Ashes Squad 2010-11

Of interest to, er, readers of Australian publications who want to know who’s coming to play cricket against them. Nerds will be fascinated to see how right or wrong I was. Again, no layout from Alpha magazine available, sadly.

________

England arrive unbeaten in Test series for 18 months (against South Africa, Bangladesh and Pakistan), and as Twenty20 World Champions. They have a strong-minded, innovative coach in Zimbabwean Andy Flower, who has a good relationship with captain Andrew Strauss, and have hired John Buchanan who, for better or worse, at least knows what it’s like to be part of a long-time winning set-up.

Despite any denials you may hear, the staff and players have been preparing for this series for two years and take it deadly seriously. They’ve built such a stable squad that there were no surprises in the Ashes selection announcement, and no quibbling in the English press. They’ll bring with them a batting coach (Graham Gooch), a fast-bowling coach (Aussie David Saker) and a spin-coach (Pakistani Mushtaq Ahmed), much-improved fielding, and have recently been on a boot camp, where they gained “valuable insights” into each other.

However, England do have problems, with several batsmen, including the best one, in bad form, and worrying inexperience among the bowlers, especially in Australia. You can expect England collapses, big days from the Aussie batsmen, and despite confidence from both sides, this should be more like 2009 (two pretty good teams in a close series), rather than 2007 (a 5-0 whipping to the home team). Here’s who’s coming…

First XI

Andrew Strauss (C)

Age: 33

Bats: L/h; Bowls: n/a

Ashes Tests: 15

Captaincy has made him twice the batsman, and he’s an excellent captain – strong, quite inventive and calm. Strauss will be light-years better than Flintoff was in the role last time in Oz. A key wicket, and good for a couple of centuries, at least.

Alastair Cook

Age: 25

Bats: L/h; Bowls: n/a

Ashes Tests: 10

Pencilled in as next captain, but still bats like the Tin Man, provides snicks outside off with monotonous regularity and currently bang off-form. He has great eyes, and once past 30-odd can get big runs, but a fast-scoring game grabber (like the still-missed Marcus Trescothick) he is not.

Jonathan Trott

Age: 29

Bats: R/h; Bowls: Right-arm medium

Ashes Tests: 1

A strange, solitary character, who bats in his own one-paced bubble, which has already resulted in running teammates out. Trott is also susceptible to sledging, however. He finished the last tour to South Africa a gibbering mess and you fancy Bollinger et al to get into him. A contributor, an accumulator – not a match-winner, and many wouldn’t mind if he got dropped for Eoin Morgan.

Kevin Pietersen

Age: 30

Bats: R/h; Bowls: Right-arm off-spin

Ashes Tests: 12

The key to the series, along with Mitch Johnson. Bizarrely, he’ll be using the Ashes to get back into form, because he has absolutely none. He’s got no confidence, no runs, and his technique is fraying around the edges. He surely can’t be dropped, so if England’s best bat goes through five Tests with no runs, it’s curtains. Can’t ever count this big-head out, though.

Ian Bell

Age: 28

Bats: R/h; Bowls: Right-arm medium

Ashes Tests: 13

A most divisive figure in England. Has an amazing record – against Bangladesh, and known for scoring lots of runs when the pressure’s off. Tons of talent, dodgy ticker, will never dominate, but good for at least one century and a couple of 80s. In very good nick at the moment.

Paul Collingwood

Age: 34

Bats: R/h; Bowls: Right-arm medium

Ashes Tests: 11

Same as usual from Colly: he’s way out of form, he’s getting a bit older and he’ll never entertain you in a Test, barring the odd spectacular catch. Expect the usual run of low scores interrupted by an immense – and immensely dull – double-ton. With a four-man attack he’ll pitch in with medium-pace, but nothing to keep the children awake. Always on the edge of being dropped, but never quite dropped.

Matt Prior

Age: 28

Bats: R/h; Bowls: n/a

Ashes Tests: 5

An underestimated talent. His ‘keeping, after an indifferent start, is now solid, while he’s also a very good, aggressive bat, who loves to dominate once in. Building on decent contributions in 2009, expect more this time around. Potential match-winner and saver.

