New Coach to Reignite Australia's Ashes Hopes
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Manager sacked days before biggest clash of the season?
It’s the sort of headline we read once a week during the football season, where the managerial merry-go-round has become part and parcel of the game. But it just isn't cricket. Or is it?
Turns out, it’s true. Australia have fired their coach Mickey Arthur, according to Nick Mulvenney and Josh Reich of The Globe and Mail, just a couple of weeks prior to the Ashes commencing, giving England fans even more encouragement that the spectacular summer of cricket ahead could be a one-sided affair.
However, maybe hang fire before you start taking the mickey out of your unfortunate Aussie friends and colleagues. The Baggy Greens have moved quickly to replace the departed South African with the hugely popular Darren Lehmann.
Thus, rather than the disenchanted calamitous side who finished at the bottom of their Champions Trophy group and even more embarrassingly visited the Birmingham branch of Walkabout, the appointment of Lehmann could be a masterstroke which quickly reunites and re-energises the Australian team and gives England a run for their money.
Read on to find out why Lehman is the right man for the job and four other reasons why the 2013 Ashes could be a lot closer than many people expect.
Lehman's Ideal Choice for New Coach
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To be talked of in the various waterholes around Headingley, in glowing terms alongside the likes of Boycott, Trueman and Close, gives you an idea of the impact Darren Lehmann made as a player when he was Yorkshire's overseas professional for nine years.
Since hanging up his whites, the South Australian has been busy coaching Deccan Chargers in the IPL, Queensland in the Australian domestic competitions and Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League. Three trophies in four years over three different formats is evidence of his success.
Four of Australia's players will breathe a sigh of relief that there's unlikely to be any more bizarre homework-type challenges under the man who scored 81 first-class centuries. Man-management and straight-talking are his signatures as well as an attacking, never-say-die, brand of cricket.
If it all gels together quickly, instead of hunting down a weakened foe, England will be facing a confident and focused opponent.
Rogers to Steady Ship at the Top of the Order
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Apart from Adam Voges and George Bailey, the Australian batsmen seemed like fish out of water in 50-over cricket, as the challenge of adjusting to seaming and swinging wickets proved too much. It was almost as if the majority of them had spent a couple of months smashing Indian medium pacers around small grounds on flat tracks in the IPL…oh wait, they had.
Test Cricket is of course, a different beast, which is where the shrewd selection of Chris Rogers comes in. The gritty left-hander is a run machine in the long form of the game and has 20,000 of them at first-class level to prove it.
A victim of Australia’s sheer weight of talent during the "glory years," (see Darren Lehman/David Hussey/Stuart Law, etc.) the Sydney-born opener would probably have enjoyed a long Test career if he was English.
He hasn't let this get him down, however, becoming a permanent fixture in County cricket since 2004 and passing the magical 1,000-runs-per-season mark eight times.
Having scored over 700 runs already in this season's LVCC, the bespectacled stroke-maker knows English conditions inside out, and Alastair Cook’s men will have a tough nut to crack in order to get through to Australia’s middle order.
Watson to Regain His Swagger
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A true all-rounder is an integral part of any top side. But like four-leaf clovers and 100 percent chocolate Kit Kats, they are hard to find. Andrew Flintoff and Jacques Kallis, remain the finest recent examples, but Shane Watson once threatened to join that exalted bracket.
With his sharper-than-it-looks bowling and forceful presence at the crease, the Queenslander has undeniably delivered in limited-overs cricket for Australia, taking 191 wickets and scoring over 5,500 runs. However his Test reputation remains in question.
Despite flourishing under Ricky Ponting, his form has plummeted under the leadership of Michael Clarke. Averaging just 26.46 over 14 century-less Tests with the bat and bowling with reduced frequency and potency, calls for the burly all-rounder to be dropped have been rife down under.
Fortunately for Australia, the IPL 2013 provided a springboard for their former vice-captain to return to form, which he duly grabbed with both hands to finish fifth in the overall batting rankings and take 13 wickets with a decent economy rate. If the Watson of old is back, then it will be like having two new players wearing the Baggy Green.
Battle of the Lefties
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Alastair Cook is the pillar around which much of England’s recent success has been built and getting out the man who has scored 7524 Test runs and an astonishing 25 tons will be a key battle in this series.
Although hard to believe now, a poor run of form had put the left-handers Test career in jeopardy at the start of the 2009 Ashes, but since then he’s gone from strength to strength, peaking in the 2011/12 Ashes where he put Australia to the sword, scoring 766 runs to cement his place in cricket folklore.
However the recent back-to-back series against New Zealand have unveiled a chink in the Essex man’s armour. During England’s away leg, Cook was dismissed four times out of five by left-arm fast bowlers. Armed with this knowledge, the Kiwi’s repeated the policy in the return series, with left-arm seamer Trent Boult, succeeding to twice snare the opener at Lords.
Australia are sure to be aware of this trend, so expect Mitchell Stark and James Faulkner to be targeting the England skipper as often as possible.
Get Michael Clarke Fit
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Perhaps, the most important factor of this forthcoming epic series is whether or not Michael Clarke manages to regain his fitness and then retain it. Quite simply, he’s the best player in the Australian side.
A haul of 7,275 runs at an average 52.33 with 23 centuries and 26 half-centuries; that speaks for itself. In fact, the Aussie skippers form in 2012 was so impressive that he scored more runs in fewer tests at a higher average than Don Bradman did in his greatest run-scoring year.
The bad news is that the 31-year-old has not played a game of cricket since mid-March after a recurring back problem materialised once again. Despite hopes that he would be fit for the Champions Trophy, the inspirational leader remains sidelined.
And with just days to go until Trent Bridge hosts the first clash of the series, it's unlikely that "Pup" will get much match practice in, if any before the First Test is scheduled to begin on the 10th July.
If he can hit the ground running, Australia will have, perhaps, the best batsman in the world in their middle order. If he can't, then England will be licking their lips. Hold on to your hats...the Ashes are nearly here.