently out of favour with the Aussie side (photo mine)

What is currently going right with the Australian team?

The answer is, not much.  And with the Ashes less than three weeks away, questions are burning hot as to whether the squad will be up to the challenge against England.

Granted, those who come in to the test side means that the line-up becomes different to the recently completed Champions Trophy; but it does not change the fact that, on current form, Australia is falling behind the stronger teams in world cricket.

There is no quick fix – the solution lies in the long-term, where finding both a balanced team and talented players is paramount.

Many fans have absolutely no doubt July 10 marks the start of a period that will be the ultimate in crunch time for the selectors.

Michael Clarke will be eager to lead his troops to Ashes glory; however, a bad back and only a smattering of warm-up matches could be a setback.

At the top of the order, the possibilities of who to choose are extensive.  Chris Rogers, Ed Cowan, David Warner, and Shane Watson are all in line for the openers gig.

With a wealth of experience on English soil, and a plethora of runs in the English County season already, Rogers is primed to take strike against the new ball.  If he does not, more than a few Australian fans are going to be left bewildered.

Then we come to the other spot.  Do we go with Warner‘s crash and bash, hit-and-miss style, Cowan’s dogged determination, or Watson’s hard hitting?

Recent results and statistics suggest that the only place for Shane Watson in the batting order is opening.  A string of lean scores has certainly put his position in jeopardy, and as another fast bowling option, the injury-prone right-armer needs to put any demons behind him if he is picked.

Cowan has the spot just about sewn up if Australia looks to go for the dig in and keep wicket approach.

Down the order, and the number three not only has a job to do in scoring big, almost no one has an idea who will take the spot.  Phil Hughes, Usman Khawaja and Warner are all candidates.  Hughes, who also has a good deal of experience on English soil, would be looking to redeem himself from his disappointing 2009 Ashes campaign.

We then get to captain Clarke at five.  There have suggestions and calls for him to move further up the order, but the skipper’s record says that at number five he has reeled off the best performances of his career, so he should stay.

Brad Haddin and Matthew Wade now come into the equation.  With Haddin getting the nod as first-choice keeper, the dilemma now is whether to play Wade as a specialist batsman, or perhaps bring in an extra bowler.  Having Wade as an extra batting option will bolster the depth of the line-up, and the Victorian keeper has proved he has the mettle to grind out a superb knock.

The bowlers:

The depth of the Australian attack is probably at its strongest at this current moment.  Only problem is, taking twenty wickets in a match and finding consistent swing and movement, even spin, is proving troubling to find.

Mitchell Starc should hopefully find himself right at home on the English pitches, but what he needs now is match practice, having not been selected for the majority of Australia’s group stage campaign in the Champions Trophy.  His height creates awkward bounce and dip for the batsmen, and if Starc finds his groove, there are plenty of wickets for the taking.

The most interesting, and potentially most destructive bowler is Ryan Harris.  While the Queensland dynamo has had a rotten run of luck with injuries, if you put a red ball in his hand and manage his workload properly, the Poms have themselves a handful to deal with.

Peter Siddle and James Pattinson will be the spearheads of the attack.  Pattinson is a tearaway quick, and has stunned many with his consistency.  Siddle will keep pounding the turf even after mammoth spells, and if these two fire, then so can Australia.

Nathan Lyon, Australia’s sole frontline spinner, has his work cut out for him.  The belief within the Australian team is that he is still the number one choice slow bowler.  Lyon has shown to be more economical, rather than be a big turner.  Unfortunately, the big hauls of wickets have not come his way, which has had Cricket Australia looking for potential replacements or partners.  With leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed a real chance of being granted the opportunity to play in the Ashes, Lyon must continue to work hard in the remaining tour matches before the first test.

Jackson Bird and James Faulkner round out the bowling attack, and it is very likely we will see both of them in action.  Faulkner has a very clever slower ball, while Bird displayed some great variety during his two tests in the previous Australian summer.  Both can be equally destructive, and could play pivotal roles behind Siddle and Pattinson.

Where Australia is going to go, nobody knows.  What is clear right now is that if Clarke cannot lead his players to the urn, and everyone follows suit, England are not only favourites right now; they are going to take full confidence for the return series in Australia starting late November this year.

Chris Rogers is definitely the man to take charge at the top of the order.  Warner needs time to reset his mentality.  If he can do so, there would be no problem with him slotting back in to the side – possibly with better results.

It is imperative the top order does not leave it all to the middle order, and in turn, the middle order does not collapse.  To beat England at home, Australia must post decent scores.

It all begins on July 10.

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