Thursday, 26 February 2009

Captaincy and the art of batting

I write at lunchtime on day one of the fourth Test at Barbados and the Test Match Special team is busy admiring the change in Andrew Strauss’ batting. The consensus that the captaincy has brought a new dynamism to his strokeplay is hard to disagree with, which again poses the question of how captaincy affects the form of batsmen.

This issue is topical given the recent runscoring feats of skippers Mahela Jayawardene and Younis Khan (although the conditions they encountered at the Karachi National Stadium means their high scores can hardly be attributed to the responsibility of captaincy).

The sustained good form of Ricky Ponting and Graeme Smith since taking on their respective captaincy roles is more telling. Of course both are top class batsmen, but there is little doubt leadership brings the best out of their batting.

Indeed, most current international skippers seemed to have improved their output since taking charge, but statistics tell only part of the story.

Strauss’ transformation from shot-restricted accumulator to fluent stroke-maker is the most marked change of style, perhaps along with MS Dhoni and Chris Gayle’s transformation in the other direction.

Full analysis of Strauss’ new dominating approach when in charge should be delayed until he faces tougher attacks on spicier pitches, but his productivity when he stood-in as skipper in 2006 suggests he likes to lead from the front.

That wish to set an example is what unites all captains, which means the responsibility of leadership often exaggerates players’ individual traits. Mike Atherton and Steve Waugh became more stubborn; Ponting seeks to dominate even more; Jayawardene is fuller of concentration.

It doesn’t always work out that way. The responsibility of captaincy can often weigh heavily, with the implications of bad form exacerbated by the duty of leadership. Atherton at times appeared consumed by his status as most prized wicket by the opposition, whilst Nasser Hussain and Mark Taylor, who generally revelled as their teams’ figureheads, endured horror runs that brought their place in the team into question.

All England supporters hope Strauss stays in the productive captaincy category. He has just lofted Sulieman Benn for six to reach a century in consecutive Tests, suggesting we might have to wait for the introspective spell that threatens most batting captains.

Written by Philip Oliver, an online sports writer who blogs about Test match cricket.

Monday, 23 February 2009

England in WI - ratings so far

These are my views on the England squad at the halfway point of the West Indies tour.

In credit

Strauss - big captain's knock and handling a difficult dressing room with maturity. Also impressed with his comments to the press, and the themes he is picking up on (personal responsibility and re-learning how to win) - good common sense stuff which the England bubble has been lacking recently.

Collingwood - 3 hundreds in 6 games. People need to stop talking about dropping him now, and not even think about starting again until after the Ashes.

Broad - our best bowler on the tour so far, and finding some form again with the bat.

Swann - showing us what we missed when Ashley Giles retired. Not a special talent, but uses everything in his armoury to achieve the desired effect, and has the guts and desire to go with it.

Prior - despite a torrid first innings of the 3rd Test, he is doing enough with the bat and the gloves to stay a fixture. And he seems to have got rid of that obnoxious cockiness which made everyone hate him after the jelly bean debacle.

KP - obviously.


Sidebottom - nagging accuracy, but needs to get his pace back up to be a threat again to get into a team oversupplied with stock bowlers.

Harmison - hasn't been wayward, and soldiered on when unfit when he might previously have retired to his hotel room for a week. But he is a strike bowler, and doesn't have the haul of wickets to back that up.

Flintoff - Not a Test 6, and needs to take more wickets with the ball. Responsibility has hampered both - he should be a free-hitting 7 or 8 and kill 'em or get 'em out strike bowler rather than what he has become.

Rashid - some sparks of promise in tour games, but nothing show-stopping either way.


Cook - seriously, getting out in the fifties has to stop. Particularly because they are slow, "let's put my roots down" fifties. May yet be the one to make way if Vaughan puts some runs together.

Bell - more pretty forties in the tour games, no argument about being dropped.

