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Hot or Not?

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Hot or Not?

With two tests gone and a bit of a breather before the next Test, I thought it was a good chance to have a look at who’s doing the business so far, and who needs to sort themselves out.

Hot Stuff

Mike Hussey: Hussey scored a century in his last First-Class innings before The Ashes and it seems to have given him a new lease of life. For a long time now, Hussey has looked a shadow of the player that demoralised English bowlers in 2006-07. Now, he is standing up better than any other Australian. If he stays in form then Australia stay in the series. If he doesn’t…

Alastair Cook: Not unlike Hussey in that his place was far from a certainty in the fans’ eyes in the lead-up to the series. In the first Test, he surpassed his run tallies from both the 06-07 and 09 series, and after the Adelaide Test was close to the amount Strauss scored as top runscorer last year. Head and shoulders above all other batsmen in the series thus far and if he keeps it up he will go down as an England legend.

Kevin Pietersen: An unsurprising start and out in the first Test, Pietersen really got going in Adelaide. Some are calling it his best ever innings and while that can be debated at length, there can be no doubt that there were ominous signs for the Aussie attack and all bowlers worldwide as Pietersen batted to 227. Throw in arguably the most important wicket of the series so far and you’re onto a winner. It was pleasing for England in 2009 that they showed they could win the series without Pietersen, but with him they will fancy that they can do it in style.

Jonathan Trott: Trott is a strange batsman, because he is easy to forget about. That is, perhaps, what makes him so good. He doesn’t excite but nor does he tend to frustrate (if you are an England fan, that is). He scores his runs when they are there to be scored, he defends the ball when he feels it is necessary, and why shouldn’t he dig up the pitch if that’s what he wants to do?! He didn’t get off to the greatest of starts, scoring 29 before being clean bowled by Shane Watson. After that, he hit an unbeaten 135 and followed it up with 78 at Adelaide. He averages 100.5 against Australia; not too shabby.

Pretty Damn Good

Graeme Swann: Didn’t have the best of times at Brisbane (though he was harsh on himself when comparing it to the Cardiff Test last year) but, to use a Duncan Fletcherism, came to the party at Adelaide. Bowled well in the first innings and snared Hussey with a beauty. Cleaned up in the second; every time England have won an Ashes test that he has played in, he has been in the thick of it at the business end and there is something to be said for that.

James Anderson: Some would say James Anderson came of age in 2008 and some would tell you he’s still the bowling equivalent of a flat-track bully. Well, there’s times in this series where they would be correct – in a literal sense. On flat pitches and beneath unhelpful skies, Anderson has been pure class. The results didn’t represent it in Brisbane, but the first innings in Adelaide was all about Anderson – which is funnily the same thing that happened in the second test last year (at Lord’s). He didn’t bowl brilliantly in the second innings at Adelaide, so there’s still improvements that can be made, but so far so good.

Brad Haddin: In 2009 it was Clarke and Haddin, and this year it seems to be Hussey and Haddin which is going to be the partnership to fear for England. The only time he hasn’t made a score so far, he got a beauty from Anderson and the game was long gone by then. Haddin is batting well, he is keeping well, and has probably been Australia’s second best player. His lower order runs look like they are going to be invaluable given all that is going on around him. Haddin, amazingly, averages more in Ashes contests than Adam Gilchrist. Australia wouldn’t mind if he repeated his successor’s Perth performance from 2006.

Ian Bell: I will be honest, I ummed and aahed about this one. You could argue that Bell hasn’t really had an impact on this series yet. You would, however, be wrong. His first innings effort at Brisbane was crucial; working on the basis that if you change one thing, you change everything, Australia might well have rolled England out for under 200 there, but for Bell. The boost a side gets from doing such a thing should not be underestimated, and England would have probably found coming out 300+ behind a massive task. And then, easy though his runs may have been in Adelaide, he batted with confidence and looked a million dollars, and was also pretty much the man who made the victory one by an innings. Still waiting for his first Ashes hundred though, surely it is just around the corner?

