In the winter of 2013 they triggered the England down fall, in 2014 they scythed through the Indians, and in 2015 the pace bowlers of the Australian cricket team are poised for more destruction.
Australia’s Bowling Headache
Head Coach Darren Lehmann has named five seamers in the Ashes touring party and all are hitting their straps just in time for the upcoming series. However, the dilemma is this — which ones will earn their place in the starting XI for the first Test in Cardiff? Who is the most dangerous? Who has the best record? And who has earned the right to play?
Where better to start than the man who almost single-handedly won the last Ashes series in Australia. Johnson’s 37 wickets in five Tests during the 2013-2014 series was a key contributor to England’s failure ‘down under’ and he will surely be targeting another show of pace and bounce this summer. However, England is hardly famed for its hard, fast, Perth-like pitches and whilst Johnson will still be quick, he will need to be creative to get the better of England’s top-order.
Having been dropped for Australia’s last tour of England two years ago, the slate is almost entirely wiped clean for the 33-year-old, but Johnson will still take comfort from the 20 wickets he took during a tough 2009 tour for the Aussies. No bowler claimed the wicket of Alastair Cook more than Johnson in 2013-14 and while the England captain has got himself back into some sort of form with the bat this summer, the potential vulnerability of England’s new-look top order will again be a major target for the left-armer to exploit.
Almost the forgotten man in Australian Cricket, Harris has always delivered when the English are around. Despite being hampered by injury for what seems like his entire career, Harris undeniably has the quality and his record in The Ashes is phenomenal. The 35-year-old was Australia’s leading wicket taker during the 2013 Ashes and while his team-mates disappointed, Harris was a continual irritation for England’s batsmen. He followed this up six months later in the return series by taking 22 wickets, more than any other England bowler and second only to Mitchell Johnson.
Harris played a part in Australia’s series with India at the end of last year and toured South Africa in March 2014 but failed to make the significant impacts that were expected of him. Recurring injuries made progress difficult for Harris and having been left out of the World Cup and “rested” for the recent tour of the West Indies, Darren Lehman can only hope that the veteran bowler will be fit and back to his best in time for July 8th.
Despite being a fresh face on the international scene, Hazlewood is building himself a fantastic reputation in the game. The 24-year old claimed a five-wicket haul on his Test debut in December 2014 which has set the tone for what promises to be a prosperous career in international cricket. He showed maturity beyond his years in big World Cup matches and left the Caribbean as ‘Player of the Series’ and the leading wicket-taker.
Hazlewood’s selection for the first Test would be a bold one given the calibre of individuals at Darren Lehmann’s disposal, but the youngster has earned the right to start and his impressive display in the West Indies might just have swayed the selectors. England should be extremely wary if they count Hazlewood as the weak link in this otherwise boisterous seam attack.
Mitchell Starc: currently the best one-day bowler in world cricket and without doubt the one to watch in this year’s Ashes series. After an outstanding World Cup and an excellent tour of the Caribbean, 2015 looks certain to be Starc’s best year yet. The Sydney-born quick was not selected for Australia’s whitewash series in 2013-2014, but did get a taste of Ashes cricket during three tests of the England tour two years ago. Having been dropped from the Test side for an eleventh time during India’s tour of Australia, it took a string of sensational World Cup performances to truly mark Starc’s breakthrough on the world stage.
The angle of his left-arm action and his consistent ability to fire down deliveries at over 90mph has caused batsmen trouble all over the world. England’s incapability to deal with truly quick bowling was a flaw quickly found out in 2013-14 and so there is no doubt that Starc will attempt to uncover the same problems this time around.
Siddle is the only bowler selected who has been a part of two previous Ashes tours to England and while his playing form seems to have slipped of late, his experience this summer could prove invaluable to the Australian dressing room. Like Ryan Harris, we tend to see the best of Peter Siddle when it’s an Englishman waiting on the end of one of his deliveries. In fact, the last time Siddle took more than two wickets in an innings was the Sydney Test against England at the start of 2014. Since then, the 30-year old has struggled to re-produce his best form and was eventually dropped from the side after the first India Test in Adelaide last December. Siddle was again excluded from the XI for the two-match series with the West Indies earlier this month and it seems he has now been left with two warm-up matches against Kent and Essex to prove his worth to the selectors.
It seems most likely that Lehmann will opt for three seamers and one spinner in Cardiff, with the option to use part-timers Shane Watson and Steve Smith if required. The temptation to add the fourth specialist seamer may be explored but Australia will want to avoid compromising the spot of a potentially valuable extra batsmen. Nathan Lyon is almost certain to be selected over uncapped Fawad Ahmed in the spin department, so the selector’s key decisions will be which of these three pace-men will make the team sheet for Cardiff on July 8th.