Postgraduates to back up young students

2009-05-10 00:00

AUSTRALIA has chosen about the best squad it could locate to defend the Ashes and, more importantly, to stop England experiencing one of its sporadic fits of gleeful nationalism.

Australia has added three recovering old-timers to the team that ambushed the Proteas in their own back yard.

It is a gamble founded upon a recognition that the marmalade is running out and cannot be wasted. By rescuing Brett Lee, Stuart Clark and Shane Watson from the junkyard, the Australians run the risk of disturbing the spirit detected in its last campaign. Spared the internal rumblings often detected at baked bean breakfasts and in ageing teams, the tourists played with gusto in Africa. Now the players will be looking over their shoulders from the first ball of the campaign. Accordingly they might not produce the same uninhibited unity. Life is so much simpler at 25 than 35.

Moreover it is risky to take on tour not one or two but three players coming back from long-term injuries. As far as red ball cricket is concerned, none of them has bowled a ball in anger for six months. Lee has endured personal upsets that affected his fitness and mood, Clark has undergone surgery and the Queenslander seems capable of tweaking a muscle whilst opening a Mars Bar. But, then, the team is not depending on them, having managed without them against South Africa.

Clearly the selectors believed that omitting these candidates was riskier than taking them along. And it’s true. As far as the touring party is concerned, Lee and Clarke were competing for places with Doug Bollinger and Nathan Bracken. Despite their setbacks, it was not much of a contest. Crucially Lee has reached 145 km/h in the Indian Premier League, reward for months of hard work in a gym. Once his pace drops, he’s finished.

Clark is skilful and failed only in India where he was asked to serve as the donkey and also was nursing a dodgy shoulder. Replacing Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle in the side itself will be another matter. These fellows are entitled to start the series as first and second choice. Regardless, the pace attack looks livelier than in 2005, and has strength in depth.

Watson has been chosen because he is just about good enough to play as a specialist batsman and also can compete for places at six and eight. Evidently the selectors value the flexibility he brings to the party. His inclusion means that the Aussies can accommodate an extra bowler, a spinner to be exact, without weakening the batting. The problem with the strategy is that Nathan Hauritz is the only specialist tweaker in the squad. Still, he is the best available.

Every significant player was included apart from Andrew Symonds, and the hard decisions will be taken on tour. Its hardly surprising as the first Test is still seven weeks away and it would be foolish to get boxed in months in advance. Although his menace will be missed, no tears need be shed for the absentee. Ever since the bitter series against India, Symonds has been a steamy head. He comes to the boil more often than a rooinek’s kettle. Had he been scoring runs and taking wickets, his foibles might have been overlooked.

It ought to be a tight series. Not the least fascinating part will be the sight of newcomers like Phillip Hughes and Siddle trying their luck against the oldest rival. Nothing is more fun than watching youth sprout it’s wings. Last month I had the privilege to attend the UKZN graduation ceremoney, an inspiring occasion. Incidentally the loudest applause was reserved for students mysteriously described as “cum laude” and “suma cum laude”. My sons informed me that these poor souls had scraped through after a huge effort and deserved their recognition. May a proud parent boast? None of my five graduating offspring has shown the slightest sign of suffering any such indignity. A fine achievement, I think you will agree.

Hughes and Siddle will pass their exams with flying colours and the result of the series will depend more on their performances, and the fluency of an ailing middle order, than upon the postgraduates.

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