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pulling no punches - a dissection of the Australian cricket squad

Naming a 17-man squad ten days out from the First Test sounds like a bone-headed decision to me, but the selectors had no control over it apparently - they were told to do it by Cricket Australia who wanted to have the team finalised this week in order to fulfill all their bloody sponsorship and marketing commitments. Reeks of cockiness at a time Australia doesn't deserve it, when their official Test ranking has dropped to fifth - not that anyone particularly cares about that rating but it is obvious Australia no longer rule the roost.

THE INCUMBENTS

Ricky Ponting - still a world-class batsman but the rust is starting to creep in. Have not been convinced by his captaincy for several years now but the lack of a better alternative keeps him in the job. Also, Aussie selectors tend to retire Australian captains rather than let them play under another leader, although that policy hasn't been required for many years now. Should never have kept the job after losing the Ashes twice.

Shane Watson - I've finally been converted from a Watto-hater into a fan. Australia's most consistent batsman since being turned into an opener and provides a reliable fifth-bowler option as well. Our most valuable player and I backed him a few weeks ago at 12/1 to score the first century (either team) of the series. Averages just over 50 in Australia but strangely, only 10 when batting first and sent in (stats only since he began opening).

Michael Clarke - when he sticks to thinking just about his batting, he is very, very good. Unfortunately, there's too much space in his limited grey matter being taken up by admiring his tatts, his hair, his latest bimbo WAG (although his latest is an old friend apparently and may bring him back down to earth) and his captaincy ambitions. A back injury will keep him out of this week's Shield match as a precaution. Not the answer as Ponting's replacement as captain.

Simon Katich - solid and honest as an opener, has formed a strong partnership with Watson. Averages 52.42 in the last three years.

Michael Hussey - averages just 37 for season 2008-10. Scored seven 100s in his first three seasons of Test cricket (05-07, 29 Tests), just four since (35 Tests). His once elite average has now dropped below 50. Has been under pressure for a while and always manages to pull out an innings that saves him for another six months. At 35, there's not long for him left and there are players barking at the door.

Marcus North - 19 Tests, 1122 runs, average of 37.40 with five centuries. That's a lot of failures punctuated by the odd good innings. His part-time spinners can only get him so far, they'd be of more use if Hauritz was dropped. Severely under pressure, his ability to score runs when it doesn't really matter in Shield games shouldn't be saving his arse.

Brad Haddin - done little wrong apart from get injured occasionally and let him Tim Paine fill his place admirably. Would have to stuff up pretty badly for Paine to get in, no matter what he does.

Mitchell Johnson - possibly the most over-rated Test cricketer on the planet. Brilliant figures on home soil but terrible when he crosses the equator. Stop worrying about your bloody ugly tatts and whether your bimbo WAG and mother get along, and concentrate on your bloody bowling. Bowls way too many pies for a gun bowler, I fear the cricketing world have worked him out after a successful streak early in his career. Prove me wrong Mitch, prove me wrong....

Nathan Hauritz - scares no-one, Australia simply does not breed quality off-spinners. It doesn't say much for our bowling stocks if we can't usurp him either with a quality fourth quick or just a finger spinner who can worry batsmen, at least a tiny bit. The sort of bowler I would love a crack at playing for Worcester Park CC 3rd XI....

Ben Hilfenhaus - taking his time to get back to peak form after a knee injury but brings accuracy and variety into the attack, complementing the other bowlers. Has only played one of his 11 Test matches at home. Will love a bit of moisture in the air in Brisbane.

Doug Bollinger - I put him in the XI simply because Siddle has been injured a lot this year. I don't see the need for two left-arm pacemen in the side out of three speedsters. Handy, moves it around a bit, but not a world-beater.

AND THE OTHERS

Peter Siddle - should be in the XI ahead of Bollinger although his form in the recent ODIs against Sri Lanka wasn't sparkling. Handy workhorse but never going to be more than the third option.

Ryan Harris - looked good at the end of last season filling in for other inured bowlers. Now he's the one with the dodgy knees. More of a one-day player at this stage.

Steven Smith - young leg-spinner trying to do too much with his batting for my liking. Let's concentrate on frustrating batsmen into playing silly shots and getting out rather than throwing in a four-ball each over and releasing the pressure. Signs are good but he's never going to be another Warney.

Usman Khawaja - haven't seen him and to be honest, hadn't heard of him until he was called up for the England tour earlier this year. Huge wraps on him, although he does play for NSW and that goes with the territory. We need some fresh blood in the top half of the order, whether it be him or...

Callum Ferguson - no relation to me unfortunately but this guy can really play. Might have squeezed into the team already if he hadn't missed a year with a knee reconstruction. Brilliant fieldsman, solid with the bat, and needs to turn his limited-overs form into quality innings in the longer format of the game.

Xavier Doherty - given no hope until he got a run in a one-dayer against Sri Lanka recently and took some quality wickets. A left-arm orthodox bowler with modest averages (mind you, the competition isn't great either), his biggest asset is he is the type of bowler that KP has struggled against most. Best chance to play will be in Sydney where they'll probably take two spinners.


On form alone, England deserve to be favourites but their recent record in Australia is poor. However, you can argue there has been a paradigm change between the two sides. Australia does not have its match winners anymore, and even it's best batsmen are past their best. England's best asset is Swann, the rest of their attack is no better than what the locals have to offer, and home advantage will mean plenty.

STATS THAT MATTER

The last live Test England won in Australia was Adelaide, January 1995. Wins in Melbourne 1998, and Sydney 2003 were after the series was already decided.

The last drawn test was at the Gabba in November 1998. That's 14 Tests on Aussie soil since a draw. There has been a lot of rain all around Australia recently, which can be due to long-term seasonal systems which turn up once a decade. With plenty of daylight after the scheduled time for stumps (except Brisbane which is in a state without daylight savings), most rain delays will be able to be made up.

Since McGrath and Warne retired after the 2006/7 Ashes series, Australia's Test record against top opposition (England, India and South Africa) is 21 played, six matches won, 10 lost, five drawn.


2005 was the year that Australian cricket dominance began its decline. Players arriving at the end of their careers, poor depth behind them due to limited opportunities and an England side hellbent on regaining the Ashes. This might just be the southern summer where Aussie dominance on home soil disappears as well.

Prove me wrong boys, prove me wrong!

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