Selection issues are rife after England’s Adelaide victoryPeter Blackburn |
As an Ashes sunset lightly sets on an England victory in Adelaide, recriminations and celebrations are rife. England, taking the lead in surely one of the most beautiful cricketing landscapes in the world, have won first blood in a fight that will rage on through the festive season.
There are certain types of character in this world of ours, there are those who, when down, will stay there, and need to be dragged back, with an arm round their shoulder. Then there are the Aussie’s. Without allowing stereotypes to run riot in this article, it is fair to suggest that they are a tough breed, and without doubt they will come back fighting, if not to win a Test match, or the series, then to retrieve some lost Baggy Green pride.
The Aussie character is something that one might be able to rely on, but an unchanged XI for either side in the next Test is not. With enforced changes and tactical ones facing both sides, I look ahead at the selection issues that are going to be much debated ahead of the third test.
Andrew Strauss, Andy Flower and the rest of the England selection committee are facing some tough decisions in order to retain their pressure on this Australian side with another strong performance in the next Test. The most crucial decision for the tourists however, is an enforced one. Stuart Broad has been ruled out, with a personal estimate from the Nottinghamshire bowler of 10 weeks on the sidelines, leaving a slot for an England strike bowler, a highly important position given the condensed nature of the bowling lineup. The options, one would think, are fairly simple. Whilst Chris Woakes, Jade Dernbach, Liam Plunkett and Saj Mahmood are in Australia for one reason or another, it will more likely be a straight shoot out between Chris Tremlett, Tim Bresnan and Ajmal Shazhad. My personal preference is for either of the latter two, but recent history suggests Bresnan might be the trusted man.
Chris Tremlett would be my personal pick to replace Broad for the next test. Without doubt the most like for like replacement, Tremlett is 6ft 7, hits the deck hard, and can generate the sort of bounce that you need on a tour to Australia. He?s also played at this level before, and against a good side in India, coming out of that series with a good average. Tremlett’s mentality and fitness have been an issue in the past, many suggesting that he is too nice to be an International pace bowler, but a brilliant, and economical first season at Surrey would suggest otherwise.
Ajmal Shazhad is my second favourite contender to replace the outgoing Stuart Broad in England’s bowling attack. Possessing that almost mythical ability to reverse swing, Shazhad is also capable of bowling at genuine pace, which is as much of an asset in Australia as it is anywhere else in the world. Also a much underrated Batsman, Shazhad could be an unknown ace in the England pack if picked, and provide a very different threat to the current one.
The final, and probably most likely, although my least preferred of the three options is that of Tim Bresnan. Bresnan is a good cricketer, the sort you would be delighted to have in your county side, proving his worth with both bat and ball, but I’m not convinced that he’s the man to turn to when in need of a strike bowler in a 3 seamer attack. Should England need to turn to playing 5 bowlers at any point in the series, I would absolutely back the selection of Bresnan. He’s a man who will never let you down, but for all of his hard work and Endeavour, I don’t see him as a man to consistently take vital wickets. Having said this, there is an argument that the next Test is likely to be host to some of the most swinging conditions on the tour, and out of the three Bresnan is the most conventional swing bowler. It is my view that now is not a time for England to be conservative, particularly not with already doing so with only four bowlers. The tourists need to strike while the iron is hot, and kick the Aussie’s while they are down.
The selection issues facing the Australian team compared to that of the English are something of a metaphor for the general gap between the sides at current. With questions over their opening batsmen, lower order, and every man, with the possible exception of Ryan Harris, in their bowling attack, Australia are a wounded animal, and some seriously strong decisions are going to need to be made.
The first question facing the home side should come with a relatively simple answer. Australia’s opening batting partnership has taken a hit with the loss of Simon Katich to a worrying and painful torn Achilles. It is rarely a good idea to move your order about more than is strictly necessary, since continuity and stability count for a lot in all sports, particularly the great mental test of an Ashes battle. Under such logic, there is little doubt in my mind that the harshly maligned Phillip Hughes should take to the field. Touted as one of the great modern day talents before the previous Ashes series, Hughes was quickly dropped in favour of Shane Watson when things went badly. Whilst a good decision in terms of Watson’s renaissance, in Hughes Australia failed to stick by a prodigiously talented batsmen, whose vulnerability to the short ball should fare much better now Broad has departed.
Probably the other prominent question regarding the Australian batting line up surrounds the future of Michael North, repeatedly referred to as playing for his career in yesterday?s final day. North is a good batsman, who seems to suffer from some sort of mental insecurity in the early minutes of his innings. It is without doubt in my mind that Australia should be working with him to strengthen his mindset and allow him to reach those centuries more often, rather than dropping him and replacing with one of their inexperienced, and unproven young batsmen. Some continuity is needed through this period of upheaval, and they should have it in loyalty to Marcus North. Not only does he still have a tremendous capability to get a century, North has massively outshone the Australian’s primary ‘spinner’, Xavier Doherty, and has value to the team as a spinning all rounder.
Speaking of the primary spinner, Xavier Doherty, alongside the loss of Simon Katich, must be a definite change in the Australian line up. A desperate gamble that smacked of a fear of an apparently resurgent Kevin Pietersen, Doherty’s selection was a huge failure, and a man with his first class record, and ability should simply not be playing for Australia in an ashes test match. The potential replacements in this position, one would think, are either Steve Smith or Nathan Hauritz. Whilst I thought that the dropping of Nathan Hauritz for the first, and second tests was a harsh mistake, this is a difficult one to call. On the face of bowling ability, I think Hauritz should get the nod, as Bell and Pietersen will be licking their lips at the prospect of Steve Smith turning up in a test match. However, this Aussie batting lineup is far from solid, and Steve Smith would without doubt shorten the horrifically long tail that took to the field in Adelaide.
The questions that face Andrew Hilditch and the Australian selectors as regards their seam attack are near in-answerable. Though the potential to recall Hilfenhaus is there, with Mitchell Johnson out of the equation, they may have to stick with the three that failed to get England all out, with 600 runs on the board!
As the series goes on, selection issues will grow and grow for a side not faring so well, and in some circumstances it is too tempting to chop and change without any thought, like, in my opinion, with the talk surrounding Marcus North. The major question that still looms over this series however surrounds Ricky Ponting. A man who loses three ashes series? is not going to be comfortable in the position of captain, and with an Australian team that is falling apart and ready to be re-shaped from top to bottom, one wonders whether Ponting’s time is nearly at an end.
My XI’s for the third test:
Australia: Hughes, Watson, Ponting, Clarke, Hussey, North, Haddin, Smith, Harris, Siddle and Bollinger.
England: Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell, Prior, Swann, Tremlett, Anderson and Finn.