Ashes 2013: How Australia can counter England's challenge

Australia take on England in the first Test of The Ashes on July 10 at Trent Bridge © Getty Images

By Adrian Meredith

England are doing very well at the moment and, right now, their home advantage is second only to India. Australia are ranked below England in Tests anyway and even if it the Ashes were held in Down Under (which they will be soon), England would be favourites, or at least even money. This is going to be tough for England.
 
The good news for Australia is that England have announced their squad early. Granted it is a 13-man squad but with six batsmen, one wicketkeeper and six bowlers announced, we know who the batsmen and ‘keeper are. Indeed, you can pencil in Graeme Swann and James Anderson too. So that leaves four bowlers fighting for two spots. Stuart Broad will be favourite for one of those, but it is a bit of a toss-up whether they want the mercurial yet fragile Steven Finn, the reliable all-rounder Tim Bresnan or the unpredictable Graham Onions. Onions is probably the least likely to make it so then it is out of Finn or Bresnan. If England play safety first, then they would go with Bresnan but if they are worried about Australia’s batting then they would play Finn. With all of the chat about how weak Australia’s batting is, I expect that they will go with Bresnan.
 
England squad: Alastair Cook (c), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wk), Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan, Graham Onions.
 
Likely XI: Alastair Cook (c), Joe Root, Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, Jonny Bairstow, Matt Prior (wk), Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Tim Bresnan.
 
So how can Australia beat them?
 
Batting:
 
Cook is the main batsman, the English equivalent of Michael Clarke, who can handle any kind of bowlers in any conditions and it takes something mercurial to get him out. So who are Australia’s most mercurial bowlers? Mitchell Johnson for sure, but he isn’t in the squad, so the next best is Mitchell Starc. Not to mention that Cook doesn’t like left-handers. James Faulkner can also be pretty mercurial and, if he plays, is a good chance to get him. I don’t see the likes of Ryan Harris or Peter Siddle doing anything, nor Nathan Lyon. But James Pattinson might, and there is also a chance of Jackson Bird taking care of him. So probably Starc and Faulkner opening the bowling with Bird and Pattinson coming in to clean up is a good mix for taking care of Cook.
 
Root is a young batsman who is something of an unknown, but can be out cheaply to quality bowling. He also may not know too much about the more mercurial bowlers in Starc and Faulkner. Since these two are the opening batsmen, it makes sense for Australia to open with Starc and Faulkner. Pattinson and Bird are also a good chance, as they are real quality. Having one of either Siddle or Harris to clean up would be ideal too. With Harris having injury concerns, Siddle may get the nod but with Siddle so out of form they may go with Harris. It is a toss up. 
 
Trott is another batsman that can bat forever, and really needs persistent pressure. This is the kind of thing that Pattinson excels at. Having a touch of mercurial bowling from Starc and Faulkner here and there is going to be helpful, but it is mostly going to be Pattinson, Bird and either Siddle or Harris that are going to do it. They just have to keep going at it. He is going to bat slowly if required but then let loose when he can. 

Ashes 2013: How Australia can counter England's challenge

England skipper Alastair Cook (foreground) is the main batsman who can handle any kind of bowlers © Getty Images

Pietersen is pure class and isn’t going to be worried by the likes of Starc or Faulkner, so this is going to be the job of the likes of Pattinson, Bird and either Siddle or Harris to get it done. Interestingly enough, Pietersen has a tendency to get out to part-time spinners, especially left-armers, so Clarke and David Warner (if he is playing) may be good choices to have a go at Pietersen early on. A few overs here and there of Starc, Faulkner and even Watson could shake him up though.
 
Bell is a bit like Trott, only a little bit quicker and doesn’t last quite as long, but he can be really punishing on bad bowling, or any tiny mistake. So they are going to need the most perfect bowlers to get rid of him. Again, Australia would be looking at Pattinson and Bird. If Lyon does play, which at this stage looks unlikely, then he could do well against Bell but if there is no Lyon then they are just going to have to use Clarke a bit. Watson may be the man to take care of him though.
 
Bairstow is the new guy and probably not the best batsman of the top six. He can do well in the shorter formats but may struggle against top quality Test bowling. Much like Root, the key is to throw everything at him early as, if he survives, he could really make it count. But really any of Pattinson, Bird, Harris or Siddle, Starc, Faulkner or even Watson could get rid of him if they are on fire. 
 
Prior is a bit of a risky prospect as he is often under-rated by bowlers who think he is just their keeper, but he is often top scorer! The guy likes to hit it big, and plays a bit like Bell, only not quite as punishing. The key is to not mess about with him and just throw the kitchen sink at him. He is really unpredictable as a batsman though, and you never know if he is going to get a century or throw his wicket away. His average is pretty high though, so you need to treat him as if he is going to get a big score. Just don’t tire yourselves out.
 
