Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Super Bowls

With only hours to go to the start of the 2009 Ashes decider, all await the announcement of the Australian team. In the enviable position of having everyone in pretty good form, Ricky Ponting's side will remain unchanged as far as the batting is concerned, but the bowling still appears to be up for grabs.
Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Johnson, and Peter Siddle seem assured of their places; the fight for the final spot is still raging. Stuart Clark will feel justifiably disappointed if he's dropped after his stellar return to Ashes cricket in Leeds, while Nathan Hauritz is confident that spin will be important enough at the Oval to give him a start. And, of course, Brett Lee, the man himself, out himself back into contention in the tour match with a solid bowling performance, but can he break in?

Ben Hilfenhaus: He's been the stand-out bowler for the Aussies all tour; coming into the series, he was unlikely to get his place, but an injury for Brett Lee turned into Gentle Ben's gain. He's been the one Aussie bowler who's consistently taken wickets, bowled economically, and managed to swing the ball from day one. He'll be straight into the attack at the Oval, and there's no question it's the right choice.

Mitchell Johnson: Unlike Hilfenhaus, Johnson was tipped from the start as the spearhead of the attack, and didn't quite get off the runway. When on form, he's the type of bowler who might go for 4.50 an over, but it's well worth it - he'll take plenty of wickets and break a few hands for good measure. We didn't really see any of that until the second innings at Edgbaston, and since then he's got his act together. The over to Paul Collingwood culminating in his wicket in the second innings at Headingley was pure Johnson class. He's back, and he's scary.
(Although, as an Irishman, it was a delight to see Niall O'Brien of Northhants hit him around the place in the tour game.)

Peter Siddle: Siddle came out of Africa, like Johnson, with great reputation. He was economical and accurate. Like Johnson, he started poorly in the UK, spraying it around, bleeding runs, and not taking too many wickets. While he's steadied the ship somewhat, emphsized by a maiden Ashes 5-for in the 4th test, I'd make the controversial call to drop him. There's no way it will happen, because of those five wickets, but his performace in the last game was helped no end by having Stuart Clark building the pressure for him, and in the end he mopped up a pretty shell-shocked tail. Clark does the same job as Siddle (accurate, economical, consistent) only better. Take Siddle out and there's room for Brett Lee, which might be just what Australia need to take back the urn.

Stuart Clark: He played brilliantly at Headingley. However, for Stuart Clark, this means doing his job quietly, keeping the runs down, building pressure, and allowing the other quicks to blast into glory. He went for a few too many to Broad in the last hour or so, but that shouldn't keep him out of the final test. He's taken 29 Ashes wickets at about 15, and did anybody notice the first test he played they won?
With a nervous England batting line-up, Someone like Clark will make them bite their nails a little more, before Mitchell and Brett knock them off.

Nathan Hauritz: Spin may well play a part in the last test. There hasn't been much for Hauritz and Swann so far (obviously not Panesar), but the Aussie spinner will be hoping to get another chance. The negative is that, while he's taken 10 wickets, he's been quite expensive, and if the quicks are on song Ponting and Nielsen will be tempted to leave him out again. Don't forget, Australia have Marcus North, Simon Katich, and Michael Clarke who can take care of a bit of spin when necessary.
Hauritz will unlucky to miss out, as he hasn't done a lot wrong, but surely the selectors won't drop Clark at this stage.

Brett Lee: He's Brett Lee. His injury was a major blow to players and fans alike, and everyone's been waiting impatiently to see him have a go at the Poms. He bowled well in the tour matches in which he's featured, and you feel that a bit of Brett Lee intimidation is just what the Aussies need to attack a wobbling Ian Bell, a tentatively pushing Paul Collingwood, and a total newbie Jonathan Trott. He'll send rip snorters down their throats, and with Mitchell Johnson will remind them what good old-fashioned pace is all about.
Ponting has said he'll play if there's a chance of reverse swing, which doesn't appear to be likely, but if there is he'll knock Stuart Clark out of the team. Lee at one end and Clark at the other could be a finely balance attack for 20 overs, but unless Tim Nielsen reads this and is convinced to drop Siddle, we'll only have one of them, at most.

Going into the series the Australians' bowling was criticized, and there was nothing to change this view for the first two and a half tests. At Headingley, we got a glimpse of what this new-look team could do, particularly when it had a touch of the old about the edges.
The Ashes can only go to the team who takes 20 wickets, and right now, only one side looks like achieving that.

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