First Test Ashes Preview
Date : 20-11-2013

First Test Ashes Preview: Australia v England
21st-25th November 2013, Brisbane  

Report by Davis Harrigan, Infinity Cricket

Toss:

Australia (bat first)

Australian XI

Michael Clarke ( C ), Brad Haddin (VC), Chris Rogers, David Warner, Shane Watson, Steve Smith, George Bailey, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon

England XI

Cook (C), Matt Prior (wk), Michael Carberry, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Stuart Broad, Swann, James Anderson, Chris Tremlett

Australian squad brief

Most of the squad selection will come as little surprise to the fans.  Even though the likes of Johnson, Bailey and Warner’s recent performances have taken place in the short form arena – their runs, wickets and confidence were crucial factors in the selectors giving a green light.

Concern over Captain Michael Clarke’s troublesome back could come to the fore at any time.  Having withdrawn from the recently completed one-day series in India, “Pup” has had just a handful of domestic games to play himself into some form.

Far and above Australia’s best batsman over the past two years, the backbone for a successful squad is going to be both Clarke’s leadership, and the support from the other ten players in each match.

Fitness concerns will always remain with players such as Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris and Shane Watson and how their workloads are managed over the summer will be the key.  All three are workhorses, and the Australians cannot afford to lose one of them during the series.

Fawad Ahmed a rank outsider to make his Ashes debut misses out to Nathan Lyon for the 1st test.

Game preview

A fast, bouncy GABBA pitch is expected to be prepared by curator Kevin Mitchell Jnr.  Both Australia and England should look to bat first, and tests from previous seasons at the Gabba justify this trend.

The first important battle is that of the batting line-up.  Australia is fragile, and Clarke has played 51 more tests than the next established batsman, Shane Watson (46 tests).

In the opposition camp, Captain Alastair Cook and fellow left-hand opener Michael Carberry batted themselves into form against Australia A.  This is a worrying sign, with the potential opening partnership of Warner and Rogers paling in comparison.

While England has Jonathan Trott at the critical number three position, Australia have the fragile Watson.  It is sometimes a case of hit and miss with Watson, and if those runs are not on the board either before he comes in or after his dismissal, Australia is in trouble.

 

 Batting

Michael Clarke will lead the Australian batting line-up. However, he has found it tough against England in recent times. In the last two Ashes series combined, Clarke has only scored 574 runs at an average of 33.76 with just the lone century from 19 innings.

Since November 2010, against all other teams Clarke’s average doubles to 68.45 with 9 centuries in 40 innings. As the side’s number one batsman and captain, he will need to lead from the front with bat in hand.

After Clarke, Australia’s other leading Ashes run-scorers against England at home are Watson (435 runs) and Haddin (360 runs), however no Australian batsman averages more than 48.50 in home Ashes matches.

England batsmen have fared considerably better, with 4 of their top 5 batsman averaging above 50 in matches in Australia. Alastair Cook has 1042 runs at 65.12 in 10 tests matches with 4 centuries. Trott averages 89 with two centuries in seven innings. Pietersen has 850 runs at 56.66 with two centuries. Overall, their top 5 batsmen have scored 10 centuries and 15 fifties in 62 innings. 

Bowling

Australia has been severely rattled by injuries to its elite fast bowling stocks – James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc are just two examples.  England, on the other hand, has brought spearheads James Anderson and Stuart Broad down under, as well as Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn and Boyd Rankin.

Ryan Harris is going to be a vital cog on the fast Gabba wicket.  Snaring all 20 wickets and clamping down on runs must be the number one priority for all the Australian bowlers.

This means pegging down Ian Bell, Trott, Kevin Pietersen and the middle order by bowling a consistent – and good – line and length.   It is the same story for the England bowlers.  Graeme Swann will hope to find footmarks on a batsman’s paradise.

With Tremlett, Finn and Rankin all going into the Gabba match somewhat underprepared, it becomes a matter of utilising what they’ve had.

During the last series in Australia, Tremlett proved to be a destroyer for the English.  This time around, he’s carrying an injury, and Finn isn’t performing to strength. However Tremlett is picked in the side for the 1st test so will be looking to perform. He remains England’s best bowler in Australia in terms of averages (23.35) with 17 wickets in 3 matches.

However, in comparison to the batsmen, the English bowlers have found the Australian conditions slightly tougher. James Anderson, England’s pace bowling spearhead averages an uninspiring 35.79 over 8 tests. Swan averages 39.80 over 5 matches while Stuart Broad has been largely ineffective with two wickets at 80.50 from 2 test matches. Australia’s batsman should look to exploit this.

The key

Consistency and confidence will be crucial in giving either Australia or England the upper hand.  Australia has motivation; having lost the past three Ashes series (one in Australia, two in England) and there will be a strong hunger to win.

Test cricket is a game of strategy.  Both Cook and Clarke have strong teams that are capable of taking the required wickets and bat for long periods of time.  But it boils down to the team that wins the mental battles. That team may just win the Ashes. The first test in Brisbane will provide a glimpse of what this Ashes Summer may have to offer. And both teams will want to start off with a win.

 

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Davis Harrigan was a scorer and umpire during the 2013 Infinity T20 Cricket Tournament.
He is now an Infinity Cricket correspondent contributing to write-ups and content.

Twitter Handle: @Davis_Harr