Australia may have replaced South African Mickey Arthur as coach with their own man – Darren Lehmann. But that wouldn’t count for a lot when Australia take on England during the upcoming Ashes, since it would be the players who would have to make the difference out in the middle. What Lehmann can do though is try to instill a sense of confidence and positive energy around the side, which seemed to have been lost in Arthur’s era. Stuff like harsh punishment for players not during their ‘homework’ might not find a mention in Lehmann’s diary!
Despite the change in guard when it comes to the coach, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that this will be the weakest Australian side to take part in the Ashes in ages. Of course, they have lost the prestigious series in the recent past as well, but back then at least they had the likes of Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Mike Hussey, with their dwindling talents, to fall back on. This time, even Ponting and Hussey won’t be around, which means Australia will need something spectacular from their unheralded batsmen to make an impact.
Considering the lack of experience in the batting order, the role of skipper Michael Clarke with the bat will be that much more significant. Apart from being among the most experienced batsmen in the squad, he is also the most skillful of all, who can adapt his game according to any situation. While his leadership qualities are limited, Clarke can make a huge impact on the side as a batsman alone. That said, he would need good support from the other veterans as well. This Ashes will thus be Shane Watson’s biggest test as the team’s talisman.
The series will also be a very important one for David Warner in wake of his off-field antics during the Champions Trophy. The left-hander is no longer a rookie in the side, and must now begin to perform to potential. He has shown in the recent past that he can be a match winner. The Ashes will give Warner another opportunity to prove his capability. Australia would be hoping that he only makes news for on-field reasons, even if it is failures. There have been too many off the pitch controversies for this struggling Aussie outfit in the last few months.
Even as the experienced players will have to put their hands up, the contribution of the unheralded guys will be even more crucial since they form the crux of the side. The batting will be reliant on the likes of Phillip Hughes, Ed Cowan, Usman Khwaja and Matthew Wade. There are others as well who could get a look in. Steven Smith has impressed in phases while Chris Rogers, at the age of 35, has been recalled to the squad. It remains to be seen what they can offer.
In the bowling department, Peter Siddle will have to lead from the front. He will look for support from the likes of Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson. Also, there are guys like James Faulkner and Jackson Bird, who could prove to be surprise packages. Spin won’t be Australia’s forte, but against England Nathan Lyon and rookie Ashton Agar might turn out to be effective. In spite of the obvious talent in the Aussie side, their performance remains a question mark owing to the inexperience in the squad. Whether the tide turns around, only time will tell.
--By A Cricket Analyst