Steve Finn: I didn’t know where to put this one, either. I am not a big fan of relying on statistics and there is no substitute for watching the game. At the same time, Finn is the top wicket-taker in the series so far, took the wicket that set off the procession on day five at Adelaide, took a six-for in Brisbane, and, well, he’s learning out there. Finn has bowled some horrors but he is doing what is asked of him. I have spoken out against the over-reliance on statistics plenty of times in the past so I almost feel hypocritical for where I have placed Finn, but there is no way you can stick the series’ top wicket-taker in purgatory.

Shane Watson: An opener who can’t score hundreds is an infuriating player to have in your side, I know this from Alastair Cook’s run of getting 32 60s in a row a couple of years ago. However, you cannot be too hard on a player who brings runs to the table every time he comes out to bat against his side’s arch-rivals, quite literally. Watson has been dependable at the top, but needs to kick on, especially given the carnage that has been occurring below him. His bowling has, on the whole, been pretty poor, but I won’t hold that against him.

No Comment – Quite Literally

The players listed below fall into two categories:

1. Have divided their time between being brilliant and awful and therefore wind up in purgatory
2. Have not been hugely noticeable for their primary task, but not bad enough to drop down further

Andrew Strauss (1)
Stuart Broad (2)
Simon Katich (2)
Ryan Harris (2)
Peter Siddle (1)

It’s Nice To Know You’re Here

Paul Collingwood: To be honest, this is a strange one. In some ways it seems harsh and in others too generous. With the bat, Collingwood failed once, and did okay the second time. Not exactly an awful start to a series, but he is the only man in the top six not to have passed fifty and all those above him have reached three figures. England have not missed Collingwood’s runs but he will want to join in all the fun in Perth. Also loses points for dropping Shane Watson at Brisbane.

Matt Prior: Prior’s keeping has been largely fine, save for dropping Hussey on day five at Adelaide. It didn’t matter in the end, and he should be thankful for that. With the bat, he was second in Siddle’s hat-trick at Brisbane, and then hit some useful runs opposite Bell in Adelaide – he was given out early doors though, and many are arguing that his reprieval was incorrect. Nonetheless, hawkeye is the recognised method for the third umpire to review, so it was correct in that sense, and he did fine from there. That could be an important reprieve for him, as a second failure could have really knocked his confidence. As with Collingwood, he will want to get in the mixer come Perth.

Michael Clarke: Saved himself from absolute humiliation with a good innings at Adelaide, but getting out to a part-time offspinner in the final over is unforgiveable given the state of the match, and so when you consider his two prior failures, Clarke deserves to be criticised. He has looked amateur in the field at times, although he took a fine catch to dismiss Jonathan Trott. There are clear concerns about his fitness and you have to have some sympathy for him, nonetheless his output has been poor and there is no escaping that.

Atrocious

Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus, Doug Bollinger, Xavier Doherty: The Australian attack has been the worst fielded in an Ashes series for at least a generation. It’s all well and good not being as good as you used to be, but there has been no excuse for some of the dross that has been served up by the bowlers so far. You’ll have noticed Siddle escaped on account of his hat-trick and Harris on the basis of bowling to a satisfactory standard, but the rest? Pathetic.

Ricky Ponting: It was noted after the Brisbane test that Ricky Ponting looked in sublime form. He had played a thunderous innings, his quickfire 51 somewhat reminsicent of his performance at Headingley in the last Ashes series. The signs certainly looked ominous for England. Unfortunately for Ponting, before and since that he has contributed nothing. He scored 0 and 9 at Adelaide, his 150th test, and the 0 was a first-baller. His captaincy has come under fire and many fingers are pointed at Ponting for some of the selectorial oddities that have plagued Australia thus far; the selection and retention of Xavier Doherty and Marcus North has been widely attributed to him. Neither will play at Perth, perhaps a sign that the Australian higher-ups are losing patience in Ponting?

Marcus North: At least he took the ‘1’ in ‘517-1′. Yeah.

Series XI so far…

Cook*
Watson
Trott
Pietersen
Hussey
Bell
Haddin
Swann
Siddle
Anderson
Finn

With neither captain making the cut, England vice-captain Alastair Cook takes the armband for this side. Unsurprisingly this side is dominated by England players. Australia have made four changes for next week’s Test in Perth – will they make the difference?

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