Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Panic Stations?

Aussies on the back foot before a ball has been bowled? Selection problems, lack of form, the aura of invincibilty fading by each fresh defeat...

This is Australia and the fun hasn't even begun so we're hardly talking about a crisis. But there are some signs that they are trying to paper over the cracks in their team. Questions have been repeatedly raised about England's temperament and their inability to cope when the pressure is really on. Many pundits and players have gone further and said that Australia will win purely because they want it more. Regaining the Ashes is not a familiar challenge to this nation, just as retaining is an alien one to England.

But even if it were true that desire for victory burns harder in the 11 men in baggy green, desire can only get you so far. Doubts remain over North and Hussey, despite Mr Cricket's timely century for Western Australia. No question over Michael Clarke's ability but if he starts his dodgy back might not last the duration.

Ponting's 40th century will come during this series, and sooner rather than later, but can he match Strauss in the captaincy stakes in a tight contest? He has led Australia with such distinction but he's now lost two Ashes series. A hat-trick in his own backyard won't be on his Christmas list or among his New Year's resolutions.

Discarding a decent performer like Hauritz at the 11th hour and handing a debut to Xavier Doherty is bold...but definitive proof of the indecision amongst the Australian selectors. The elusive search for the next Warne continues. Very similar to the problems England had trying to replace Botham before Freddie became the all-rounder every team craves. For Craig White, Derek Pringle, David Capel and Phil DeFreitas read Jason Krezja, Cameron White, Steve Smith and Bryce McGain for Australia.
Time will tell if Doherty is a Flintoff or a Capel. I know where my money is.

Mitchell Johnson is talking a great game at the moment. Strauss and Pietersen are both in his sights. England's captain will be lucky to keep his body intact, let alone his wicket if the lefty is to be believed. Unfortunately he is no McGrath or Warne, who could back up bold predictions with stronger performances. Is he trying too hard to mask his own insecurities? Will he be able to banish thoughts of that wayward spell at Lord's in the last Ashes from his mind? If England bat, second slip better be prepared just in case.

Any team that Australia puts out at home will provide a stern test for any opposition but without the likes of McGrath and Warne, responsibility will have to be shared around the team. Time to see which players will put their hands up.

Steve Waugh once famously bemoaned the fact that his team had won the Ashes too easily and that he would have gained more satisfaction from the victory if England had put up more of a fight. Hard to see Ponting doing the same this time out.

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