Ashes 100-1 Countdown: 4 Days Until the Ashes
David Green aka The Reverse Sweep picks 3 aussie names to look out for and a wildcard pick for good measure.
With just four days to go until the Phoney War ends and the Battle of the Gabba commences in Brisbane, we at the Reverse Sweep are taking a look at the combatants on each side we expect to shine during what promises to be a pulsating series.
Today, we select the three Australians we expect to make a big impression on the series before the climax in Sydney, as well as one wildcard who although not in the final squad for Brisbane could also provide a surprising influence on the battle for the urn.
1. Ricky Ponting
Whichever way you look at it, the Australian captain appears to be in an irreversible decline as a test batsman. For someone who at one time had an astonishingly good record of converting fifties into hundreds, the past two years have proved a humbling experience. Since scoring 123 against India in Bangalore in October 2008, Ponting has only converted three of his last 18 fifties into three figures. Ponting also knows that he is drinking in the last chance saloon as captain – as surely a third Ashes defeat at the helm would not be tolerated by Australian selectors and public alike. But Ponting seems to like having his back against the wall – as he did at the start of the 2006/07 Ashes and looked what happened there. You don’t become the second highest test run-getter ever and hit 39 test centuries without being an exceptional batsman and we are punting on Ponting to deliver the goods over the next five tests – even if it proves to be the last hurrah for one of the all-time great batsmen.
2. Ben Hilfenhaus
Hilfenhaus was the standout bowler on either side during the 2009 Ashes and was deservedly the leading wicket taker with 22 wickets at 27.45 apiece. Unlike the likes of Johnson, Broad and Swann, Hilfenhaus was consistent throughout and his ability at gaining movement in the air and off the wicket troubled all of England’s batsmen. Injuries have restricted him to playing only one home test, but now that he is fully fit we expect him to repeat his achievement in England and be the leading wicket taker on either side again. Whether he gets the support required from his fellow bowlers is another matter.
3. Shane Watson
This one sticks in the throat a bit because for a variety of reasons – some valid and some probably unfathomable, we have taken a bit of a dislike to Mr Vain at the Reverse Sweep. However, his performance as an opener since his return to the side at Edgbaston in the 2009 series have been a revelation – he has scored 1,261 runs in that time at an average of 50.44. Whilst he doesn’t score many hundreds, he invariably gives his side a good and brisk start in tandem with the obdurate Simon Katich. Yes, there are plenty of flaws in his technique – he is a walking LBW and he doesn’t play spin well early in his innings, but as yet his success as an opening batsman is untarnished. Expect that to continue over the course of the series and don’t be surprised to see him take the odd wicket with his innocuous but bizarrely effective medium pace trundlers.
Wildcard: Usman Khawaja
As we’ve written before, Michael Hussey looks shot as a test batsman and we wouldn’t be surprised if despite his double-failure against England for Australia A if Khawaja is brought in to replace Hussey or Marcus North at some point in the series. He would certainly appear to be a class act with an average a touch under 53 and six hundreds already in his 23 first-class matches. If Khawaja does come in, expect the impetuosity of youth (he is only 23) to help him conquer any nerves. And if the selectors are brave they could put Khawaja – who would be the first Muslim to play for Australia – in at three to allow Ponting to drop down the order.
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