24 June 2013

Boof is in, Arthur is out - a good move?

Quite a number of people have stated the timing is poor and that the sacking of Mickey Arthur so close to the Ashes is a mistake. News report have been stating, "Ashes crisis!" I am one of the supporters who disagrees completely with this outlook as we need to be positive. The news that Arthur is out and that Darren "Boof" Lehmann has replaced him is good news. In fact I think it is bloody fantastic and will gladly eat my words. I rated Boof as an Australian Cricketer. I am now excited to rate him in the not too distant future as an Australian Coach.

The decision by Cricket Australia - surprising and mighty bold - was needed and the timing didn't have a day to spare. The other news that Michael Clarke has stepped down in his selection position has only highlighted this strategic change at the top of the food chain. This is outstanding news.

What about England? To be honest, I reckon this decision will not be great news for their camp. The new coach is a man who had a taste for their blood and will be far more driven and obsessed to coach his troops to knock them over and out. Fortunately for Australian supporters, England did not lift the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy after losing to India. 

Arthur never seemed to secure the support from the public and I am left wondering if internally things just haven't recovered since the Indian tour dramas. It would seem that it definitely wasn't working with Arthur and this change seems to have cleared the air, along with some good Ashes inclusions in our squad.

Oddly enough it felt as if tension left the Australian camp with this news. I don't intend to disrespect Arthur with that comment but supporting Australian Cricket is something you feel internally, it's a pride that you cannot pigeonhole and I trust my gut instinct on these matters.

Arthur is not to be blamed completely for the way things turned out, in fact that would be unfair and unprofessional. He is a disappointed man right now and shocked with the news, so no need to trash talk. Arthur however wasn't able to secure that respect and his regime-like decisions seemed like lessons from the school headmaster which just never settled well across the board. Australian Cricket has recently felt like a bit of a school yard - out of control. In his defence some our players need to earn the respect of the supporters as a few carry larger than life egos. Arthur tried and it t is a pity to see anyone get sacked professionally, but just the way it went and poor performances only added fuel to the fire.

A few unwanted incidents happened under the watch of Arthur.

In recent times we lost against India 4-0 in the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Always tough to play Tests in India but it was a sour result, especially with unwanted off-field dramas. Discipline has slipped amongst the players and although according to Cricket Australia this is part of the coaching deal, the players are adults and should have been far more professional. Having said that there was no respect being shown towards certain departments and Arthur's inability to establish a strong, sincere and genuine sense of respect would have contributed to this. The Champions Trophy early exit added to this, along with the English bar incident - lead by David Warner.

The Cricket Australia CEO, James Sutherland, reflected this in the press conference come the official announcement of Lehmann's selection.

“Discipline, consistency of behaviour and accountability for performance are all key ingredients that need to improve. And we see that the head coach is ultimately responsible for that.
“The Cricket Australia Board decided yesterday that Mickey Arthur should not continue as head coach of the Australian cricket team.  In taking this decision, the Board accepted the reco
mmendation to make an immediate change as being in the best interests of the team,” said Sutherland.

It may seem harsh but it had to be done, has been done and needed to be done. Australia never seemed set on a non-Australian leading the side. There is possibly still a sense of belief that bringing in a personality from the glory days can turn things around, not that of a coach having not been involved with that era.

Arthur was the scapegoat and he was not the right personality to take this team forward. Arthur is out, Lehmann is in!

With Clarke no longer in a selection position, all the heated debate that he has his "favourites" can now be dusted away and this will enable him to focus further on leadership of his team and mentor his batsmen. This is a healthy step from both a personal and public stance. It could help with selection consistencies, but John Inverarity will be watched closely with this management.

Two years ago my mate Matt declared Lehmann should be coach. I never laughed about it and took his opinion quite seriously. When Arthur got the gig to coach Australia I was reminded of his opinion - by Matt personally. It's great news that Lehmann now has his chance and he's had the chance to graft and show his leadership and tactical colours with the Queensland Bulls, who have shown solid improvement.

Two years ago Shane Warne also shared his opinion that Darren Lehmann was the ideal man for the job, post-Tim Nielsen. Finally Warnie has had just another tip pay off!

"I think Darren Lehmann is absolutely outstanding - as a coach or in some senior role involved in the team or as a selector.
"I think he's got a really good understanding of the young guys, he's got a great understanding of old school and what's required to perform.
"[There's] old-school '70s and '80s - sit down and don't say a word and let the experienced people talk - to the new way where you play one game you think you've played a hundred and you're part of the furniture. Somewhere in the middle is about the right way."