Panesar - looks to have got the yips, in that he seems too scared to toss it up when people start hitting him. Badly needs his confidence back, and county cricket seems the obvious place to find it.

Anderson - his career looks to be going backwards again, after a summer where he suggested he had finally arrived. May be that (like Harmison) he's a home pitch bowler only.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Forgotten how to win

Have England simply forgotten how to win? It has now been over five months since they won an international game, during which time they have been humiliated by the Stanford Twenty20 (now more than once), crashed to a 5-0 ODI defeat in India and been beaten by an innings by the West Indies.

After establishing a position of such overwhelming superiority in this game, what prevented England from finishing the job off?

Clearly Ramnaresh Sarwan (perhaps in the form of his life) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul are two exceptional batsmen with the skill to save games against considerably better attacks. While some thought the pitch would break up, it did no such thing, and remained excellent to bat on throughout. And the West Indies have finally developed real disciple and resilience. There is no better indicator of this than Daren Powell. His shot selection in England in 2007 was appalling; here he batted with immense responsbility and great powers of concentration in both innings.

As well as West Indian skill, England were hampered by bad luck. Had the referral system been in place, Ryan Hinds would have been dismissed for a duck in the first inning, rather than survive for an-hour-and-a-half. The injury to Andrew Flintoff was also unfortunate in the extreme. But it does not look like his Test career can conceivably extend far beyond the next Ashes series. And since his return, for all the talk of him being a perennially unlucky bowler, his statistics make for sobering reading. He averages 24 and 32; but the wrong way round for a Test match number six.

More would have been hoped for from both James Anderson and Steve Harmison. There must be a temptation to draft in Amjad Khan for the next Test, with his ability to reverse-swing the old ball. With hindsight, England would probably have won this Test had they had Monty Panesar in place of either Anderson or Harmison.

In the end, it fell to the two least experienced bowlers (in terms of Test caps) to valiantly try and enforce victory. Both Stuart Broad and, especially, Graeme Swann were exceptional. Few areas of their side are currently functioning, but having Broad and Swann at eight and nine in the next Ashes could be a source of great strength for England. Swann, bowling with all the off-spinner's tools bar the doosra, has surely consigned Panesar to second in the England spin queue for the foreseeable future.

England puffed and they huffed but ultimately they weren't quite good (or lucky) enough. They are a team who have forgotten how to win.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Stanford fallout

It has led to widespread mutterings of ‘I told you so’, but what will the effect of Sir Allen Stanford’s arrest and subsequent enforced pull-out from cricket actually be? Will the ECB have more to contend with than wiping egg from its face and has West Indian cricket really been dealt a devastating blow?

ECB chairman Giles Clarke has been quick to underplay the significance of recent events. The Stanford 20/20 for Twenty millionaire match and its proposed replacement, an annual quadrangular tournament at Lord’s, were apparently bonus events, outside of the ECB’s budgetary process.

However, Stanford was also due to have a presence in the English domestic Twenty20 revamp and it is widely thought that the ECB threw their hat into the Stanford ring in order to develop a rival power base to India’s Twenty20 development and expansion.

English cricket faces an uncertain Twenty20 future, but it is at least guaranteed a future. West Indies are in a different position and their administrators are left contemplating the speed in which things can change – the optimism generated by the stunning win at Jamaica has given way to humiliation caused by the Sir Vivian Richards stadium fiasco and panic by the Stanford furore.

The financial implications in the Caribbean of the cancellation of the domestic Stanford 20/20 are too early to gauge – the Trinidad and Tobago board has already estimated a reduction in income of $195,000 – but an effect on the pitch will almost certainly be seen.

A reduced cash injection will have an impact further down the line on the infrastructure, marketing and development of the game, but we will perhaps imminently see a slowing in the West Indies team’s improvement.

The unity, professionalism and application that was at the fore of Chris Gayle’s Stanford Superstars win over England has transferred to the national team and whilst the impact of coach John Dyson should not be underestimated, West Indies’ recent development is an indirect consequence of Stanford’s financial contribution.

