Aussie Test team settle under Lehmann
The Australian squad looks to have settled well under new coach Darren Lehmann, just in time for the first Ashes Test.
When they first arrived in England, Australia had its Champions Trophy squad, an Australia A squad and other Test hopefuls playing county cricket so things were a bit disjointed. But with a new coach and some tour matches under their belts, the side seems to be coming together nicely.
Lehmann has already had a positive and calming influence on the team. He will hopefully get the balance right between fun and discipline, which seems to be where the Australian side has fallen down in recent times.
Lehmann has always loved the game of cricket. He enjoyed playing and he enjoyed the occasional beer after the game, which is not a bad thing. But you need to get that balance right and I think he will instil that in the players. They will hopefully still enjoy themselves on tour but first and foremost is to play good cricket.
Captain Michael Clarke looked to be in good form with a century in the tour match against Worcestershire but his back injury has struck again. It must be more annoying for Clarke himself than it is for the team. Clarke would want to play every game possible and be involved in every training session but his back injury seems to be an ongoing problem. It looks like he has managed it well enough that he will be right to play in the First Test but the big question mark is how his injury will hold up in back-to-back Test matches, which is what Australia has first up in this series.
David Warner should still make the team for the First Test even though he has had no cricket over the past three weeks due to his suspension. Warner is one of Australia’s best six batsmen and he is also a very good fieldsman which adds to his credentials and makes him hard to leave out. Had Usman Khawaja or Ed Cowan made some big hundreds in the Ashes warm-ups it would have made it harder for Warner to get back into the team. But at five and six in the batting order Australia either needs form players or the ones who will bring more to the table, and I feel those players are Warner and Steve Smith.
With Shane Watson and Chris Rogers opening the batting, Phil Hughes should bat at number three. Hughes has gone away and worked on his game and he can come back and make big scores. He has had made three Test centuries and he deserves another opportunity in the team. No3 is the most likely position for Hughes to bat as it won’t be such a big move for him, having been a former opening batsman.
England’s bowling line-up is more than sound. Jimmy Anderson is a good swing bowler, Stuart Broad hits the pitch hard and Steven Finn is a big, tall bowler who is getting better all the time. Graeme Swann is a very good cricketer. He is useful with the bat, very good in the field and his off-spinners are as good as anyone’s. England has a solid bowling unit that will keep the pressure on the Australians but I don’t think it is an unplayable attack by any means. Australia can make runs against that bowling attack, just as New Zealand did in their recent Test series against England.
The key wicket for Australia will be Alastair Cook – the England captain and opening batsman. England’s X-factor will be Kevin Pietersen, who can take a bowling attack apart if he gets some confidence up he can have a major influence on the series.
I always enjoyed playing in England as I think it is the best place to tour in the world. The grounds are custom-made for cricket, they are not dual-purpose venues – they are genuine cricket grounds. They are a good size for batting on and the crowd always feels very close as they don’t have the big boundaries like we do in Australia. It makes for a lovely, personal place to play cricket.
There is a lot of talk about “English conditions” and the different pitches but I think it is a very good place to bat. The bounce is consistent and once you get used to the pace it can be a beautiful place to make runs. If the Australians start playing well I am sure they will enjoy the conditions and the English crowds who always appreciate their cricket.
England go into the First Test as deserved favourites to win the series as they are playing at home and have been more consistent than Australia has in recent times. Having said that, I like the look of Australia’s bowling attack who should be able to take plenty of wickets, and if you take wickets you can win Test matches. If Australia can back that up with some big scores then they are a real chance of regaining the Ashes.