A smile breaks into the Australian camp © Getty Images
Lehmann comes from the die-hard Aussie cricket days. His leadership experience, passion for the Baggy Green legacy and his "bloke" attitude will be really good our guys - supporters included. "Boof" will also be able to give these players a good kick in the butt when needed and have the respect shown given they will know where he comes from and likely relate to him far easier than the unknown elements of Arthur.

Lehmann has an unquestionable passion for the great game, he has a "team comes first" attitude and enjoys a cold beer or two. His focus on the fundamentals is hard to go unnoticed and while we always hear about players waffling on about their fitness, hitting the gym, doing weights etc. Boof will be focusing on batting, bowling and fielding - the rest is simply detail. He also has been in the hot seat for telling it like it is and perhaps that brutal aspect of his personality will toughen these guys up and make them know "the line in the sand" (as Arthur put it) before he even shows up at the first training session.

Best of all was Lehman's attitude towards family values - highlighted in his press statement. In a side where individualism has seemed to take hold and accountability was never properly addressed, the collectivity may return to the side which will inevitably create a brighter team culture. Winning will help and Lehmann is aware of this, but Cricket Australia needs to become a family again - that is not just the player group.

As per his statement; "It's about life as well, it's a game of cricket. It's important we have success and play well but it's a small part of your life, so we've got to make sure we are helping them grow their lives on and off the ground, that is really important to me. Family is a big part of it, enjoying each other's company while we're away, and learning about ourselves and different cultures and different people we have in the team."

If you also need to know a thing or two about Lehmann as a cricketer, he could hold his own.
He averaged 57.59 runs with the bat at First-Class level, averaged 44.95 runs for the Baggy Greens with 5 centuries from 27 Tests. He averaged below thirty with the ball at Test and ODI level, and he played a huge role in our 1999 and 2003 World Cup victories, notably 2003 where he scored 224 runs at 44.80 and bagged 6 wickets.

Essentially the business needs to be done on the field. However, coaching and leadership is vital for this unstable time in Australian Cricket. I am confident this will bring a sense of natural respect given Lehmann's background and the fact Cricket Australia will stress the importance to the team given their timing for such a move. Most of all, the players have been far from disciplined as a unit so they will have to do their part to ensure Lehmann is boosted in his capacity.

I also believe this move will possibly be a start to rectifying the leadership issues we have. Michael Clarke is unlikely to play cricket for a great deal longer - stated by him for personal aspirations and his physical issues - and right now their is a leadership void. Coaching was directly related to his and this could seriously help fix this problem, or at least get things back on the rails!

The Ashes is just around the corner. England did not win the Champions Trophy, further good news. We have a bunch of players who have stepped up for Australia A in recent tour matches and a few others edging to have a crack against the English team - especially Chris Rogers and Ed Cowan.

Tough decisions need to be made. No one knows the future but Australian Cricket has sunk to an all time low in terms of connectivity rolling from the team to us, the supporters who keep this game alive. Lehmann cannot fix things on his own. This is not a miracle turn around. The hard work has to be readdressed.
However, from the Baggy Green Blog, I proudly welcome our new coach, Darren "Boof" Lehmann. Let's get back the urn! 

Sources: Cricket Australia, ESPN Cricinfo.com.

Welcome to The Baggy Green Blog!
Thanks for reading this article written by Ian.
To comment on this article, click on the 'Comments' tag at the end of the article.


17 June 2013

Opinion: Where do we go from here? Australia's leadership issue

As Australia lost possession of the Champions Trophy and exited the tournament before the semi-finals for the first time since 2000, it also highlighted something worrying amidst some internal dramas dating back to the Indian tour in March.

Michael Clarke was ruled out of the Champions Trophy campaign due to a degenerate back condition he has. He also missed the 2009 edition of this tournament and, for the first time in his career, missed a Test match. The match he missed was the final Test of the forgettable Border-Gavaskar Trophy, but something major was noticeable. The lack of leadership in the Australian camp is obvious. 

- If you missed the Ashes squad analysis article, you can read it via this link.
- Who is in the battle to open the batting for Australia in the Ashes? Read it now to find out!
- What conditions can be expected at the Ashes venues? Look into the analysis.

- Our 2013 Champions Trophy squad and the SWOT analysis? Catch up on it via this link.