The Stanford 20/20 tournament in West Indies has been a great success and has made international players of Lionel Baker and Sulieman Benn. It gives West Indies players a foot-up on the ladder of career development and its cancellation will undoubtedly make the unearthing of talent in the Caribbean more difficult.

A contingency plan is needed if the effect of West Indies’ Sabina Park win is not to be negated. It is hoped that the WICB did not rely too heavily on the input of a billionaire businessman for the development of cricket in the region, although they should note the success a fresh approach can generate.

Written by Philip Oliver, an online sports writer who blogs about Twenty20 cricket.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Looking ahead to the end of the decade

A look at the players who have dominated the past decade of Test cricket and those who will feature in a similar retrospective 10 years from now.

The last year of the first decade of the 21st century has begun in much the same way as the first year of the millennium did.

Ricky Ponting and Muttiah Muralitharan are churning out runs and wickets like they were early in 2000 and West Indies had just skittled out an opponent in apparent terminal decline at Jamaica (although Zimbabwe managed exactly twice what England recently managed in their second innings collapse at Sabina Park in March 2000).

Much has also changed in the intervening years. There is a new distinct format of the game, umpiring decisions are being made using a TV monitor and Australia’s grip on the number one ranking is now as weak as it was strong at the beginning of the decade.

Which players have shaped this decade of cricket? Ponting and Muralitharan are guaranteed to be the most statistically successful players – respective Test batting and bowling averages of 60.97 and 19.82 since the beginning of 2000 should belong to another era. Only Jacques Kallis and Glenn McGrath have come close to matching those numbers.

Makhaya Ntini is the second highest Test wicket taker of the decade so far, thanks largely to his longevity. The South African paceman has played 92 Tests, more than anyone in the top 10 of the 2000s wicket taking charts – Muralitharan, Brett Lee, Harbhajan Singh and Chaminda Vaas’ careers have also spanned the decade.

Rahul Dravid, fourth behind Ponting (95 matches), Matthew Hayden (96) and Kallis (96) in the run charts, has played every single one of India’s 97 Tests of the decade, a record that he looks like preserving until the end of the year thanks to his career-saving ton against England at Mohali in December.

Matthew Hoggard is the only Englishman to feature in either top 10, despite England so far playing 116 Tests this decade, 13 more than Australia (six players) or South Africa (four), 19 more than India (four) and 30 more than Sri Lanka (four). Brian Lara is the only West Indian to feature.

Of the batting and bowling top 10, only Graeme Smith and Harbhajan Singh started their careers after 2000, which suggests the most successful players of the next decade will already be in their national teams by the end of this year.

South Africa’s steady recent improvement is partly due to the performances of players who have plenty of service left in them such as Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. Ajantha Mendis might be safe bet to be the top wicket taker of the 2010s.

However, the most successful players of the decade 10 years from now might feature some Englishman - Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Monty Panesar are apparently safe from the drop and are young enough to be going strong in 2019. The calls for their axing will be deafening by then…

Written by Philip Oliver, an online sports writer for Betfair – check them out for Grand National betting odds.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Test umpiring reaches a new low

The First Test between West Indies and England at Sabina Park witnessed many humilations, including England succumbing to their third lowest Test innings total of all time. Yet, the match should also be remembered for some of the worst Test umpiring ever seen, as the elite panel showed once again why it is the most inappropriately named unit in cricket.

With an array of technology at his disposal and newly agreed rules and procedures on referrals, Daryl Harper decided to go his own way. When asked to adjudicate on an lbw decision against Ramnaresh Sarwan he ignored the need for irrefutable evidence. Instead he told on-field umpire Tony Hill that there was doubt about the decision, putting Hill in an impossible situation - the kind of situation the new referral system was designed to avoid. This confusion led to the lbw being wrongly overturned. Just to prove it was no fluke, later in the innings Harper watched several television replays of Daren Powell clearly missing the ball, only to confirm the on-field decision that he was caught behind.

