Sunday, November 17

Ashes 2013-2014: II, Australia: Preview

The Ashes have been getting progressively short of some good cricket except in patches: the DRS dominated so much of the last Ashes that whatever good cricket was there (Bell's batting) was also completely overshadowed. It didn't help that two of the best bats from the team, Cook and Pietersen, never came to the party, nor that Clarke also was subdued for most of the time except for one big innings. Add to that stupid tactics by both camps - nod to rookie Agar ahead of Lyon as spinner-in-chief for the first part of the series, and England's bizarre selections in the last Test - and only DRS had a series to remember.

As the cricket moves to Australia, on truer pitches and with both sides showing more sense of selection and strategy, there's better hope. Australia have more importantly brought Bailey in: he might not prove to be a matchwinner in his own right at Test level, but he's a very mature person with a strong mental make-up. If he can stitch a couple of fine partnerships, that's all what Australia might need, especially since that I don't expect much from Australia's top three. Clarke should be at four, followed by Bailey, Steve Smith and the wicketkeeper (and I much prefer Wade to Haddin, but a divisive captain like Clarke will of course go for the latter): if Watson can't bowl, then I won't select him and the top three will be Warner, Rogers and Cowan for me (no Hughes or Khwaja). Mitchell Johnson will again be a liability: I never rated him as a good bowler and I don't see any reason to do otherwise. Performing against India, which he has always done, is a different thing: England rather face more problems against Watto's gentle bowling. However, if Australia does select Johnson, then they will have to drop a batsman (Cowan in my scheme of things): for they have to definitely have three men out on the field: Harris, Siddle and Lyon (except for Perth). I would select Faulkner over Watto and Johnson: that is the nut to crack for Clarke. And that could well set the momentum for the rest of series: one wrong spell by Johnson, and Australia can bid the series goodbye already.

As for England, they will depend heavily on Cook and Trott: they cannot look every time to Bell to guide them out. Pietersen might play a brilliant innings here and there but also might get out early or into 20s and 30s often: he might be a bit scratchy, but still explosive enough to turn the match on its head whenever he feels like to. That's the beauty about Pietersen, isn't it? I do expect both Cook and Root to score very well: both are good backfoot players, and what better place than Australia for such players? Carberry is an unknown for me, but I back the move to have Root back at no. 6 for now: even if Carberry does that much as what Compton did in India, that should suffice. Anything over would be lovely bonus. I don't expect England batting to have much worries, except maybe at Perth and the 1st day of Brisbane Test (since they have a history of starting a series poorly): it looks much more solid with Root at 6, and Bairstow is not bad to replace an injured Prior. The problem for England is their bowling attack. Swann is now ageing: he's not been in the best of forms since some time now, injury or no injury. It's good that Broad looks in good nick, for Anderson might not be the most suitable bowler for Australian pitches: it's Broad in fact who has to be in prime form. But look beyond them, and we've got nothing. I cannot believe that England have brought three carbon-copy bowlers in Finn, Rankin and Tremlett here: Topley or Onions should've been there instead of Rankin in my opinion. For me, the third pacer has to be Finn, even if he's expensive: he's also quality when he bowls in the right areas and is unplayable every now and then. Sure, he will spray it around, but not like Johnson: Finn will also give you wickets every now and then. The thing to fear is though what if any of (or both) Anderson and Broad break down: then England will have to be ready for attritional cricket, trying to look for draws. Hence, it is important that England break their habits of these recent years and start the series on a winning note.

A good Ashes for England will go a long way to build up tomorrow's England: for players like Root, Bairstow, Ballance (hope he gets a game or two! maybe if England have wrapped up the series early on?) and Finn, this will go a long way to nurture their confidence at the highest level. They will be readier to take on South Africa in South Africa: when that supreme battle happens.

I only hope the cricket is of much superior quality this Ashes, and that DRS controversies remain in the background. The ICC has already created more stupidity by the new rules, but hopefully there won't be HotSpot in the series: so one completely unreliable technology at least won't be affecting match flow. And hopefully no rain-affected matches petering out in draws.

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