Graeme Swann

Age: 31

Bats: R/h; Bowls: Right-arm off-spin

Ashes Tests: 5

England’s best bowler and now key match-winner. Swann is the glue that holds the team together in rough times: a tough, bubbly guy, with the Botham-esque knack of taking a wicket first over, or ball. The only question mark is how he’ll go with the Kookaburra ball in Australian conditions, where there’s less drift. Oz can be a finger-spinner’s graveyard. Swann is also a very good lower-order bat, who hits out no matter the situation.

Stuart Broad

Age: 24

Bats: L/h; Bowls: Right-arm fast-medium

Ashes Tests: 5

The young star now coming into his prime, Broad can lead the attack when Anderson fades. But if things go wrong, he can throw his toys a long way out of the pram, affecting his performance. Like last time, he can produce great spells, whether rearing bounce from his great height (1.98m), wicked seam or solid line and length – as well as some of the most innocuous, or downright brainless, overs you’ll see. His batting has experienced a sudden upturn, and if he’s allowed to get in, he’ll take 60-80 runs off you, quick.

James Anderson

Age: 28

Bats: L/h; Bowls: Right-arm fast-medium

Ashes Tests: 8

A Mitch Johnson-like enigma. Naturally introverted, he’s supposed to lead the attack, and sometimes does it very well. On his day, unplayable; he’s now learned to have better control and confidence when the ball isn’t swinging, but there’s a strong possibility he’ll be innocuous in Oz, again. Check out his figures in Australia – appalling. He probably can’t be dropped, which could be a series loser, especially if England go with just four bowlers.

Steven Finn

Age: 21

Bats: R/h; Bowls: Right-arm fast-medium

Ashes Tests: 0

England’s surprise package, at just 21. Very tall (2m), he’s coached by ex-England metronome Angus Fraser, so expect high arm-action and McGrath-like line and length, with the occasional snorter, rather than frightening pace. Seems the quiet, confident type, who’ll get on with the job, not in your face. England have a plan of fast, rearing bounce, with Finn and Broad the firepower.

Likely to feature:

Eoin Morgan

Age: 25

Bats: L/h; Bowls: n/a

Ashes Tests: 0

A real find, who will surely get his chance. One of the world’s top three one-day and Twenty20 batsmen, the Irishman transferred to Tests with success: fantastic eyesight, incredibly inventive and bold (check him out on YouTube) and a great “finisher” with unflappable temperament. If someone’s not producing the runs, the noise for him to be picked will be nearly as loud as it was for Pietersen in 2005.

Monty Panesar

Age: 28

Bats: L/h; Bowls: Left-arm orthodox spin

Ashes Tests: 4

Panesar’s star plunged to earth after 2007, caused by predictable, flat, defensive bowling, and a total folding of confidence that even saw his captain setting his fields for him. He’s now changed counties to Sussex, where he flowered again, taking lots of domestic wickets last season. He’s the only current England bowler with any success in Australia, and would be a noble substitute if Swann got injured.

Bubbling under

Tim Bresnan

Age: 25

Bats: R/h; Bowls: Right-arm fast-medium

Ashes Tests: 0

Your standard burly, hard-working Yorkshireman, Bresnan’s control has impressed in limited-overs, but doubts remain over his class in Tests, and he’ll only feature if England decide on a five-man attack.

Chris Tremlett

Age: 29

Bats: R/h; Bowls: Right-arm medium-fast

Ashes Tests: 0

A like-for-like injury replacement for one of the tall quicks, beanpole Tremlett (2m) was a young prospect whose lack of confidence and regular injury undermined him. On his day, superb, and Shane Warne, who has captained him at domestic level, rates him enormously.

Steve Davies (Wkt)

Age: 24

Bats: L/h; Bowls: n/a

Ashes Tests: 0

The second wicketkeeper is both a very skilled glovesman and, like Prior, an aggressive, effective batsman. Yet to make his Test debut, he has many domestic runs to his name.