Last night I watched a show on Fox Sports. It was an hour long feature with Clarke in an exclusive interview with Eddie McGuire, which also took an up close and personal look into a day in the life of Clarke prior to a big series. I have never doubted how hard an Australian sportsman works and have witnessed the Australian Cricket team train in the most challenging of circumstances. Lead by Ricky Ponting – although no longer the captain at the time - the players worked like dogs and systematically ensured each player was doing their part but there was a strong, pure sense of support.

On his own Clarke is highly motivated, positive and focused on his duties as a professional sportsman. He is a good captain and is the best man for the job with all the qualities needed. His application to the game can never be questioned and this feature on him made this apparent, especially with the steps he takes to ensure his body is strong and in the best possible shape. This is now more important than ever due to an injury he has kept at bay for the better part of his career, but now it’s becoming a challenge to overcome series in, series out.

Clarke has tried to be a leader on a mission to make his own legacy, stamp his own authority while also attempting to find a balance between his style and what he was exposed to when he was a member of the greatest Australian team of the modern era. It is proving to be even more difficult and this is becoming clear with the lack of leadership personalities coming through the current crop of players.

I have always written objectively and constructively where possible. I respect our players and have always avoided “trash talking” or being overly-critical, especially if it may be seen as a personal criticism of a player’s character. If you couldn’t say it to the person, don’t say it at all, or in this case write it. However, for this article I will be coming through perhaps as less reserved than previous years, always backing our team through thick and thin.

George Bailey’s attitude is refreshing. In Clarke’s absence he was seen as the best option. Michael Hussey and Ricky Ponting have departed, while Brad Haddin is now a Test specialist for what’s left of his career. The option is limited to Bailey who is now an experienced leader of the Tasmanian Tigers. He seems a happy-go-lucky chap, who has a smile or a grin on his face most of the time, but he also seems handicapped in his efforts with a side that has a long way to go to find a sense of unity on the playing field to establish a winning culture. His grin during the Champions Trophy seemed to be more of a mask to hide the embarrassment and possible frustration at the side’s lack of venom.

Bailey is a suitable ODI leader, but who backs Clarke for Tests? ©PA Sport
Despite criticism he has taken for not being a specialist limited over’s player, it would seem his average and consistency begs to differ. Besides being the best suited player to lead in Clarke’s absence, he’s also proving to be one of the few batsmen to show consistency and aggression with the bat in hand. This just adds proof that while he may not be the long term solution, he is at least showing leadership credibility and maintaining his form.

I just mentioned Bailey isn’t a long term solution. Who will be the next guy then? It’s always the million dollar question and foresight is a difficult thing in the game of cricket.

Michael Clarke is, in my opinion, not going to be playing cricket for much longer.

Sure, he may be 32 years of age, but his back is flaring up more than ever and cricket schedules are not becoming easier to manage. He is the leader of the Test and ODI squad and a replacement to take the weight off his shoulders isn’t becoming a clear vision at this point.

Clarke has also made mention that he will most probably not play into his late thirties as most players have been able to do so, not just because of the three degenerative discs in his back, but also a change of opinion. He’s a married man, a family man, and has the entrepreneur drive in him, probably enhanced through his relationship with James Packer. He has a future beyond the game and this game carries enough pressures.

In an interview he gave last year, Clarke stated the following:

"Unfortunately degeneration, it can't improve, so it's about now managing my condition.
"I'd love to see this team have success, achieve everything it wants to achieve. And then I think that is time for me to give the reins to somebody else and go and start the other side of life I guess - get involved in some sort of business and have a family and do all the things that are special to me and I still want to do when my cricket career is over."

Perhaps a miracle performance from his Test squad may see back to back Ashes victories leave one final task – to win the 2015 Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. In the exclusive interview with Eddie McGuire, at the end of the interview when asked what is left for Clarke he pointed these three objectives out. To me, that would indicate that come 2015 Clarke will be calling it a day. He will be 34 years of age.

By this stage we may have seen younger emerging players such as; Joe Burns, Nic Maddinson, Pat Cummins, Ashton Agar and Chadd Sayers become centered within their career progression and potential leadership abilities. Our current crop of players may have found success to find an unsourced sense of inspiration to become leaders in the Australian Cricket landscape. It is a big dream at the moment, but I’d like to believe Michael Clarke can do something to reel in a group of leaders, just as Shane Warne did so when he earmarked Clarke as something special for the game.

