Monday, November 15, 2010

Ashes countdown

The run-up to the Ashes (and we’re nearly there!) is usually dominated by England’s woes of fitness and form.  The last time England won the opening match of the tour was 1962, and recent years have been particularly grim.  In 2006/7, England were humiliated in the tour opener, and promptly lost their senior batsman.  In 2003/4 they conceded 582 against Queensland.  So, the results so far – a straightforward win against Western Australia and much the best of a draw against South Australia – are pretty encouraging.  The batsmen have got runs, the bowlers have taken wickets, and, touch wood, there have been no injury scares.
Unusually, it has been Australia that has been all over the place in the build-up.  As bids to steady the nerves go, the announcement of the squad for the first Test left a bit to be desired.  A squad of 17 would be on the large side for a full overseas tour; for a home Test it is just bizarre.  But it reflects the two big problems for Aussie cricket just now.  The first is the question of whether to stick or twist.  Australia’s batting is dominated by the over 30s.  Three (Ponting, Katich and Hussey) are over 35 – antediluvian in Test match terms.  When to move on to the next generation (batsmen like Callum Ferguson or Usman Khawaja) will be the question that hangs over the Ashes.  And yet, by naming both young and old together in this squad, Australia have acknowledged the problem without answering it.
It’s the second problem, however, that gives me most hope for the Ashes.  Australia have named three spinners in this mega-squad – Nathan Hauritz, Steven Smith and Xavier Doherty.  When we were here last, Australia only needed the one. Shane’s Test average was a parsimonious 25, and his economy a miserly 2.65 an over.  Nathan Hauritz averages 35 in Tests and is considered the senior spinner.  Smith and Doherty’s first class averages are atrocious: they both average 49.  Graeme Swann’s Test average is 26.  For the first time since 1986/7 England have the upper hand in the spin bowling department.
Australia are always a tough team to beat at home, but they have surely never been more beatable than this.

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