It may be 1-1, but Aussies dominate a series composite XI
So with the last test at The Oval to come next week, the series is all square with all still to play for and on the surface the teams seem evenly matched. Indeed, as well as the score being 1-1, each side had the better of one of the drawn matches. Australia was the dominant team at Cardiff with England escaping by the skin of their teeth. Conversely, England was the better team at Edgbaston; although Australia was eventually able to secure the draw in a far more comfortable fashion.
Therefore one would expect a composite XI of the series to reflect this. However, this does not seem to be the case. Based on performances in the series only, it is the Australian team that emerges to dominant the make-up of the side. As an England supporter, let’s hope that this is not a bad omen for next week.
The Opening batsman . . .
At the start of the series, it was widely expected that Phillip Hughes would continue his sensational start to Test cricket. As we all know, this has not proved to be the case with England identifying a big weakness against straight short pitched bowling. With Alistair Cook failing to turn a number of starts into fifties (other than his 95 at Lords), let alone big scores, the choice is down to Andrew Strauss, Simon Katich and Shane Watson. Strauss, the wicket that Australia values the most, is a shoo-in following his match-winning 161 at Lords. It is close between Watson and Katich, but the latter shades it despite his failure to turn a number of starts into big scores following his 122 at Cardiff.
1. Strauss (344 runs at 49.14), 2. Katich (248 runs at 41.33)
The middle order
Before hostilities began most observers would have expected Kevin Pietersen to be battling with Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke as the best batsman of the series. Alas, a dodgy Achilles put paid to that and with the well documented travails of England’s middle order it is the baggy greens that dominate positions 3, 4 and 5 in this composite XI. Paul Collingwood, whose form has tailed off alarmingly in the last two Tests, is next in line and credit must again be paid for his match-saving 74 at Cardiff. With Michael Hussey also struggling, it is Ponting, Clarke and Marcus North who fill the middle order positions. All have had a successful series. Ponting set the tone with his 150 at Cardiff and followed this up with a magnificent 78 at Headingley. Clarke has been the batsman of the series with two centuries, a 93 and an 83. North, also with two tons as well as a 96 at Edgbaston, is just behind despite a very ordinary match at Lords.
3. Ponting (350 runs at 51.83), 4. Clarke (445 runs at 89.00), 5. North (349 runs at 69.80)
This is a close run thing as both keepers have excelled with the bat since the series started. Brad Haddin, despite missing the Edgbaston Test at the last minute, made a wonderful 121 at Cardiff and contributed 80 to a dangerous partnership with Michael Clarke at Lords. Matt Prior has been consistent with the bat, but has failed to turn scores of 56, 61 and 41 into centuries. Nevertheless it is Prior, much criticised before the series for his keeping, who has been the most consistent behind the stumps. However, on the proviso that keepers need to score more than flashy fifties in today’s game it is Haddin, who had the onerous task of replacing Adam Gilchrist, who shades it.
6. Haddin (243 runs at 60.75, 11 catches)
A number of players on both sides have shone throughout the series. For Australia, Ben Hilfenhaus has performed well in every match, Peter Siddle and the much maligned Mitchell Johnson really came good in the 4th Test and Stuart Clark looked like the missing ingredient at Leeds. On the England side, Andrew Flintoff’s performance at Lords on the final morning was extraordinary and he is still the bowler that the Australians fear the most. James Anderson has at times looked unplayable, although he was extremely poor at Headingley. Finally, Graham Onions hasn’t let anyone down. With four quicks being picked, this is a 50:50 split with Hilfenhaus’ consistency and ability with the new ball, Flintoff’s sheer pace and accuracy, Anderson’s knack of swinging the ball both ways and the left arm variety and x-factor of Johnson winning the day. Siddle is the unlucky bowler here.
7. Flintoff (7 wickets at 48.57, 171 runs at 42.74), 8. Johnson (16 wickets at 32.62), 10. Anderson (12 wickets at 38.91), 11. Hilfenhaus (18 wickets at 26.38)
Again this is a close call. Graham Swann is the better bowler and came into the series with a much better career record. However, Nathan Hauritz has impressed with his control and has taken more wickets than Swann (10 wickets to 6). That said the best actual performance by either of the two was Swann’s 4 for 87 during the second innings at Lords. Swann also bowled the best delivery of the two – the wonder ball that dismissed Ponting in the 2nd innings at Edgbaston. So, it is Swann (just) as the more attacking option.
9. Swann (6 wickets at 68.16)
So, that’s four England and seven Australia players in the composite XI, perhaps reflecting that in both the run getting and wicket taking stakes it is Australian players that lead the way in the series so far. Seven centuries to one is a fairly damning statistic.
As anticipation builds to the series decider, how this composite XI changes after the Oval Test has finished will be a clear pointer to who wins the Ashes.
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