Bresnan, assuming he is playing, will likely bat at eight, and he should not be underestimated either. He tends to be a big hitter and often doesn’t care if it is a good ball or not, so the best bet is to bring in your mercurial bowlers, which is Faulkner and Starc. A bit of Watson could be good too. You can mix it up a bit but some swing could completely bamboozle him and there he goes.
 
Broad can be a classical batsman and has scored some big scores on occasion, but, a bit like Mitchell Johnson’s batting, or Shaun Pollock, he stuffs it up more often than he succeeds. But he looks good while stuffing up. A bit of mercurial bowling, a bit of quality, and just try to do as well as you can and he will eventually make a mistake. But just don’t expect him to get himself out. He might sometimes but most of the time he won’t.
 
Swann isn’t the worst batsman in the world either and while he always looks a bit terrible when batting, he has been known to smash it a mile and to keep out good bowling sometimes too. But he doesn’t reliably keep out good bowling. Just keep up with the best bowling you can and mix it up a bit and he’ll go. Just don’t treat him like he is a bunny, because he can bat quite well sometimes.
 
Anderson is probably a No 9 or 10 in most sides but he is likely to play at No 11 here. He can hold up one end, and if it is him plus a good batsman, then he can survive for a fair while. Even if he is there with Swann, Broad, or Bresnan, they could add 50 together or maybe more and you don’t want that. The key is to bowl it so well that he can’t keep it out. A big in-swinging yorker should do it. 
 
Finn may play, and if he does he is a real bunny, but I don’t think that England will risk it.
 
As for when Australia bat, how do they combat England’s bowlers?
 
Bowling:
 
Swann tends to be the big wicket taker and if Phil Hughes is in Australia’s line up then it could be a sad and sorry tale to tell. But Clarke should be able to lead the troops and the likes of Watson, Chris Rogers and Warner should be able to thwart him pretty well. Swann could still be a danger to the lower order, and, with Australia likely to have Faulkner at seven, then Swann could be a real threat once the fourth wicket falls. But Faulkner, Haddin, Pattinson and Starc can all bat pretty well but they will simply have to.
 
Anderson is the leader of the attack and can do well but he tends to live off the other bowlers in the team. If they are bowling badly, it is rare to see Anderson do much damage by himself. He just goes along with the flow. So the key with dealing with Anderson is to deal with all of the bowling together. Get on top of other bowlers and Anderson will be down in the dumps and not doing too well. This is why Cowan and Hughes can’t be in the side, as Cowan won’t score and Hughes will be out cheaply. Not to mention that Hughes will get out cheaply to Anderson — or Swann — anyway. But someone like Watson, Warner or Clarke could really take the game away from Anderson and demoralise him.

Ashes 2013: How Australia can counter England's challenge

James Anderson (foreground) is the leader of the England attack © Getty Images

Broad loves to bowl from wide outside the stumps and bend it in and hence gives unusual angles that are similar to Lasith Malinga’s. He is an annoying bowler. But beyond the annoyance factor he isn’t really all that good a bowler. Like Anderson, the team dynamic lifts him, but take that away and he’s not really good. Playing off the backfoot may be the best way to deal with him but when you can punish him you have to, as getting on top of him is key.
 
Bresnan, assuming he plays, is a bit of a mercurial bowler who is a bit hard to predict. He can spray it all over or bowl yorkers and bouncers to good effect. He just has everything. He seems better suited to the shorter format but he can be deadly in Tests too. He is mostly used as a partnership breaker but can be deadly, as you really need to pay attention to what he is doing. Unlike Broad and Anderson, the rest of the bowlers doing badly won’t phase Bresnan. But he is unlikely to bowl well for extended periods. So the key is to wait and then capitalise later.
 
Finn may bowl, and he is a significantly scarier prospect than Bresnan. Finn can loop it in from a great height and angle it, and while he may not be super fast, he is fast enough to be scary. He can spray it all over the place but he can be pretty scary. 
 
Australia’s best XI to combat this squad: Chris Rogers, Shane Watson, David Warner, Michael Clarke (c), Steven Smith, Brad Haddin, James Faulkner, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Ryan Harris, Jackson Bird.
 
Australia could consider dumping Harris in favour of another batsman (probably Usman Khawaja) but Harris is Australia’s best bowler, so he should be there in case something wrong happens. He can come in there and clean up if the best laid plans fail. 
 
(Adrian Meredith, an Australian from Melbourne, has been very passionate about cricket since he was seven years old. Because of physical challenges he could not pursue playing the game he so dearly loved. He loves all kinds of cricket – from Tests, ODIs, T20 – at all levels and in all countries and writes extensively on the game)