Angus Fraser: Flintoff's men ready themselves for bouncer barrage
Friday 17 November 2006
Australia have talked an aggressive game in the build- up to next week's first Ashes Test and, judging by the squad announced yesterday, they intend to play one. Australia have done little to hide their game plan since England touched down in Sydney almost two weeks ago, and the six fast bowlers selected for Brisbane are expected to bombard Andrew Flintoff's side with a barrage of bouncers.
Only four will play, and the line-up is nowhere near as intimidating as that of the West Indies in the 1980s, but their selection signifies a positive intent.
When this Australian side was at its best, it contained seven batsmen and just four bowlers, a luxury they could afford because of the brilliance of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. But the Aussie selectors have come to realise that their two ageing greats are no longer able to carry the workload of their youth, and help has been offered in the form of Shane Watson, Stuart Clark, Mitchell Johnson and Shaun Tait. England's selection dilemma is dominated by concerns over the depth of their batting, and they are considering playing a lesser bowler - Ashley Giles - in place of a potential match-winner - Monty Panesar - because of their relative merits with the bat. This negative approach sits in stark contrast to that of Australia.
Brett Lee will join McGrath, Warne and Watson in Australia's final XI next Thursday with Clark, Johnson and Tait competing for the final spot. Clark, a poor man's McGrath, would be the safest option but he is the least hostile of the triumvirate. Johnson and Tait may be unproven and inconsistent, but they would offer Ricky Ponting welcome variation.
Johnson's aggression impressed everyone during the recent Champions Trophy in India, where he took 3-40 against England on a slow pitch in Jaipur. The 25-year-old is strong and fit and his left-handedness will set England's top order some different challenges. In the 2005 Ashes, a 22-year-old Tait looked nervous and raw but in the two Test matches he played he showed glimpses of his potential.
Yet in Australia, and with a further 14 months of experience, he now looks the real deal. In Canberra, where he took 3-21 for the Prime Minister's XI, he bowled with alarming pace on a slow pitch. Andrew Strauss is an excellent player of fast bowling, but Tait was too quick for him with the new ball. Brisbane, incidentally, is now the quickest and bounciest pitch in Australia. Yet, despite the qualities of these three, Watson is the pivotal member of the attack.
The 25-year-old can bowl at 90mph and score double hundreds in first-class cricket, assets that give him the potential to become a Flintoff-style figure, but to date he has failed to deliver. But when he realises his talent, Australia will have a world-class all-rounder.
Fast bowling will dominate proceedings in Brisbane, but Australia's attack will change in Adelaide where the leg-spin of Warne and Stuart MacGill is expected to come to the fore.
Good luck England.
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