After mixed results in the World Cup ,which ended in a semifinal finish , Australia are now getting ready for the all important Ashes duel with England with plenty to play for, aiming for their first Ashes win on English soil since 2001. Hence ,the Ashes win in England is probably their bigger priority for them in this English summer. And they are not leaving any stone unturned , currently playing a four day match with their 24 ashes probables split into two teams in a quality dress rehearsal game at Southampton rather than depending on tour games against second rated teams. The final selection for the ashes series will happen after this game. However since the main core of players are expected to be the familiar names, let us have an overview of the possible team composition.
In batting , both David Warner and Steve Smith will be bracing themselves for their first test since the ball tampering fiasco, and both of them will be certainties with Usman Khawaja, currently nursing a hamstring injury since backend of the World cup. Both Smith and Warner will be subject to taunts from the crowd ,which they have been copping since World cup .Warner will be hoping to carry over his prolific form of the World cup and Smith , also has looked good in the World cup and hungry to score runs. While Khawaja is certain to take his spot after his recovery , possibly the other two middle order spots might get filled up by Travis Head and in form Mathew Wade. Head always looks a classy player but did not get those big scores in the India series which can impact matches, however he looks poised to be in the starting XI and so is Wade ,who enjoyed rich vein of form in last 18 months and thus the likes of Handscomb, Patterson, Pucovski may have to wait. Alex Carey, the reserve keeper after his stellar show in the World cup as a free stroking batsman might have an outside chance too since he has already played superbly in some tough matches and in some testing English conditions as well. The number six may feature one of Labuschagne (spin allrounder) or Mitch Marsh (pace allrounder) provided they feature in final squad which in all likelihood they will. Labuschagne in particular has shown his ability to bat if required higher in order and bowls decent leg spin.
With Tim Paine being the keeper and captain at number 7 , the hot contest will be for the opening spot to partner Warner and 3 candidates are vying for the same– Marcus Harris ,who had a decent test series vs India, Joe Burns ,who has scored runs whenever he turned up for Australia and Cameron Bancroft, back after his 9 month suspension for ball tampering. Bancroft has been scoring heavily since his return and has been playing county cricket in England and hence very well aware of the English conditions . Also Bancroft seem to have the more solid game out of the three and hence may well be the leading candidate to partner Warner.
The major issue which needs to be worked out by the Australian batting group is how to handle conditions favouring seam and swing as this has been their undoing in last Ashes in England in 2015 . The batting looked all at sea whenever confronted with swinging conditions with that 60 all out in one of the tests with Broad taking 8/15 must be still going through their minds. England’s best bowlers Anderson and Broad will be back in fray to join Woakes, Archer and Wood ,all of whom had quality World cups. Hence English bowling can be intimidating in their conditions. The only good news for Australian batters is that the series will be played in 2nd half of English summer which generally favours batting more.
The Australia bowling really looks intimidating with all the big names in the fray and fit. Starc had a good World cup ,though Cummins didnt but both are expected in starting XI with Jos Hazlewood as the probable 3rd seamer. Jos will be raring to go after his ommission (due to injury recovery ) from the World cup. Then there is James Pattinson ,finally creating hopes of a test recall should the selectors decide to rest Starc or Cummins for a while after their hectic World cup sojourn. Pattinson was one of the best young fast bowlers in 2011-12 season but broke down with injury issues and now he is back to stake a strong claim to break through in the final XI. With Jackson Bird and Michel Naser suitable for english conditions, the Aussie selectors seem to have a problem of plenty in bowling department. They are also trying to get young and talented Jhye Richardson to unleash him at the backend of the Ashes as he bowls natural outswing at pace. Richardson is currently recovering from his injury and could be a vital cog in already a strong Australian pace attack spoilt for riches.
Nathan Lyon should be the frontline spinner in the XI with Jon Holland could be the specialist leggie in the squad.
All in all it looks a good strong Australian team and if their main bowlers are fit and in form and their batters able to handle movement in the air and off the pitch , this should be a series to remember.