Leading up to Steve Waugh’s retirement, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne were all potential leaders to take over. Amongst them were strong minded individuals who could have also chiselled those characters into larger than life players. In fact, this is what happened. Besides being a group of unbelievable cricketers, they also had a bond on the field to tap into each other’s skills with deep insight and a surreal self-belief in any situation. It was a winning culture, groomed through leadership.

This year’s back-to-back Ashes series is quite possibly going to be one of the most important chapters for Australian Cricket looking ahead. A winning culture creates winning personalities, but to get there is another battle many sides just don’t achieve. Victory and self-belief is in the Australian sporting culture, so no excuses should be made up that these players don’t have it if this culture still exists.

This is an optimistic appeal, but in the present sense it’s a tunnel with little light. In my Ashes preview I maintained that we can most definitely win back the Ashes urn, and still do. My doubt however is regarding leadership.

David Warner was backed by Michael Clarke as a competitive bloke with definite leadership qualities. Unluckily, or possibly fortunately, Warner has cracked under pressure for a place in the Test side and a series of poor decision making dating back a few months now has put his leadership future under serious question. He could turn it around like Ricky Ponting did, but that’s speculation. In the present, he is not looking like a leader of the Australian team, especially with his inconsistent performances in all forms of the game at the elite level.

Clarke (left) with David Warner, who is losing grip to be a leader © Getty Images

The problem with the Warner incident in England is that several players were alongside him, out at an early hour and in a situation with the opposition that leaders like Allan Border or Steve Waugh would have been nauseated by. Clarke strongly opposed the situation and when I read his opinion over the matter I felt for him. He’s leading a side in a challenging enough time for our team and now has to deal with players not only finding themselves in questionable circumstances but also not ticking the leadership and responsibility boxes next to their names – despite Clarke believing at the same time that Australian Cricket is in a fantastic place. It also just puts a dent into Clarke's efforts to be the best captain possible with players behaving this way in a professional setting.

Phillip Hughes is battling for consistency four years following his Test debut series in South Africa. Despite Clarke’s admiration for Hughes, I have had three encounters with Hughes that gave me the impression he is anything but a leader based on his public profile. Sometimes a player has a personality that screams “leadership” or there is a sixth sense that they could be the next leader. Hughes doesn’t have this and while it is my opinion, I feel strongly about this.

Ed Cowan is pushing his case with dedication to his game and he’s also taken the initiative to work hard in the County circuit to ensure he is ready for the Ashes to take guard against the new ball. This is something I respect and wish to see him flourish this series in the absence of Simon Katich. Cowan has definitely pushed his case to be a leader but he has come across as being a “teacher’s pet”, or as some may say in a cheekier way, a “brown noser”. His close relationship with his media mates gives him leverage and is a fairly smart tactic. Keep the journalists and media opinion makers close to you! Cowan isn’t the long term solution and even if he is to get an opportunity following consistent performances.

Shane Watson is at the same career stage with Clarke and has many more battles regarding his body. Having stepped down from the vice-captaincy role after the horrid Indian tour, it’s a closed door for Watson to lead Australia. His personal game requires so much attention and focus that this burden would be too much to handle.

Bowlers rarely get considered for captaincy roles. Daniel Vettori of New Zealand is a rare candidate in this regard and learnt from Stephen Fleming, one of the best of the modern game.

Peter Siddle has so much heart and passion for this game. It is a reason that makes him so hard to leave out of a starting XI. How good is his cricketing mind? I am not certain but I am not sure he’d be the captaincy material to do what Clarke does. Of all the bowlers he is the best pick.

Matthew Wade has been boosted by Clarke as a young man with a strong personality. Despite being the second keeper of choice for the Ashes, he understood the reasoning and has an objective now. He needs to become a better wicket-keeper and has the opportunity to hone in on his leadership qualities. Is he the best solution though and a realistic one to take over from Clarke? He’s had an inconsistent entrance into the elite level. Then again, who is being consistent?

George Bailey is the only player that comes to mind with regards to consistency. It is a worrying sign looking ahead. It is also a big reason why Chris Rogers was called into our Ashes squad.

Tim Paine was being groomed with leadership duties, having also lead Australia A. He still has a way to go with his return after a finger injury kept him out for the majority of last season.