One could be generous and say that he was muddled up with the new rules and regulations, that he was caught up in the moment, using his honed instincts instead of following the correct procedure. However, the man is a professional umpire. He is paid to undertsand the laws of cricket and all the rules relating to umpiring both on and off the field. It seems that the Daryl Harper that sits in the third umpire's seat is no better than the one that officiates on the field.

Which brings us to Tony Hill, one of the two on-field umpires. Now it is true that he was brought in at the last minute because the umpire who was supposed to stand could not get his visa sorted out in time, which shows that the elite panel are as organised as they are competent, yet Hill was deemed fit to stand in a Test match. What followed was an embarassment of poor decisions, many of which were overturned by the referral system, which seemed at times to be there purely to show poor Mr Hill up.

If this had been an isolated match, riddled with poor decisions because of the new referral system, then it might be fair to let the matter pass and move on to the usual high standard of umpiring. But this is simply not the case. Over the last twenty five years watching Test cricket I have witnessed consistently poor levels of umpiring. Many of these went unnoticed before the days of multiple television replays and serious media scrutiny. But now the evidence just continues to accumulate.

Whether it be high profile decisions like those in the Australia v India series last year or England v Pakistan at the Oval in 2006, or just the run of the mill poor decisions that get made in every match, does not really matter. what does is that Test umpiring is poor and the elite panel has done nothing to alleviate the problem. The referral system, despite being poorly applied at Sabina Park, is the way forward. The use of more and better technology must be introduced to reduce the high number of errors. It may take a long time, but a system will eventually emerge that allows Test matches to be played with minimal wrong decisions and where the result is purely a matter of which team plays better.

What a grand debacle

Of all England's humiliations - and heaven knows, there have been a few over the years - their innings humbling by the West Indies must certainly figure prominently. This is rapidly becoming the ultimate Winter of Discontent. England have still not won an international fixture since they jetted off for the Stanford Series.

Australia may have slipped sharply of late, but England are increasingly the laughing stocks of world cricket; this was, of course, their first Test since they managed to rid themselves of a captain and coach simultaneously.

Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower said all the right things about increased player responsbility for match preparation, but yet again deeds failed to match words. There are few things more dispiriting in sport than the England batting collapse; here, England produced another timeless classic. It was at once unbelievable and inevitable, just as when they were bowled out for 81 in Sri Lanka 14 months ago. Considering the differences in the opposition, and the fact they finished 30 runs adrift of even that paltry total, this was in a different level alltogether. A collective failure of spirit? Or, perhaps more worryingly, of skill?

England have won only two away Tests in three years - both against a depleted New Zealand side (and even then after being thrashed in the opening Test, scene of another collapso special). A year ago, the bowlers took the blame for a batting collapse, as Harmison and Hoggard were ditched. Whilst it is clear that the bowling of Monty Panesar has become as cliched as Shane Warne's line about him having played the same Test 30-odd times, and his spark has vanished, the seamers essentially performed well enough. Graeme Swann must play in the next Test but the bigger faults, as for so long, lie in the batting departement.

Those projected mainstays of the England batting line-up for the next half-dozen years, Alastair Cook and Ian Bell, have regressed horribly in the last twelve months. Cook is a particularly problematic case; he is barely 24 and has already scored centuries in Australia, India and Sri Lanka, yet appears fatigued and incapable of capitalising when he gets in. But England have no other options in the Caribbean. Bell's is a different case, however. He has played 46 Test matches - and is he any better now than before number one? If Warne's line on Panesar is increasingly becoming the definitive word on the left-arm spinner, so Stuart Law's words on Bell - "that timid little creature" - ring true too. Time for England to send Bell back to county cricket, a season of which could yet toughen him up. Owais Shah, outstanding for England in recent ODIs, should have been handed a run in the side away to Sri Lanka - but now is better than never.

