Australia announced their Ashes squad overnight. Richard O'Hagan runs the rule over the 16 players and picks out some pointers for this summer's Ashes.
"An Australian batting line-up of Warner, Cowan, Rogers, Hughes, Clarke, Khawaja and Haddin would mean that five of their top seven are the left handers Swann loves bowling at so much"
Australia's squad to tour England and compete for the Ashes was announced in the dead of the English night. In many ways, this was entirely appropriate. To Australians, the 16-man party is supposed to represent a new dawn, at least in terms of selectorial approach. To the England fan, it sees the reappearance of an old ghost or two.
The 4-0 away defeat to India in February and March was a painful one for the Australians and it was to be expected that they would make some changes. What was less anticipated - at least until part of the news leaked in advance of the announcement - was that the selectors would start looking to experience rather than youth as they attempted to rebuild their lineup following the retirements of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey over the winter.
The return of Brad Haddin as wicketkeeper has been demanded by many, even though he is now 35, and with Matthew Wade struggling in the role there seems to be no reliable young option behind the stumps. Less expected, though, was that Haddin would replace the out-of-favour Shane Watson as vice-captain, thus almost guaranteeing his place from the start.
Even more surprising, though, is the recall of Chris Rogers, probably to bat at three. He has been a stalwart of the County Championship for almost a decade now, a run gatherer so prolific - he averages over 54 in English conditions and has scored more than 9,000 runs here - that his claims became too hard to overlook, despite his also being 35 and the fact that his one Test appearance came five years ago.
Australia's batting still looks to be on the weak side. David Warner and Ed Cowan have hardly set the world alight at the top of the order recently; Phillip Hughes struggled in the last Ashes series in England and was dropped in favour of Watson, who will himself now have to fight for the final batting spot with Usman Khawaja. The latter is another with experience of county cricket but who, like Watson, was suspended for one Test in India for failing to obey an order from coach Mickey Arthur.
The class batsman in the side remains captain Michael Clarke, but he is missing from the Indian Premier League due to a recurrence of the back problems which have plagued his career and caused him to miss the final Test against the Indians. All of which means that Rogers could actually be your best bet to be Australia's top run scorer in the Ashes.
England fans will be disappointed that their perennial whipping boy, Mitchell Johnson, hasn't made the cut. He's replaced by James Faulkner, a left-arm all rounder who is currently the third highest wicket taker in the IPL. Seam bowling isn't that much of a problem for the Aussies at the moment, in fact it is the one area where they seem to have reasonable strength in depth. Veteran Peter Siddle, who seems to have found a new lease of life since becoming a vegetarian, will lead the attack, and will hope that the injury-prone Ryan Harris stays fit as otherwise the attack will have something of an inexperienced look, with only Faulkner, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson and Jackson Bird to call upon - they have just 23 caps between the four of them.
With leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed's application for Australian citizenship still outstanding the selectors have opted for just the one spinner, Nathan Lyon. The experiments with Michael Beer and Xavier Doherty appear to be a thing of the past now and if Lyon struggles don't be surprised to see Ahmed suddenly added to the squad once he becomes a fair dinkum Aussie.
England, for their part, will look at this squad and hope against hope that Graeme Swann is fit by the time the Ashes begin on July 10th. An Australian batting line-up of Warner, Cowan, Rogers, Hughes, Clarke, Khawaja and Haddin would mean that five of their top seven are the left handers Swann loves bowling at so much - and you can make that six if some misfortune befalls Haddin (as it did on the last Ashes tour) and Wade has to play.
Overall, England still look good value to take this series, even at [1.48], although if we have a summer like last year the draw at [7.6] becomes a very attractive option. Australia, even at [4.5], look too short a price, bearing in mind they just got thrashed by an Indian team that England have beaten home and away recently.
Back England at [1.48] to win the Ashes