07 July 2013

Who will be in the starting XI for Trent Bridge?

The Ashes battle is just days away and my levels of optimism were certainly boosted after the team morale - and performances - returned to the squad during the tour matches against Somerset and Worcestershire. England have announced their squad for the first Test at Trent Bridge, while we only have four guaranteed selections at present of our potential starting XI.

A few weeks back I wrote an article that took a look at the conditions that can be expected at each of the venues where the Ashes matches will be hosted.

Trent Bridge is one massive hurdle for batsmen to get over as an opening match. It's a fantastic venue for swing bowling and there were promising signs with our batsmen scoring good runs in the tour matches to suggest there is hope come the battle against James Anderson and his cronies. Having said that, this ground is a whole different challenge come focus, confidence and technique against quality swing bowling.

Here is the report I compiled on Trent Bridge, Notthingham on 01 May 2013:

Briefing: It was encouraging to see both Chris Rogers (Ashes squad member/ Middlesex) and Ed Cowan (Ashes squad member/ Nottinghampshire) showcase form and score some good runs at Trent Bridge in their opening Division One game of the county season.

This is going to be providing a gripping contest between bat and ball, but it is going to be most challenging for our batsmen. An excellent opening venue for the Ashes. It will test all aspects a team and individual requires to survive in a Test match.

We last played a Test in 2005, losing by 3 wickets, but we did take the win in the 2001 Test, which has little relevance at this point in time with it dating back 12 years.

At this relatively low scoring ground, Michael Clarke is the only player in our squad who has been exposed to the challenges presented at Trent Bridge at the elite level. There is validity to look at playing Cowan and Rogers too given their county runs.

The pitch report: As mentioned, Trent Bridge is an ideal arena to kick off the Ashes series in a time where batting dominates the modern game. There is as good a guarantee as any that the ball will swing and should provide for a menacing contest. Trent Bridge has produced more win or lose results than drawn results in recent years, so it is definitely a good place to start a series with an outcome quite likely to occur.

A theory behind the high presence of swing conditions at the ground, which is likely to carry throughout all possible innings in a match, is that the increase in buildings around the ground - notably the Bridgford Road stand - creates an enclosure of sorts, meaning that whatever air enters the arena will circulate and not escape as easily as an open ground, logically. Add a packed crowd attendance and conditions that aren't too chilly, you get an increase in friction resulting from the warmer air, which ultimately leads to a ball that responds greater to swing with greater emphasis needing to be placed on preserving one side of the cherry, while roughing up the other.

Have a read at this article explaining the scientific facts behind swing bowling: Read article on how a cricket ball swings.

Given our batting inconsistencies in recent seasons, England may very well eye an opportunity to have a bowl at us with confidence should they win the toss. Statistically it seems better to bowl first, also assessing your opponents batting line-up (SWOT analysis). The toss will be a massive talking point and it's essential to have that luck go your way.

Even though it is apparent that in any Test match should you get bowled out on the first day you are in trouble, Trent Bridge makes recovery from a poor start in a match hard to come by. This is mostly given the presence of swing bowling, made even harder by good, natural swing bowlers - England have a few of these. Sure, you could try and get one up on the opposition, but if they can handle the conditions slightly better, a deficit of even fifty to one hundred runs could end your hopes.

Expect plenty of deliveries with the new ball to be pitched up on a line that will create some fearful uncertainty. I'd be ready in the slips and gully regions. (END)

So, with this analysis concluded let's take a look at our potential candidates for the starting XI come the opening Test of the Ashes. I have not listed my side as I am eager to hear your opinion.

Before I do so, here's the tour batting stats thus far.


Michael Clarke: 2 matches, 4 innings, 257 runs, HS 124, Avg 64.25, 100s (1), 50s (1)
Phillip Hughes: 2 matches, 4 innings, 231 runs, HS 86, Avg 115.50, 50s (3)
Shane Watson: 2 matches, 2 innings, 199 runs, HS 109, Avg 99.50, 100s (1), 50s (1)
Ed Cowan: 2 matches, 4 innings, 141 runs, HS 58, Avg 35.25, 50s (1)
Steven Smith: 1 match, 2 innings, 111 runs, HS 68*, Avg 111.00, 50s (1)
Chris Rogers: 1 match, 2 innings, 101 runs, HS 75, Avg 50.50, 50s (1)
Usman Khawaja: 1 match, 2 innings, 100 runs, HS 73, Avg 50.00, 50s (1)
Brad Haddin: 2 matches, 2 innings, 90 runs, HS 52*, Avg 90.00, 50s (1)

Michael Clarke is a vital component to our side. Besides his sublime form dating back to 2011, he is the anchor of this side and a century in the final innings of our tour match against Worcestershire highlighted this. Ricky Ponting was targeted in the 2010/11 Ashes series and we saw how it put us into ruins with a leader not performing and being picked out innings in, innings out by the opposition.