Excuses will be made in the shape of the dressing-room politics at the turn of the year. Yet the reality is England had this coming to them, just as they did in Hamilton 11 months ago. A few changes will help, and England must establish they are prepared to be ruthless with batsmen as well as bowlers. Strauss will need all his captaincy skills to get England out of this one.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Australian Summer Ratings (Test)

With the home summer nearly over, it's time to rank this season's Australians in both test and ODI cricket. While some players have starred, such as Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson, others have faltered in the heat and let Australia down at a time of need, such as Brett Lee and Matthew Hayden. As Australia lost its mantle of undisputed champions, some stood up and others sat back and failed. So just like the ever common England ratings, here is the Aussie ratings by your resident Aussie:

Test Season:
Matthew Hayden: 4/10 - Most people are well aware that Hayden had a woeful season, with only a few decent innings. Retirement was well advised, and in the end Hayden decided he would not recover and did so. The opener, once the best in the world, struggled both physically and mentally, and seemed to have forgotten how to build an innings.

Simon Katich: 8/10 - Katich was one of the summer's stars, amassing runs consistently and looking in control throughout. Against South Africa in times of need he was one of the Aussies' best. The one thing that was disappointing was a lack of big scores, with a lot of scores ending in the 60-80 range, but overall it was a great revival of the talented batsman's once tattered career, filling the openers' position expertly.

Ricky Ponting: 7/10 - Ponting started and finished the season on a good note, with his maiden century in India and a stunning display of leadership, scoring a century and a 99 in the same match in Melbourne, but in both matches he was not enough to win the game for Australia and as a whole it was not Ponting's best. Having said that, despite a form slump in the middle, Ponting stood up when required and his numbers were not as poor as they might have seemed.

Michael Hussey: 5.5/10 - Hussey endured first real form slump of his short but decorated career, backing up a good tour of India with a poor home summer, scoring less runs than Hayden against South Africa. His tour of India saved his rating to an extent, but overall it was a poor showing from the man many call Mr. Cricket.

Michael Clarke: 9/10 - Clarke was stunning all year, picking up a century in India, and then some more big scores against New Zealand and South Africa. Clarke's maturity soared since being named vice captain, and his performances were calm and controlled, something the once very aggressive youngster would never have dreamed of. He saved many an Australian innings and announced himself truly in the game's elite batsmen.

Andrew Symonds: 4.5/10 - Following a breakthrough season against India just a year ago in which Symonds belted run after run, the all-rounder's performances were weak all summer. It started badly for Symonds after he was suspended from the tour of India after going fishing instead of attending a team session, and he picked up just one 50 all summer when he returned to the side. Symonds' career now appears in tatters with another controversy, and this will be remembered as a season to forget for the burly all-rounder.

Brad Haddin: 6.5/10 - Haddin started the season with a mediocre tour of India which included sloppy glovework and poor batting, but when he returned home he found form picking up a pair of centuries and his keeping improved along with it. It was a good sign of things to come for Haddin, and Australia will be hoping he can continue his late form into the new year.

Brett Lee: 5/10 - Like Symonds, Lee started 2008/09 in the form of his life, and also like Symonds, his form dropped immediately. A weak showing in India was followed by a good test against New Zealand, but his work against South Africa was below mediocre, as Lee's ability to penetrate and trouble batsmen seems to be disappearing with his speed. With an injury ending a forgettable year for Lee, it seems that his test career could be in serious danger, as selectors will be taking a huge gamble to play him for the Ashes with no cricket in several months beforehand.

Mitchell Johnson: 9/10 - Johnson and Clarke were Australia's two standout "comers of age", as Johnson was one of Australia's few half decent bowlers in India, but he stepped up further against New Zealand, with a scintillating 7 wicket spell being the highlight, and he turned into Ponting's go-to man against South Africa, further enhancing his development with 3 more great tests. Johnson looks to be Australia's new spearhead, and will need to stay fit as a large workload will be on his plate now with Lee and Clark gone for a while.

