Cricket today is very different from what it used to be just a decade ago. India is supposedly the best team in the world(after years of only being Team Sachin), Pakistan is not to be feared any more, and Australia (yes, the mighty Kookaburras) are not invincible.
It is a strange situation really, one which I always dreamed of relishing when it arrived, but one which I surprisingly don’t like now that it has materialized. For the first time in nearly three decades, Australia head into the Ashes with the cloud of a 5-0 thrashing hovering above them like a vulture hovers over its prey. The recent results and performance of the Kangaroos suggests that this scenario is a very realistic one. History, however, has always taught us to never underestimate an Australian side.
Michael Clarke and another purple patch: His form in 2012 was nothing short of extraordinary. Clarke managed to amass a mammoth 1595 runs, which included a triple hundred and three double hundreds. The Aussies will be hoping he remains injury-free and finds his purple patch in England and once again becomes the linchpin of this Australian batting line-up after a not-so-successful tour of India earlier in the year.
Pace Attack: Although it is not the best attack the team has boasted over the years, this Australian attack could work in the cold and damp conditions of England. Peter Siddle’s form with the ball will be crucial, as the burly seamer is the only among the lot to have played more than 20 Test matches (Ryan Harris is next with 12). Young James Faulkner, who will be making his Ashes and Test debut if selected, showed during the recently-concluded IPL that he is more than capable of swinging the ball both ways and causing batsmen all sorts of troubles.
Whether or not Ryan Harris recovers after being out of the game for a long time due to injury remains to be seen.
Darren “Exudes a calming influence” Lehmann: Shane Warne showed in the initial IPL season that tactics applied by coaches can make a huge difference to a not-so-talented team. Darren Lehmann showed it again when he, along with fellow Aussie Adam Gilchrist, took the Deccan Chargers to victory against all odds. According to some, that was when the world started noticing Darren the tactician.
A decent middle-order batsman during his days, Lehmann has shown his prowess as a tactical mastermind; but his biggest challenge is whether he can be the catalyst of a great Aussie triumph here. A general feeling around the camp is that his appointment at the eleventh hour might just be the magical wand the Kangaroos desperately needed.
You’re just not talented enough: Some people blame the current crop of players for not being gritty enough in times of adversaries. But the truth is that they are just not talented enough.
Barring Michael Clarke, the team has been shuffling and re-structuring ever since the famous 5-0 drubbing Down Under in 2006/07. The incoming youngsters had big boots to fill, but haven’t managed to do so. Phillip Hughes and Ed Cowan had a very disappointing Indian tour, consistently failing throughout the tourney. The Ashes will prove to be a litmus test in knowing whether or not they have it in them to thrive under pressure in alien conditions.
The Next Shane Warne Insanity: Ever since Shane Warne hung up his boots, any budding spinner to come through the ranks and represent Australia has been named as the next ‘Shane Warne’; the truth, however, is that none of them even comes close.
First there was Nathan Hauritz (who Jeff Thompson said was not even a spinner), then there was Xavier Doherty, and now there is Nathan Lyon; even rookies like Ashton Agar are being compared to the legend. Nathan Lyon will spearhead Australia’s attack this summer in the spin department; and with England being blessed with the best spinner in the world at the moment, Australia really need to up their game and hope that Lyon produces the best display of spin bowling he ever will.
Inexperience galore for the Baggies: No player, barring the captain, has played more than fifty Test matches at the highest level, with only four players having played above four Tests.
The Australian side lacks experience as much as the English boast of it. That half the players have never travelled with the national squad to the British shores could also hurt the Aussies. The fans will be hoping that the 0-4 humbling at the hands of India would go a long way in helping the side mature mentally and give them another perspective as to how to approach their game when the opposition is better and stronger and fitter than them.
Shane Watson – The mercurial all-rounder, who was once being bred as Clarke’s under-study to take over the reins when he retired, has endured a rather tough twelve months, hitting a low point when he was banned from playing in a Test match due to ‘homework’ issues.
However, the arrival of Lehmann has said to have upped his morale a few notches and he displayed his destructive nature with the bat in the games leading up to the Ashes. Already confirmed by Lehmann as the first-choice opener, Watson’s form, or the lack of it, could play a crucial role in Australia’s quest to reclaim the famous urn.