Callum Ferguson struck me as a player who could have been groomed into a Michael Bevan/ Michael Hussey player of sorts with a capacity to become a senior in the side. He has become a bit of an outcast though for selection, much to my mixed feelings of disappointment and anger as a result.

Michael Klinger has lead South Australia, won the State Player of the Year award twice at the Allan Border Medal Awards, but never received the opportunity to represent Australia. His time is far gone despite doing a good job in the County circuit. Cameron White was even in the waiting seat with his leadership of Victoria, but sadly inconsistency has been an issue with him (a recurring theme of our current setup) and he’s far from top of the picking list regarding Sheffield Shield performances.

For a short while I thought Victorian batsman Michael Hill may have been a future prospect after leading the Australian u19 Squad a few years back. He has recently started to show class with Victoria. He’s got a bit of work to still do in order to get onto the radar with the selectors.

So, where do we go from here in terms of leadership?

Fortunately Michael Clarke should be ready for the Ashes. Not only is he a leader but he’s also our best batsman. He’s our most consistent performer in both Test and ODI cricket and has so many achievements to his name that come the day he walks away from the game he will be an accomplished cricket, having also been a member of the greatest Australian side.

Given this we are fortunate. We also have a good Ashes squad and the sooner the off-field dramas of recent months and the Champions Trophy exit get put behind us the better it will be for all in the Australian Cricket family.

However, the question of leadership is tough as leaders are generally naturally born but there’s always going to be grooming. Who is that natural born leader in our ranks that hasn’t been identified?

Welcome to The Baggy Green Blog!
Thanks for reading this article written by Ian.
To comment on this article, click on the 'Comments' tag at the end of the article.


02 June 2013

Opinion: Australian Opening Duo for the 2013 Ashes Series

What will Australia's best opening combination be for the 2013 Ashes series?

Click on the image to enlarge it for some quick facts and stats regarding our Ashes opening contenders.
This is a trending topic of debate I picked up over the last few weeks, especially after David Warner's Twitter outburst, Shane Watson's return of confidence and all-rounder duties, and lastly Chris Rogers and Ed Cowan's involvement in the County circuit.

Phillip Hughes has been used in the number three to middle order role is recent times so I don't see him being relevant to the topic of debate. After 2009 I also don't see him being used in an opening role capacity for the sake of psychological safety.

Sylvester and I will be presenting a combined effort to share our analytical views as to which way the selectors may go and what we see as a possible "best fit" for the Ashes opening duo. His is up first, so grab a cup of coffee and perhaps a meal to get through mine too.

This Ashes series isn't about players necessarily writing their own stories for longevity. It is a short-term objective to win back the urn and out batting is the identified weakness. If the batting clicks we will win. Based on this all that should be taken into account is come each Test is; which batsmen will have the most confidence, and tactically/ strategically based on the conditions, results and performances what is the best side for each Test. As a result a set in stone side is not a logical motive.

If the selected opening duo fall in line for at least the first two Tests then that combo may stand, but the gut feeling is that a set duo may not be the logical/ traditional option given this is a short-term side picked to balance experience with enthusiastic emerging campaigners, whilst trying counter-attack testing conditions and high quality English bowlers. Variation is just an aspect of the mix and may be so come the starting XI throughout the series to try get back that urn.

Have a read and have your say! Catch up on related articles below in case you missed them.

- If you missed the Ashes squad analysis article, you can read it via this link.
- What conditions can be expected at the Ashes venues? Look into it via this article.

- Our 2013 Champions Trophy squad and the SWOT analysis? Catch up on it via this link.

Sylvester's view: Twitter profile

Ed Cowan:
There has been no doubt about the type of player Cowan is, but "starts" should be his middle name. His big problem to date has been converting his starts not only into 100s but lately 50s. He only has six fifties from 30 innings of which he has 12 scores between 20 and 49. He does one job of the opener very well in seeing off the new ball but his conversion rate leaves a lot to be desired. 

One con for players in the Ashes squad playing County cricket instead of playing IPL - or resting - is what Cowan is experiencing at the moment. Cowan's form in County cricket has been average to say the least. He has played 5 matches so far averaging 34 with two fifties from 9 innings. It would be harsh to drop a player based on County form but with Rogers banging the wall down something might have to give.

Strengths: Gets a start and chews up a lot of deliveries to wear down that new ball.
Weakness: Appears to lack concentration at vital stages of both his innings and the team innings and, as a result, ends up getting out softly. While he chews up the deliveries there always appears to be a ball with his name on it. 