Stuart Clark: 6.5/10 - It is hard to criticise Clark's season as most of it was injury interrupted. He only played a couple of tests in India and they were not his best, although the injury no doubt played a part in this. With Clark missing the tour of South Africa, Australia will be hoping he is fit for the Ashes, or they will be in serious trouble in the bowling stocks.

Peter Siddle: 7.5/10 - Siddle's debut season was spectacular. He played his first test in tough conditions, against India in India, but he announced himself onto the scene with a team-high of 4 wickets for the match. While Clark's return from injury saw Siddle back out of the team, his being forced out was Siddle's chance once again, and while he bowled poorly in the first test against South Africa at the WACA, he redeemed himself ripping through the South African lineup in a great spell in front of his home crowd which put Australia in a winning position (which they squandered), and went one better at the SCG. Overall it was a great showing for the 24 year old, who will figure as a major option for the future.

Nathan Hauritz: 7/10 - Hauritz was considered an unglamorous and defensive option from the selectors, but he proved effective at stemming the run flow, and picked up wickets at the same time. While he does not seem a great long term option as a test spinner, he performed his role well and has been picked in the squad for the tour of South Africa.

Jason Krejza: 7/10 - Krejza's first test has been well documented as one of the most successful debuts of all time, as he picked up 12 wickets against India, the self proclaimed kings of playing spin, but the Tasmanian off spinner found himself out of the team for the first test at home due to no need for a spinner, and when he was ready to play his second test he found himself injured. When he finally did get a second chance, the Aussies dropped him after a match which wielded too many runs and not enough wickets. He now finds himself in the outer once again, with Hauritz and Bryce McGain the two choices for the tour of South Africa.

Shane Watson: 7/10 - Watson had a successful tour of India with the ball, generally his weaker discipline, but he was Australia's second best seamer on the tour, and while his batting was not great, it was seen as Watson's breakthrough tour, but when Symonds returned from suspension he was once again relegated to playing for Queensland, and some good form put his name back into the ring until, as is often the case for Watson, injury struck at the worst of times. It was an encouraging although unspectacular year for him, but the selectors made a big mistake not cashing in on his better form.

Cameron White: 5.5/10 - White was picked as a specialist spinner in India, a surprise for all seeing as the man himself does not consider himself much of a bowler, but while his performances were not eye catching, he did not bowl too badly, and his (traditionally stronger) batting was serviceable too.

Andrew McDonald: 5.5/10 - McDonald made his debut when Symonds was forced out through injury and Watson was also unavailable, and the Victorian all rounder had a tough start to his career, his bowling was tight and disciplined but undamaging and his batting was fairly weak. Some great domestic performances ensured he survived the cut for the tour of SA, but McDonald will need to improve to be called test standard.

Doug Bollinger: 5.5/10 - Like McDonald, Bollinger played one test at the SCG, and bowled reasonably well, but (perhaps unluckily) failed to pick up enough victims to be called a success. He is in the squad for SA, so he will be hoping another opportunity will be given, and that he will be able to capitalise.

ODI ratings to come at the conclusion of the New Zealand series.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Don't kill the goose...

The ECB must be wary in its handling of the development of Twenty20 cricket in England.

The news that the ECB have shelved plans for an EPL – an English Premier League – is welcome. However, it is only a step in the right direction, as the administrators remain committed to introducing another major Twenty20 competition.

The success and popularity of the newest form of the game is to be applauded and embraced, but governing boards around the world must be aware that they run the risk of overkill in their bid to squeeze every drop of profit out of the format.

If England is to have its own version of the Indian Premier League, then it must be distinct from the county system. The original EPL proposals, for 18 counties and two new teams, would leave supporters confused who had just watched the 18 counties contest the Twenty20 cup.

