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Ashes: Australia has more issues to address than England

india Updated: Nov 20, 2013 01:08 IST
Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Hindustan Times
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I've reached an age where memory lapses become a concern and I'm wondering if I only imagined Australia's recent heavy Test losses to India and then England. Didn't those 4-nil and 3-nil losses occur?

I ask because since England landed in Australia, it's all been about the problems facing the tourists and how the home side is settled for the Ashes series starting on Thursday. Sure, England has a few queries.

There's Matt Prior's injury (the 'keeper trained on Tuesday and gave a thumbs up), the late change to Michael Carberry as an opener and also, settling on a third fast bowler.

Chris Tremlett appears to be down on pace, Steven Finn is inconsistent — fast and bouncy one minute and unthreatening the next — and Boyd Rankin is unproven and a liability in the field. That still leaves the bulk of England settled.

Big worries
Australia on the other hand, with no recent success stories to fall back on, should have concerns. The two biggest headaches are the fitness of Shane Watson and the form of Mitchell Johnson.

What if Johnson reverts to type and is profligate? That will put an unbearably heavy load on the two critical fast bowlers, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris. And that doesn't even address the matter of the huge confidence boost it'll be for Alastair Cook if Johnson keeps angling deliveries onto his pads like he did at Lord's in 2009.

Watson is just as critical to the batting effort and his latest injury means he's had no time in the centre for a month leading into the first Test. A slow start for Watson with the bat could have serious implications for Michael Clarke and the middle-order.

Despite some encouraging signs, Steve Smith still needs to prove he can consistently make big scores against top quality bowling. He'll be further challenged if Australia doesn't get good contributions from the top order players.

Following Smith will either be debutant George Bailey or Brad Haddin, who is showing signs age is starting to win the battle when he's batting.

Tricky choices
This is where the selectors face a real dilemma. Do they sacrifice a batsman to fit James Faulkner into the side to provide cover for any Johnson profligacy or do they forgo variety and leave Nathan Lyon out and play the all-rounder in an all-pace attack?

Lyon is a good bowler but too often the quality of his deliveries isn't matched by results. But, it's a huge gamble to play a five-day game at the Gabba without a spinner.

Australia is desperately short of good catching men and it'll be a blessing for Clarke if Watson can't bowl (he bowled in the nets on Monday) because they'll struggle to fill three slip positions adequately without him in the cordon.

The success of England's batting will revolve around Cook and Jonathan Trott scoring heavily so Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell can take advantage of a good start to elevate the scoring rate. The bowling will live or die on the form of Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann.

There's always a lot of bluff and bluster in the lead up to an Ashes series and the reality is there are generally more ifs and buts than certainties. On this occasion, Australia has more ifs while England is superior in the number of proven performers.

And unless my memory's playing tricks, that means the tourists will start as favourites.