Australia has the edge

This summer’s Ashes series could be played between the spinners of England and the pacemen of Australia as the Aussie selectors blend experience and exuberance. By Paul Weaver.

The Australia Ashes squad is largely as expected and it seems that captain Ricky Ponting’s traditional support for Andrew Symonds was not enough to swing it for the big man on this occasion.

Symonds may still have a future with the team but it will surely be as a one-day player now as all-rounders Andrew McDonald, Marcus North and Shane Watson have all been preferred to him for the Ashes. And Watson’s poor record with injuries must have been talked about.

It’s a blow for Symonds and I can’t see him getting back now. There will be some feeling of relief in the England camp because he is a most destructive player, not the sort you want to see coming to the wicket at four down.

England supporters should be dissuaded from taking too much comfort from the fact that only four members of the squad featured in the heroic series of 2005 — Ponting, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich and Brett Lee. That overlooks the inconvenient truth that Brad Haddin was also a members of the party four years ago.

Nor can it be claimed that Marcus North, who has played for five different counties, has not been thoroughly apprenticed to English conditions. Michael Hussey, Mr. Cricket himself, has played for three counties, Gloucestershire, Northants and Durham, while Stuart Clark has played for two, Hampshire and Middlesex.

In addition, Shane Watson is familiar with English conditions thanks to Hampshire while Phillip Hughes, the pup of the party, has just played a brilliant month for Middlesex, scoring four centuries.

But conjecture that the Ashes series could be played between the spinners of England and the pacemen of Australia gathered further momentum with the naming, as expected, of Nathan Hauritz as the solitary specialist spinner in Ponting’s squad.

I can’t even see Hauritz making the side. I think they will play four quicks with the spin being entrusted to North, Katich and Clarke, though it will be difficult to leave Hauritz out of the opener in Cardiff because of the uncertain nature of pitch there. They have a new groundsman there and there is every possibility that it will take turn according to recent reports.

Brad Hodge has been unlucky again. This guy could have played 60 Tests now, instead of six. His non-selection means that Australia will have no cover for their top order batsmen — no cover either if Michael Hussey’s recent poor form proves to be a terminal decline, though with his experience of English conditions it will be a surprise if this most dedicated cricketer doesn’t make runs.

There is nothing to stop Hodge, like Symonds, paying his own way to England this summer in the hope of picking up a gig later in the tour.

The versatile North could go up the order. And Watson is good enough to play in the top six too. He is a class batsman who bowls, in essence.

The inclusion of Andrew McDonald is a surprise, but a small one. The all-rounder has played in Australia’s last four Test matches but his performances have been solid rather than anything out of the ordinary. He has scored just 107 runs at 21.40 and taken nine wickets at 33.33.

There is a lack of experience among the quick bowlers, with Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus all making their first Ashes tour of England.

But having seen them in South Africa earlier this year I have no doubts that they are good enough to cope. They really are something special, and Johnson could be the crackerjack presence in the side. He really is a special cricketer and now that he can swing the ball into the right-hander at speed he is a handful.

Australian squad

Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Clarke (vice-captain), Stuart Clark, Brad Haddin, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, Phillip Hughes, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Brett Lee, Graham Manou, Andrew McDonald, Marcus North, Peter Siddle, Shane Watson.