A scaled-down EPL of two divisions of nine with promotion and relegation does little to alleviate this confusion; aside form having four overseas players rather than two and two divisions rather than three, the new competition will act as little more than a re-run of the Twenty20 cup.

The maintenance of the county structure in a new Twenty20 competition is of course largely due to the counties’ instinct of self-preservation – and who can blame them from wanting to be part of the biggest ever domestic money-spinner when they are constantly under pressure to merge or disband – but a second English Twenty20 tournament needs to take the IPL’s lead.

The IPL is a cricket circus, based in big cities with big name players and funded by big money. It can be argued that India maintains the rebel Indian Cricket League alongside the IPL, but the pre-eminence of the big tournament is clear and unchallenged.

An EPL – or P20 as it is now rumoured to be called – would struggle to rapidly outgrow the successful Twenty20 cup and would suffer in comparison with the IPL and possibly any new Twenty20 tournaments that will inevitably spring up around the world.

A shortage of funds would make the attraction of the star names, who had already lined their pockets in India, difficult. MS Dhoni is unlikely to be as desperate to play in England as Kevin Pietersen is to in India.

Now that Giles Clarke is guaranteed a second term as ECB chairman, it must be hoped that he oversees a proper review of England’s Twenty20 plans. He has surely learnt from the mistakes of the dash for cash that was the Stanford Super Series; if not we are in danger of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Written by Philip Oliver, an online sports writer for Betfair - check them out when making a Cheltenham bet.

Australia's Ashes Ladder

Given that an English Ashes ladder was complied, it's only fair that an Australian one is also done. The same rules apply - each player has been ranked according to who is most likely to play in the series, from most likely to 25th.

1) Ricky Ponting
With the bat, Ponting has been in irresistible form. Despite the fact, the same thing can't be said about his captaincy, there is no way Ponting won't be the first person selected.

2) Michael Clarke
The guy they call Pup has turned into the Big Dog. In 2008, he scored 1,063 runs at 51. Not only a key batsman, he is a handy bowler and fantastic fielder in possession of a great cricket brain. He will be primed for a big one after averaging just 37 in the 2005 Ashes.

3) Stuart Clark
His reputation may have faded a bit due to being sidelined for most of the Australian summer but there is no doubt that if healthy he is one of the first guys picked. He will be relentless on the English batsmen.

4) Mitchell Johnson
He became the spearhead of the Australian attack in the absence of Brett Lee and Stuart Clark. Had it not been for the Queenslander, it may have been even uglier against South Africa. The left-armer provides much needed variety to the Australian attack.

5) Brad Haddin
Being the successor to Adam Gilchrist was never going to be easy and after a slow start, Haddin has found his feet at Test level. He smashed 169 against New Zealand and then followed it up with a good series against South Africa. Gilchrist averaged 45 against England so they will be more than relieved to see the back of him. Saying this, they shouldn't underestimate Haddin.

6) Simon Katich
With Matthew Hayden gone, Katich becomes the senior opener. Since his return to the side after a three year absence, he has been nothing but exceptional amassing 1129 runs at 56. He will be another player keen to atone for the 2005 series.

7) Michael Hussey
It's no coincidence that Australia's recent losses to South Africa and India coincided with Hussey being off the boil. He is a still plank in Australia's middle order and will be hopeful of being able to return to his form from the last Ashes series where he averaged 92.

8) Brett Lee
Lee has had a difficult 12 months. He's had to shoulder more of the load since the retirement of Glenn McGrath, he's been dealing with the break-up of his marriage and he has struggled with injury. In 2008, Lee bowled 580 overs, some 200 more than his previous highest for a year. One whose experience will be much-needed if Australia wants to take 20 wickets.

9) Phil Jaques
If healthy, he would have the inside running to replace Matthew Hayden. Averages 47 in Test cricket and has the benefit of knowing the English conditions as well as anyone due to all his years spent playing county cricket.