David Warner:
David Warner is an interesting case, as he started his career in Marcus North fashion as a rocks or diamonds player but by the start of the Windies tour he became more star orientated. Within 5 matches, Warner had made two hundreds both in very tricky conditions. His maiden hundred came against New Zealand in the Hobart mess where he was the only batsman that stood tall. The other was in Perth again in tough conditions which he made look very easy. Other than fellow opener Cowan, no batsmen made runs in that match.

Those two matches show Warner has the ability to bat in tough conditions but many people have been suggesting he will struggle against the swinging ball. The Ashes was always going to be the litmus test for that theory, I am slightly leaning towards him struggling against the swinging ball but the memory of those two matches give me hope.

Strengths: Can turn a match in Australia's favour with his raw power.
Weakness: Looks suspect against swing bowling and can struggle against spin - exposed in India. Can get out in a very soft manner. 

Chris Rogers:
Chris Rogers may well reap the rewards for extensively playing County cricket. On the back of his surprise call up he has smashed County bowlers around the park amassing 552 runs at an average of 61 with 4 fifties and a massive double hundred. While his conversion rate could be better, it is hard to say anything bad about his form to date. This comes on the back of his excellent Shield season where he scored 742 runs at 49.5 with three hundreds and a fifty showing converting 50s is not a major issue for him.

The only thing going against Rogers would be the unknown factor. It will be a risk throwing Rogers to basically be making his test debut on the biggest stage of them all. He does has the one advantage of being vastly experienced, especially in English conditions, over a younger guy who might have been in the same position. 

Strengths: Vastly experienced in English conditions, converts well and has very good application.
Weakness: I admit I haven't seen enough of him to point out technical flaws but the main weakness (or question) would be can he deliver if thrown into the deep end?

Shane Watson:
Shane Watson...probably the most debatable player currently in the Australian team. Should he play as a batsman only, should he play as an all rounder, should he open, should he bat lower so he can bowl?
These are just some of the questions you get when talking about Watson. 

The people on the "Watson should be opener camp" have been harping on about his average of over 40 while opening and that he is most comfortable opening. While the stats do suggest this, he has played most of his career at 3 or 4 so I really don't see why he can't bat in either of those positions at the top level - despite the statistics. 

Form wise Watson has had a shocker since the last Ashes in 2010/11. His series averages read 17.4, 23.8, 32.2, 17.5, 39.3 and 16.5. If this was the statistics review of a pure batsman he would be cut in a flash. 

If Watson were to be moved back to the top then obviously the more successful numbers at the top will work in his favour, on the back of English experience. He is probably more likely to get a 50 plus score in comparison to our current openers, which also works in his favour. However his much talked about hundred tally works against him as an opener should be converting his 50s as well. Of the players mentioned Watson would be the least of the must be opener, in my opinion.

Strengths: Did alright in the last Ashes series in England as opener and showed character in 2009. Recently scored a big century for Australia in our first warm-up game. 
Weakness: Suspect against the swinging ball and prone to LBWs. Poor conversion rates to date.

I am sitting on the fence a bit as I won't be too unhappy with whoever the selectors pick as our openers. Rogers would be one of my picks as his best position is opener in the swinging conditions and you need a guy that can confidently handle these conditions but also leave the good balls.
The next position is a bit trickier. If Cowan was showing better form I would have no hesitation in picking him. I am tempted to leave Warner at top to see how he goes against the swinging ball so we can prove once and for all how he copes against Anderson and company. For me a lot will depend on the warm up games as it is that close the grand contest.

Ian's view: Twitter Profile

Ed Cowan:
Ed Cowan's fought hard to try take guard in the Ashes. With David Warner, a naturally aggressive batsman, at the other end it can't be easy for Cowan to stick to his guns with his defensive, steadily cautious nature. An average that has the critics pointing fingers and an approach that is seen as being "too slow" may be unfair. However, despite my viewpoint as "only being fair" to see Ed play from the get-go in the Ashes, it's no guarantee any of these four players will open.

Ed has also taken initiative to get English experience behind him, playing for Notthinghamshire in County cricket - Division one. As of 1 June, he's scored 254 runs at an average of 36.28. He's found difficulty in converting his starts into bigger scores, something that's handicapped his performances for Australia.

It has been reported though that in the tougher conditions he has shown impressive application and a determination to succeed. This was most evident during a game against Middlesex at Trent Bridge in April, where Ed scored a hard-fought half-century. His opposite number though was Chris Rogers who notched up half-centuries in both innings (50 and 51*).