Graeme Swann - an outspoken but well grounded spin bowler - has made a public statement of this common knowledge regarding Clarke. It will be immense pressure for Clarke in the middle, so Darren Lehmann's tactical move to pull Clarke away from a number of duties required during Mickey Arthur's time as coach is brilliant to say the least.

Clarke had a lack of competitive cricket heading into our preparations after his back ordeals, which also brought about a very real and serious leadership crisis in our team. Despite the frustrations being off the field and the burden of exhaustive leadership responsibilities, he came out strongly with gradual signs of improvement with additional time in the middle. Clarke is our key player, but this can be further emphasised and enhanced should our opening duo of Chris Rogers and Shane Watson come out tops.

For too long Clarke has fought a lonesome battle. The change up the top of the order will be a massive boost in terms of experience and technique both Rogers and Watson can deliver, beyond that of Ed Cowan and David Warner. Rogers and Watson have been confirmed and have both looked good so far as a unified opening duo.

Miracles cannot be expected from Rogers and Watson, but there is a good dynamic at play between the two batsmen and it will bring a similar characteristic to the successful partnership Watson had with Simon Katich. One player the crisp attacker, the other the cautious traditionalist.

With Clarke at number four, this brings me to the all important number three role. This is essential for the Ashes in the likely event our opening duo will have one or two short-lived stays. Clarke needs someone to help see off the new ball, but impose himself upon the English attack. This is something Ricky Ponting was able to do so unbelievably well. Hashim Amla (South Africa) and Jonathan Trott (England) have this ability too and it is something we lack.

Ed Cowan is not, in my opinion, the ideal guy for this job but is one of the main contenders for it. Performances from him in the middle may tell a different story in the unforeseen future, but right now his temperament, character with the bat in hand and form doesn't suggest he has that ability to impose himself or be bold enough at the number three position, but he could certainly try and reinvent the role to his own style.

True, it is just a number and this position can be just like an opening role if an opener falls in the first over or two (something Cowan has done), but it does carry a psychological tag players are aware of. The scoreboard only enhances it.

Phillip Hughes, David Warner and Usman Khawaja stand out to me as the obvious other players for this role. There is a catch for each of them though, which does boost Cowan's case given the amount of cricket he has been playing, along with experience in an opening capacity.

Hughes has had a brilliant start to his tour following a shocking Champions Trophy. This is the form that counts now though and it is encouraging to see how he held his own in a middle order position. Therefore, would it make sense to get him into the number three role? Hughes has said he will bat anywhere and adapt to the role, expected words from a confident batsman but is this best for the team given his impression has been notable in the middle order capacity?

David Warner has been given time in the middle outside of match hours due to a ban until the first Ashes Test. Darren Lehmann and Michael Clarke have sounded keen to give Warner a run due to his confidently aggressive temperament with the blade in hand, but is that fair on the players who haven't lacked discipline off the field and have put in performances during these warm-up matches?

The Root incident is now a thing of the past though, and since Lehmann stepped in Warner has reportedly been showing up to practices on time and working hard. The discipline is there, the fierce determination is there but will that alone be enough? He is a strong candidate to play in the number three position as he can definitely make a massive impression, mostly that imposing impact Ricky Ponting mastered!

Usman Khawaja's half-century against South Africa in 2011 at The Wanderers is still fresh in my mind and I admired his application during that innings - a reason I believe he is good enough to develop into a specialist role.

His move to Queensland would have boosted his ability against swing bowling but even now he's only had one warm-up match this tour, which reports state did showcase some good form. Is he fully match fit for the number three role? I don't mean "match fit" as in physical fitness, but will he be psychologically prepared for the taunts and pressure in this role in an Ashes clash in England? This fear will either drive him or defeat him. Lehmann will have a gut feeling on this and only Khawaja will know if he can perform under these challenging circumstances well before his technique is tested.

Steven Smith has likely secured a middle order role either with Hughes, Khawaja, Cowan or Warner. The likelihood of him taking the number three role is unlikely, so the chance to work in the middle order and team up with Brad Haddin should be good. Smith has definitely come a long way since his torrid Ashes series in Australia and his performances in India showcased the growth of a young man stepping up when the team was in a shambles. I am backing his selection for the first Test. He will face the same big stage battle Khawaja may endure.


