Mid-series reports ? Australia
Expectations were high after Hughes` brilliant beginning against South Africa and in terms of what can be expected of a young, impulsive, unorthodox stroke-maker, he`s shown glimpses of form. However, once a player is in the Test side, results are expected and in those terms, Hughes just hasn`t impacted to any meaningful degree on the series??. Yet. Hughes has a great eye, no-one works harder, is determined to succeed and has a winning pedigree. Watch this space
A trademark hundred in Cardiff was followed by a gritty knock at Lords sullied by a perilous pull shot (albeit, intercepted by a fantastic catch) and somewhat injudicious shot trying to force the pace in pursuit of 521. Katich is maintaining his great form of the last two years and still appears serene at the crease so he can be said to have had an excellent series so far with the promise of more. Is one of Australia`s key players in clawing back from 0-1 down.
Played a bullish hundred at Cardiff and wasn`t able to get going in his Lord`s innings` but appears in good form, quick on his feet as the spinners found to their detriment. His captaincy has generally been on the mark although his predilection for questionable fields has been replaced by one for questionable bowling changes, the pressure seemingly manifesting itself in his uncharacteristically poor fielding at Lords. Purely on the basis of the occasion, being an Ashes series, you`d back Ponting for at least one more significant score in the series.
Word on the street is that Hussey`s footwork is slow at the moment and certainly, he`s having to work very hard for his runs. Definitely not in the pink form-wise and another failure at Edgbaston would rightly see his place for the remainder of the series in question. The Australian selectors seem keen to back him for now but will be looking at either he or North to make way if Watson bats and bowls well in the tour match.
The second Test at Lords may well be looked upon in retrospect as the moment when Michael Clarke went from `very good Test player` to `great`. An all-too-short 83 in Cardiff was followed by a sublime 136 at Lords when, despite chasing 521, for a short while Australia appeared in with a chance of winning the game and shattering a world record along with it. The hallmark of a genuine match-winner is one who takes responsibility for the team`s fortunes on his shoulders and Michael Clarke appears primed to do exactly that for Australia from now on.
Marcus North`s form is generally up-and-down and the perception is that after playing a superb hand in the first Test, a succession of low scores will follow. Certainly at Lords he appeared rattled by the occasion and in both innings played `get-out` shots which compounds why his place is rated as more vulnerable than that of Mike Hussey`s, despite scoring more runs of late. One reason for his initial inclusion was overs of handy off-spin but he didn`t appear terribly likely to take wickets in his journeys to the crease. Without his bowling being a factor, his place is that much more vulnerable, particularly with the team needing another genuine bowling option.
Has had an excellent series with the bat, playing very slick knocks in both Tests but the reason for being in the team, his `keeping, has been off. No major let-offs but his anticipation behind the sticks appears a little slow which resulted in many byes at Lords as he struggled to cope with movement after the ball passed the batsmen. As long as he`s batting well, questions about his play will be minimal but he`d do well to quiet them entirely with a screamer or two.
Unexpectedly, Mitchell Johnson`s has caused more than a few headaches for the Australian selectors. Despite bowling on both sides of the wicket (sometimes off it) and at just about every imaginable length, against all standards of what constitutes good test match bowling, he`s managed to take 8 wickets in the first two Tests. Clearly, though, he`s not bowling very well, a lower arm at delivery appearing to be the culprit as the menacing swing from South Africa has all but disappeared with runs flowing from his bowling. His reputation should keep him in the side for the rest of the series as should the knowledge that from his previous low periods, a far improved bowler has generally emerged. That he`s taken as many wickets as he has with such poor bowling should worry the English batsmen, especially if he sorts himself out.
One of two surprise packets for the Australians, the bowler most thought would bottle up an end and be happy not to get smashed has morphed into a genuine wicket-taking option. He appears to lack the penetration to really run through a side but evident in his bowling has been good drift and sometimes vicious spin. His dismissal of Strauss in the second innings at Lords with a classic off-spinning slip catch should give him heart and enough confidence to realise the spinner`s spot in the Australian side is his for the taking if he`s good enough as no-one else is putting pressure on his position. He`s unlikely to dominate in the remaining Tests, especially considering that they`re likely to be fairly flat pitches but it`ll be a job well done if he keeps taking the occasional mini-bag in support of the pace attack.
A cleaner, (much) leaner Merv Hughes, Siddle`s figures belie the quality of his work so far. While Johnson surprises with the occasional ball on the pitch, Siddle`s bowling has been menacing and but for a bit of a luck and better fielding, would have had more wickets. Always asking questions of the batsmen, his biggest bowling fault so far has often been releasing the pressure after a series of good deliveries. His length is about right and always threatening so if he tightens his line a little and gets a pitch more to his liking, there`s no reason why he can`t take quite a few wickets as the series wears on. Almost there but not quite putting the whole package together.
The other surprise, Ben Hilfenhous wasn`t even looking like being selected for the Tests but, when picked, has looked the most consistent bowler on either side outside of Flintoff. In the right conditions, his swing has been prodigious and he`s caused many problems for attacking players such as Kevin Pietersen as well as testing the techniques of Strauss and Cook when the ball is new. When the ball hasn`t swung, he`s still been very difficult to get away and able to bowl for long spells. While Johnson is busy finding himself, Hilfenhous is shaping up to be the workhorse Australian desperately needs to keep more adventurous Englishmen in their shells.