10) Bryce McGain
He was Australia's Number One spinner until a shoulder injury sent him to the back of the line. Fortunately for him none of the alternatives in Jason Krejza, Cameron White and Nathan Hauritz look like they would prevent him from being in the team should he be fit. No doubt his age is a concern as is his lack of experience at this level.

11) Andrew Symonds
When it comes to Andrew Symonds there are a lot of ifs but there is no doubt that he has the talent and class to be in Australia's First XI. He has the X-factor which makes him such a dangerous cricketer and he can bob up anywhere be it with the bat, ball or in the field. Ponting wants him in the team, the question is, how much does Symonds really want to be there?

12) Phil Hughes
Hughes is the next cab off the rank as far as up and coming Australian cricketers. He has steadily been making runs with some pressing for him to have replaced Matthew Hayden in Sydney. Will be ready and waiting should one of the Top 6 falter.

13) Shaun Tait
Seems as though Tait has been around for a long time but yet has only played in three Test matches. He made his debut in the 2005 Ashes series where he played the last two Tests and then was out of the team for over two years due to injuries and problems with his temperament. His selection is a gamble because you don't know what you are going to get but if everything clicks he is a matchwinner.

14) Shane Watson
If he was fit there is no doubt he would be in the team. The problem is that he hasn't been which is why guys like Anthony McDonald have been picked to play for Australia. Was Australia's best bowler in India and just when it looked like he was in the clear, he broke down against New Zealand. Most of the cricket betting is split on whether or not Watson has a long term future.

15) Jason Krejza
It's difficult to know what the selectors think of Krejza. He finally got to bowl in India and took 12 wickets on debut but these came at 358 runs. He played against South Africa at the WACA and again leaked runs although this time without the wickets to show for it. If there is a problem with McGain you would think Krejza would be next in line.

16) David Hussey
Has been apprenticed via the one-day team and has the benefit of knowing the English conditions well.

17) Marcus North
People out West weren't happy when Anthony McDonald was picked. They felt North was unlucky not to get the nod. North is an exceptional cricketer and would be a handy addition to the Australian team. A veteran of the county circuit.

18) Peter Siddle
Came from left field to tour India but has adapted reasonably well. Not a first team selection but adequate back-up

19) Doug Bollinger
Ditto with Bollinger. He will only play should injuries strike.

20) Ben Hilfenhaus
Was thought to be next in line for a bowling spot but then both Siddle and Bollinger sneaked by. A consistent performer for Tasmania, he would have no problem making the step-up.

21) Shaun Marsh
The son of Geoff has been groomed though the one-day side. Recently, David Warner has stolen much of his limelight but Marsh was the star of the inaugural Indian Premier League tournament.

22) Adam Voges
One of the young guns of Australian cricket who can do it all. Has been in the wings for a while and would not disappoint if selected.

23) Nathan Hauritz
For some reason, Hauritz remains in the calculations of the Australian selectors although it's baffling to know why. To go from Shane Warne to Hauritz is like going from a Ferrari to a picture of a car. Now and then he can bowl a good ball but I wouldn't be holding my breath.

24) Brad Hodge
It appears as though the selectors won't pick Brad Hodge but if there is a problem with one of the batsman, he should be recalled. Has never really done anything wrong while playing for Australia so his treatment seems quite bizarre.

25) David Warner
They may take him along for the ride of an Ashes Tour, but without having played a First Class match, it seems highly unlikely all the hype will translate into a Baggy Green. For those who fancy some Ashes betting, you may want to take the outstanding cricket odds you would get on Warner making his Test debut during the Ashes.

Bubbling under
Batsmen: Michael Klinger, Chris Rogers, Luke Pomersbach
Keepers: Luke Ronchi, Tim Paine
Bowlers: Dirk Nannes, Ryan Harris, Brett Geeves

David Wiseman is a sports journalist, who writes about cricket and tennis for Betfair Australia. He is particularly looking forward to the Ashes, and is keeping himself occupied with horse racing form until it begins.