Given Cowan's likelihood to play in the Ashes and the warm-up games being the ultimately decisive factor in his selection, it would be wise to explore the Ed Cowan and David Warner duo.

They have a combined average of 43.03, with 1,291 runs scored from 30 innings. Of these 30 innings they've gone beyond a fifty run-partnership 9 times (30% conversion rate). This isn't too bad by any means.

30 innings may also not seem like much, but Simon Katich and Shane Watson partnered at the top of the order 29 times with better results. Australia - when we're in better shape - will in time need to find a duo with enough long-term focus to develop something as prolific as the Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer duo. 122 innings with 6,081 runs at 51.53. Quite remarkable.

Some might say don't break it up if there's no need to fix it.
I don't think it's a valid statement heading into the 2013 Ashes series as although they've steadily built a foundation of sorts, my opinion is that the opening duo this Ashes is about the best tactical choice to combat the new ball. Ed Cowan has a good case for himself come this dynamic.

Consistency has been an issue with Australian selection, but this side wasn't selected for the objective of consistency and stability. Unity for this squad must come with the desire to win, not to form an all-boys club in the long run with the hope that the most seen players in recent times will succeed.

David Warner:
Given Rogers' current form and experience, Watson's average in Ashes contests with all-rounder duties returning, along with Cowan's recent experience that has greater relevance than IPL or limited overs cricket; David Warner appears to be far from a certain starter for the Ashes - at least in terms of opening the batting.

His aggressive nature and confidence, which may be leveraged through from a strong ICC Champions Trophy campaign (dismissed for a duck in our warm-up game), cannot be underestimated. However, against a swinging ball sent down by high quality bowlers in their home conditions, this nature may prove to be a downfall with a lack of First-class/ Test cricket exposure in English conditions. As much as I support Warner, I see risk in his selection for the opening Tests.

Cowan has a lower average than Warner's 39.46, but appears to have better application and focus to combat tougher bowling attacks. Cowan's got the current edge with an immediate understanding of current English condition.

The last time I saw Warner bat with mighty impressive application beyond his natural game in very testing conditions was against New Zealand in Hobart, as mentioned by Sylvester. The ball was swinging, the Black Caps were hitting their lines and Warner was a man on a lonesome mission. If he could show this sort of determination in England and hold back from an overly-aggressive drive it will serve him well. The catch is this approach will be required for a longer period than an innings in Hobart.

Matthew Hayden was aggressive though? Yes, but Hayden had experience in England by the time his natural game had reached its greatest heights and he'd been through some grueling trials and tribulations to earn that reputation that still resonates with any aggressive Australian top order batsman.

Having thought about this particular comparative for some time, nestled down the order Warner may bring about that Adam Gilchrist X-factor. Would be the greatest thrill seeing Warner belt England's bowlers about!

I would enjoy seeing Warner moved into a middle order role. He could be the firepower in the shed that never allows the opposition to relax even once they've worked through the top to middle order.
If Watson is set to play as an all-rounder, this middle order position may be occupied by him (keeping in mind Watson's stats are poor below a number one role) and should Warner not make an impression in the warm-up games, he may find himself not playing until a later stage.

It's a personal opinion, but while Warner's outburst on Twitter was valid given the constant negativity the high profile writers harp on about, I do think he knows his place is not a guarantee. A bit of pressure?
The opening paragraph for the Warner analysis shows exactly why and I feel if he doesn't get sufficient runs behind his name, it wouldn't be wise to play him as a certain opener. If he does show confidence and form, get him in the side! If that's to play as an opener...well, that is up in arms. 

Chris Rogers:
In 2012 Chris Rogers wrote a guest piece for ESPN Cricinfo regarding Australia's emerging batsmen's technical flaws. Sylvester covered this shortly in an article titled 'The Technical Failings of the Younger Generation'. A year later, Rogers is in the Australian squad with a chance to showcase his knowledge and skills on the elite stage.

It would be potentially daft not to play Chris Rogers. It would also be harsh to an extent.
A man who scored 1,086 runs at 40.22 last year in the County first division, 742 runs at 49.46 in Sheffield Shield (second most behind Ricky Ponting) and 552 runs for Middlesex at 61.33 (as of 1 June) with a personal best of 214, it's hard to find reason not to play him.