James Pattinson: 1 match, 29 overs, 7 wickets, Avg 16.71
Mitchell Starc: 1 match, 29.1 overs, 6 wickets, Avg 12.33
James Faulkner: 2 matches, 57.1 overs, 6 wickets, Avg 28.66
Jackson Bird: 1 match, 43 overs, 4 wickets, Avg 25.25
Ryan Harris: 1 match, 40 overs, 4 wickets, Avg 31.25
Nathan Lyon: 1 match, 42 overs, 4 wickets, Avg 37.00
Ashton Agar: 1 match, 50 overs, 3 wickets, Avg 55.00
Peter Siddle: 1 match, 27 overs, 1 wicket, Avg 117.00

The bowling line-up will depend whether Lehmann takes in a heavily loaded bowling attack, which would likely include all-rounder James Faulkner, or whether it will be a higher concentration of batsmen, therefore making it three pace bowlers and a spinner, with Watson or Faulkner in for bowling duties.

James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc seem to be certainties for the match. Starc, while erratic at times, does give the left arm option to vary it up. He can swing the ball but hopefully not too much too soon, something which handicapped Ben Hilenhaus. If Starc gets his line right with the swing in a controlled capacity he will be a handful for the English batsmen.

James Faulkner's position will depend as to whether the extra bowling all-rounder is needed. Therefore the battle will be between Ryan Harris and Jackson Bird for the third place I reckon. Harris has the experience, Bird has the height and made a slightly greater impression in the warm-up matches. Harris' fitness for a full game continues to be a worry but I am tempted to be boosting for him to be in there for that experience.

Peter Siddle is a great bowler on tracks which have the opportunity to exploit good bounce through hard work. For these English conditions though I don't see him making the starting XI, especially Trent Bridge. Tall, natural swing bowlers with express pace will be better suited. Nathan Lyon deserves his place in the starting XI and will play ahead of Ashton Agar, who is getting good exposure to all things Test cricket this tour.

It's going to be a tough decision to name this starting XI for the opening Test of the 2013 Ashes, but the good news is that strong performances leading up to this match has increased the competition and with Lehmann on board performances will be everything. There will be no passengers and this should ensure that whoever puts on the Baggy Green cap for this match will be ready to play with immense determination, focus and pride to perform and stay in the side as they graft to win back the urn.

What is your starting XI for Australian the first Test?

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Daryl said...

Great roundup of the team possibilities Ian! Really enjoyed it.

The starting XI at Trentbridge is a topic a lot of people have been talking about. I was initially concerned about the fact that selecting the eleven players was still difficult and that there were a number of positions up for grabs. You could've selected England's team 12 months ago and been pretty accurate. But the Aussie team is still a mystery (but not for much longer!)

I know see the uncertainty as a good thing - we have an exciting squad who are hitting their straps at the right time, so everyone has a chance and they will be super focussed on performance once they walk out onto the ground on Wednesday.

As for the team:

Watson and Rogers are obviously opening - and I'm excited about that opening pair.

1st drop is a difficult one - Hughes, Warner or Khawaja? All three would perform well in the middle order, but number 3? I'm not sure. Definitely not Cowan.

Clarke and Haddin are our leaders, so of course they are in, and I like the thought of Smith supporting them - but maybe Warner down the order is a more exciting prospect.

As for the bowlers - I get the impression that Siddle will play and I think that is a good thing. He's an important leader of the bowling unit and with his experience, he can get the best out of the less experienced bowlers.

Pattinson will play and it appears Starc will also, although I'm leaning towards Bird to be honest. Starc can be dangerous, but only if he is on target and we can't afford to leak too many runs. I liken Bird to a Terry Alderman or Glenn McGrath type bowler - wicket to wicket - and swinging. I'd add Faulkner in as our leftie. Lyon is definitely our front line bowler and I'm hoping he bags a Michelle Pfieffer in the second innings for us.

My final view is below, but I'm still toying with fitting Warner in there somewhere - maybe for Khawaja or Faulkner.

Rogers, Watson, Hughes, Clarke, Khawaja, Haddin, Faulkner, Pattinson, Siddle, Bird, Lyon.

Unknown said...

Good article Ian.

I'm still no closer to working out who should be 3. It's a tough one. Would rather Smith than Warner at this stage at 5 or 6 just because he is actually a middle order bat and is far more likely to be successful against Swann. Swann loves lefties.

Ian said...

Ashes day is here guys!

Our question mark over the number three spot will be answered.

Thank you for your opinions, I enjoyed reading them.

Darryl, you may be right on Siddle. I wasn't big on his selection but it looks like he will be given the spear to get out there and have a go at England.

Starting XI is close. Contest will be between Khawaja and Cowan. Lefties in the middle order will work for Swann, so lets see if Smith is worked in there tactically.

Here we go!