England have a rare opportunity to win the Ashes for the third consecutive time. There squad is settled, has great balance and boasts of many players who have experienced the Ashes before.
The English bowling attack is arguably the best in Test cricket with a mix of pace, swing and spin. The batting department has been strengthened with the return of Kevin Pietersen, who joins the ranks of Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Joe Root.
All of these players have contributed significantly to the team in the recent past. They will be playing in familiar conditions in front of the home crowd. It could hardly get any more comfortable.
Observe this for contrast. The Australian squad that is now in England, preparing for the first Test that begins at Nottingham on July 10, has been called ‘ the worst ever’. It is perhaps a harsh statement, but it reflects the hopes that cricket pundits and fans have of Australia this year.
There are multiple reasons behind such a radical prediction. The Australian side looked unconvincing under coach Mickey Arthur for the most part but matters got out of hand after four players were suspended in the middle of the tour to India. Arthur was on the verge of an exit ever since but Cricket Australia left the decision as late as a fortnight before the Ashes.
Their batting line-up is weak with a number of players who have under-performed in the last two years. Their bowling line-up is talented but inexperienced.
In such circumstances, the burden on the experienced campaigners in the Australian line-up will be huge. Peter Siddle will have to guide the likes of James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc whereas Michael Clarke and Shane Watson will have to deliver with the bat.
There is another player in this squad whose selection came as a surprise to many. Chris Rogers, at the age of 35, was not expecting a call up for the Ashes. The player has played a major chunk of his career piling runs in the Australian domestic circuit, and then in English county cricket, but has lived on the margins of the national squad.
He was so convinced that his chances to make it to the national side were negligible that he wrote an article on the technical flaws of many of the current Australian batsman. He will now be playing alongside them.
His experience in English conditions will come really handy for this Australian side that is particularly vulnerable to batting meltdowns. He has played in England for a decade now and has captained Middlesex as well. He was the highest run-getter in the Division One of the County Championship before he was selected for the Australian squad.
With nearly 20,000 runs in his first-class career at an average over 50.00, it is a surprise how he has only earned the baggy green once in his career. But he will be aware of the fact that now is not the time to ponder upon what a great personal story it has been. He will have a critical job to do in this Australian unit.
Newly appointed coach Darren Lehmann has already outlined a role for him in the squad that goes beyond scoring runs on the pitch. He will share his experience of batting on English wickets with the batsmen and prepare them to face the likes of Anderson, Finn and Broad.
Shane Watson, with whom he is likely to form the opening partnership in the first Test, talked about the invaluable experience that he brought to his game when they played together against Worcestershire.
“He’s certainly a very experienced and knowledgeable cricketer. Through the entire period of batting in the middle (against Worcestershire), he continued to provide his knowledge. I thought he gave me a few really good pointers out there, especially early on, with him understanding the English conditions even better than I do,” said Watson.
Shane Watson is not the only one energized by the presence of Rogers in the squad. Alan Border has tipped him to play a huge part in Australia’s campaign this year with the work-ethics that he brings to the net-sessions and off-field preparation.
Michael Clarke’s return is yet another good sign for Australia. Shane Watson’s lean patch in the longer version of the game also came to an end against Worcestershire and Phil Hughes also got some runs under his belt.
If the batting department can put their house in order, the Australian batting attack has the ability to deliver those twenty wickets that are required to win a Test match. While it might not be seen as a revival as of yet, it might be a huge mistake to write off Australia just yet.