The opening game for his division was at Trent Bridge and he scored back-to-back half-centuries. This is also the venue for the opening Ashes Test. His home ground is Lord's whilst playing for Middlesex, the venue for the 2nd Test. Recently between England and New Zealand batting conditions at Lord's seemed the toughest I have seen in sometime. It's another advantage to play Rogers.

Rogers' selection has put pressure on the Cowan/ Warner duo and for good reason. This Ashes is about winning back the urn to defend it back in Australia soon after. It's healthy competition and given his selection is a short-term one, if he is better ready than the rest he must be playing as the best.

The statistics back Rogers' form in both Australia and England. He has sufficient experience in English conditions and has fought like a dog to have this opportunity. If anything, one of the oldest men in our Ashes squad will have the most hunger. The warm up games and what lies ahead for his Middlesex duties will be the final tick to the box to ensure we get this experienced campaigner in our starting XI.

Shane Watson:
For the record, I really like Shane Watson and support him with every aspect of his career. I rate his game.
Having said that, if Watson cannot bowl, he shouldn't play simply based on his form in Test cricket. His lack of runs in recent years does not warrant default selection. An average of 25.35 is deemed not good enough.
When he's performed bowling duties he's contributed with immense value and seemed far more confident as a team player. A good memory is his bowling performance against Pakistan in the two Test match series in England a few years back, especially at Lord's. As an all-rounder he has value, and if he continues to score big runs in the build up he can't be overlooked.

The biggest thing to consider is Shane Watson's average of 48.21 in the Ashes.
This is higher than that of Cowan and Warner's collective average and personal averages. Watson had to step up big time in 2009 when Phillip Hughes was dropped. Watson then partnered up with Simon Katich and, in my opinion, there hasn't been an opening duo as good since then.

Together they averaged 52.72 from 29 innings and the left hand/ right hand combo was a fit. Watson's aggressive nature with Katich's cautious approach worked like a dream. Cowan and Warner have a similar characteristic with just as many innings as a duo but the impression left is far from that Katich and Watson achieved.

Wait on, Watson didn't convert enough innings of fifty plus into centuries!
I'd rather have a guy scoring 80s and 90s, than 30s and 40s and Watson's history opening the batting showcased high individual scores falling short of a century on numerous occasions. I'd also be happy to see him in our side if he is performing as an all-rounder and hits good enough batting form to warrant his selection. Should he not be used as an opener, where he has been best suited statistically and personally, a middle-order role could put Warner under pressure for a spot if Cowan and Rogers get the nod to open.

Watson's recent debacle in India didn't help his public profile too much but as soon as he dropped the vice-captaincy he was scoring good runs in the IPL, along with a dashing 135 runs 98 deliveries in a warm-up game against the West Indies for the ICC Champions Trophy. He has some hard work ahead to make the starting XI but Ashes experience and an improvement in form is boosting his case.

Between Warner and Cowan there is a history with a fairly competitive average. Collectively they may struggle as a duo in the Ashes against high quality swing bowling in their debut Ashes series, especially for the first two matches. Cowan has the edge with recent County experience, good control over his temperament and technique, and was reported to have shown solid application against the moving ball at Trent Bridge.

Watson has a personal Ashes batting average that is better than that of Cowan and Warner's collective and personal averages. He has sound experience and with a return to all-rounder duties he will have big value. His downfall is a poor Test average in recent times without bowling duties. Fact is if it weren't for his unquestionable talent and being one of our few all-rounders, his recent Test form wouldn't see him selected.

Rogers has the experience and has been scoring the runs for Middlesex, notably at Trent Bridge and Lord's (21/ 214 vs Surrey), where the first two Tests will be played. England's bowlers put New Zealand in turmoil with excellent bowling conditions and the history of Trent Bridge is one of the toughest conditions to bat in if a player cannot handle swing bowling. This may give Rogers a massive advantage with the selectors.

Chris Rogers, Ed Cowan and Shane Watson stand tall as the three in front for the 1st and 2nd Tests.
David Warner, while not in my opening spot from the go, will have unquestionable value in the middle order for additional fire power should he not open, possibly putting Shane Watson out of the picture if he cannot bat and bowl for Australia.

Come the announcement of our Ashes squad I was confident with this side. I will support whoever gets selected one hundred percent, but it's good to form an opinion and look at the options. Spare a thought for the selectors!

*All statistics courtesy of ESPN Cricinfo.com

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