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Make or Break: Aussie Ashes heros

Every Ashes Series has its trademark heroes – players who capture the imagination of cricket lovers around the world for carrying their team to victory.

From Shane Warne’s ‘ball of the century’ and 34 wickets in the 1993 Ashes Series to Alastair Cook’s Bradmanesque efforts in scoring 766 runs to almost single-handedly account for the Australians in the most recent edition of this legendary rivalry, each and every Ashes Series, from the very beginning, symbolises a point in time where an individual has grasped every opportunity they have been presented with and delivered their country the ultimate prize.

Here is a look at four cricketers from each side that have the potential to make or break their country’s quest for the little urn.

Australia

  • Photo: Tom Griffiths/TSJ

    Photo: Tom Griffiths/TSJ

    Michael Clarke – Australia’s captain and most important player. Clarke represents Australia’s fight in the Ashes and carries with him, the burden of immense expectations. Coming off the back of an incredible run of form that reaped multiple centuries and double centuries, Australia’s 32 year old captain, averaging 52 in Test cricket, must continue to pile on the runs and make massive scores to ensure that his bowlers have plenty to work with. Although currently quite hampered with back issues, Clarke still managed to score a century in the tour match against Worcestershire which will hold him in good stead for a bumper Ashes series. Barring Michael Hussey, in the past 12 months, Australian batsmen have notoriously scored very few centuries with Clarke being the exception. In his first full Ashes Series as captain, Michael Clarke must be prepared to step up and fight. Having scored 783 runs at an average of 48.93 in his previous Ashes outings in England, Clarke has the experience, appetite and improved temperament to go all the way.

 

  • Chris Rogers – It’s no secret that like Clarke, Christopher Rogers has quite a lot of hype and expectation to deal with. Having been unceremoniously dropped after a single Test against the Indians in Perth in 2008, Rogers has gone back to domestic and county cricket and simply piled on the runs. Season after the season, the colour blind and short-sighted Rogers has dominated attacks across Australia and England to ensure his experience and not his age was all that mattered to selectors who were left with no choice but to select him in a fairy-tale second coming at the age of 35. With 60 first-class centuries at an average of over 50, Rogers is exactly what an underachieving Australian top order needs. With Ed Cowan notoriously famous for getting starts without carrying on and David Warner in the sort of form where a wicket could fall at any second, Roger’s ascent to the top of the Australian batting order is a breath of fresh air and one that if combined well with the belligerent Shane Watson, could see colossal first wicket partnerships that simply grind England down and give the Australians the ideal start.

 

  • Peter Siddle – Many people fail to realise that Peter Siddle enters this tantalising Ashes contest as the top ranked bowler on either side. The determined Victorian pace bowler’s world ranking of number five, above even swing-king James Anderson, is a testament to his sustained durability and quality over the past 18 months and highlights how well the lion-hearted Siddle has carried the Australian bowling attack while his peers have been repeatedly felled with injury. The 28 year old appears a key figure in this Series and his toiling efforts will go a long way in reigniting Test matches during periods of emptiness for the Australians. Often in Test matches, a partnership will begin to form, the ball will stop swinging and the bowling side will be left with nothing – Peter Siddle is the perfect man to steam in, take a wicket and break a partnership as he has so often done for his country.

 

  • James Pattinson – Anyone that knows anything about cricket knows that James Pattinson has immense talent and is going to be a quality bowler. Australia’s pace bowling fortunes, not just in this Series, but long into the future, hinge on whether the 23 year old can keep his body fit.  Already immensely gifted with raw pace and prodigious late movement through the air, Pattinson is well suited to English conditions. Having already displayed his prowess in hooping a Kookaburra ball through the air over Australian summers, Pattinson’s back of a length bowling will hold him in good stead with a Dukes ball which swings far more. With 40 wickets across his first ten Tests at an excellent average of 23, James Pattinson’s aggressive out-swing bowling looms as a crucial factor in Australia’s fight for the Ashes.

England

  • Alastair Cook – Just like his Australian counterpart, England’s captain must be prepared to stand up and fight for his country. Unlike Clarke however, Cook does not face immense pressure with the English batting line-up appearing far more settled and accomplished than that of the tourists. Nevertheless, Cook’s contribution is vital as he will look to grind down the Australian attack and post large scores as he did so successfully in 2010/11 and has now become well known for. With a remarkable 766 runs at a phenomenal average of 127.66 in his last Ashes Series, Cook is well versed in success against the Australians and will be hungry to improve a rather modest record he currently possesses against the Australians at home, this being a mere 222 runs at a sub-par average of 24.66. With a plethora of talented bowlers and exceptional fielders at his disposal, Alastair Cook’s attitude towards his own batting as well as his tactical captaincy could be the major difference between the two sides.

 

  • James Anderson – The Lancashire lad, James Anderson, has progressed in leaps and bounds since his inept Ashes beginnings. Having taken only two wickets and gone at a woeful five runs an over in England’s abysmal tour down under of 2006, Anderson has since reached the pinnacle of fast bowling and is now arguably the deadliest swing bowler in the world. With the ability to undetectably swing the ball both ways, James Anderson will be a handful for the tourists who have shown time and time again that they are simply unable to combat a moving cricket ball. Although possessing a rather modest Ashes record (41 wickets at an average of 38.53), Anderson’s swing bowling will be an integral cog in England’s bid to retain the Ashes. This, when combined with his brilliant fielding and vast Test match experience that has reaped over 300 Test wickets, will see 30 year old spearheading his country’s attack against the old enemy.

 

  • Kevin Pietersen – With over 7000 runs and 22 Test centuries, Kevin Pietersen is one of the greatest batsmen that English cricket has ever had. Regardless of his previous issues with his team and the media, ‘KP’ looms as a key figure in this tantalising edition of the Ashes.  With almost 1500 runs to his name against the Australians at an average in excess of 52, Pietersen is the master of breaking the hearts of the tourists. In his debut series, Pietersen’s 158 in the final Test of 2005 sealed an Ashes victory for his country for the first time in almost two decades. Over the course of the next editions of the great rivalry, Pietersen consistently tore down Australian attacks and his efforts culminated in a brutal double century in the second Test of the 2010/11 edition that paved the way for an innings victory for his side. Although criticised for a lack of consistency in his scoring, Pietersen has a habit of scoring massive hundreds and these scores often single handedly win his country a match or seal a series. Having been out of cricket for an extended period with a severely bruised knee, Pietersen lacks all the match practice he ideally would want. Regardless of this, it hasn’t seemed to bother him too much as his return to competitive cricket before the Ashes has reaped scores of 177* and 49. KP’s flamboyance could very well see him being a part of a winning Ashes side for the fourth time in his career.

 

  • Graeme Swann – As one of the most successful spinners to have ever played for England, the 34 year old Swann will be looking to keep his winning Ashes record intact. Having never been on the losing side in a series against the Australians, Swann’s off-spinners will cause a lot of issues for the left handed batsmen of the touring side. Although possessing a modest record against the Australians, with 29 wickets at an average touching over 40, Swann has had a number of match-winning spells, namely at Lords and The Oval in 2009 and at Melbourne and Adelaide in 2010 and thus, should not be taken lightly. With the Australian side packed to the brim with left-handers, Swann’s cunning off-spin will be crucial to the home side. Regardless of which spinner Australia plays, Swann comfortably wins the battle and it is this fact that will give the 34 year old endless confidence as he looks to cut a swathe through the Australian batting order.

Although I have highlighted these eight players as crucial to their side’s fight for the Ashes, in reality, each and every player has the ability to single-handedly change a match or the series. The team that will prosper is the one that fights together as one rather than playing for individual glory – as the old adage goes, a champion team will beat a team of champions.

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