Alastair Cook in action at the Oval. Photo: Getty Images
The left-handed opener’s Ashes legacy was secured with his monumental haul of 766 runs in seven innings in England’s last visit here, setting the foundations for their historic 3-1 series victory. His return three years ago has been bettered by only two batsmen – Don Bradman and Wally Hammond – in Ashes series of no more than five matches. As captain, he was far less effective in England last series, with a top score of only 62, but will hope to rediscover his mojo on the faster and bouncier wickets he enjoyed so much last time.
Deano’s verdict: The scary thing is that he didn’t have a great series in England, and they still won. Australia must bowl to him at the back of a length, and make him play at every ball.
Kevin Pietersen of England chases a wide ball at the Oval. Photo: Getty Images
Known to general Australian audiences for his run-in with David Warner in the Birmingham Walkabout nightclub as much for his skills with the bat, he then proved he could throw a few punches of his own by scoring 180 in the crushing defeat of Australia at Lord’s. He and Captain Cook did not set the world alight as a pair through the series, though, and there was criticism that they were too alike in style for an opening combination. But at 22 and after 11 Tests, the baby-faced right-hander still averages more than 40 entering his first series in Australia and is also a handy part-time spinner.
Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott keep an eye on Shane Watson. Photo: Getty Images
Deano’s verdict: A good quality player and organised for a kid. You have to pitch it up to him and get him driving. I feel he’s anicker.
Ian Bell hits out at Lord’s. Photo: AFP
The South African-born No.3 was another prolific performer last time around here, but arrives in a lean trot, having gone 16 innings without a Test century. Australia’s bowlers did well to restrict his scoring opportunities on his preferred leg side during the first leg of the back-to-back Ashes series, and by troubling him with bouncers. It was a precedent Mitchell Johnson built on during the one-day series that followed in England. He ended up scoring only 293 runs in 10 innings during the Ashes but despite having weaknesses exposed, it is difficult to see him not starting the series at first drop.
Deano’s verdict: Whatever Australia planned for him in England – keep doing it. He doesn’t like the short stuff or the ball swinging back into his pad.
Alastair Cook kisses the urn. Photo: Getty Images
England’s box office star hasn’t yet joined his teammates in Perth after being granted compassionate leave following the death of a friend but he will be on his way soon. That is bad news if he can replicate the kind of swashbuckling exhibition he put on at Old Trafford in August. With an ego to match his kitbag of strokes, he guarantees entertainment no matter how many he scores. Pietersen will be back for the 2015 World Cup but this is likely to be the last time Australian crowds see him in an Ashes series.
Stuart Broad is mobbed by teammates in Durham. Photo: Reuters
Deano’s verdict: A big-match player, I’d be mixing the length up to him and make him bat out of his skin to beat you. He can get into the verbal stuff but I wouldn’t say a word to him.
Monty Panesar in full flow. Photo: AP.
No longer ‘‘The Sherminator’’ as Shane Warne branded him England’s trusty No.5 was impossible to make fun of in the winter. His three hundreds in the Ashes were the foundation upon which their 3-0 victory was built and deservedly earned him the title of man of the series. England’s failure to pass 400 in an innings over the five Tests was a statistical vulnerability that would have been far more damaging had Bell not repeatedly stood up in the middle order. If he reaches three figures again, back him to make 109 – he did it twice in the Ashes.
Deano’s verdict: A quality player but doesn’t have an X-factor apart from his defence. Length is important – Australia should keep the ball up and stop him hitting to third man. PS Pup: deploy a third man.
Another young gun from the Yorkshire production line, the 24-year-0ld has his nose ahead to start as England’s No.6 at the Gabba next month. It was a position he assumed for most of the last series until being left out at the Oval when the hosts opted for the extra bowling all-rounder Chris Woakes. But with only one half-century in seven innings against Australia, and an average just a smidgen over 30, he needs a big score to hold off the other main middle-order candidate, Gary Ballance. Bairstow’s wicketkeeping skills make him the back-up gloveman on tour.
Deano’s verdict: He strikes me as an lbw merchant; he hits the ball at funny angles. I’d go the old West Indies trick – bounce, bounce, then try to get him leg-before.
England’s keeper boasts a superb Test average of 42.36, and cashed in on their domination on their last visit here with his first century against Australia in the fifth Test in Sydney. He was also named England Player of the Year for 2012-13, seemingly at the peak of his powers. However, his typically destructive batting was harnessed well by Michael Clarke’s men in the winter, and the runs that have been so handy for England at No.7 deserted him. Prior finished the series averaging only 19, with a highest score of 47. As for his glovework, it is vastly improved in recent years.
Deano’s verdict: Highly respected and can take the game away from you in 20 minutes. He will come at you. Like with Cook, whatever Australia did in England, stick with it.
The fast bowler can expect a torrid time from local crowds after the no-walking controversy and his time-wasting antics at Trent Bridge. But he won’t mind being Public Enemy No.1 if he can reproduce the kind of match-winning heroics he pulled out at Chester-le-Street when Australia were on track to win before he inflicted a stunning collapse. Broad’s Ashes were brought to a standstill prematurely due to injury three years ago but his ability to rise to the occasion when it matters makes him a most valuable asset.
Deano’s verdict: The only way to beat him and Anderson is not let them bowl too many balls to you – find a way to get off strike when you’re under pressure. He tries things to get you out, and if anything may get bored if things don’t go his way.
One of the best spinners in the world, Swann thrived in spin-friendly conditions in England this year, and although he is unlikely to find wickets as suitable in Australia, he will again play an important role. Swann managed 15 wickets at 40 three years ago but his ability to keep it tight and dry up the scoring will enable England’s quicks to rest when the ball gets old. Swann is also a capable lower-order ball-striker, and has a safe pair of hands in the slips cordon.
Deano’s verdict: The key to playing top spinners is using your feet and knowing where to get a single. Border had the sweep, Boon the flick to square-leg or a stab, and I hit it to mid-on or mid-off. But no one outside Warne has done that well in Australia.
With 17 wickets in three Tests, the hulking paceman was a surprise packet in England’s Ashes rout three years ago but has since hit tough times. He did not feature in England’s defence of the urn this year due to injury but if his troublesome back can withstand the rigours of touring life, Tremlett again looms as a menace to the Australians. He will need a strong start to the tour if he is to beat Finn and Rankin for the third fast bowler’s berth.
Deano’s verdict: His height and bounce are his strength but just let him go. One shot off the back foot will hurt him. The good thing is the likes of Rogers have played a fair bit against him in County cricket.
This year’s Ashes could have been far different had the 31-year-old not produced a heroic performance at Trent Bridge, where his 10 wickets sealed a narrow victory for his team. He could not continue his hot form during the series as Stuart Broad took over but finished on a strong note with five wickets at The Oval. Although his swing is better suited to English conditions, Anderson was the leading wicket-taker three years ago with 24 at an average of 26, and will again be a key to his team’s hopes of retaining the urn.
Deano’s verdict: He has really evolved into a fantastic cricketer and is England’s spearhead. Has wonderful length and control over his swing. You have to play him late and use the swing to create angles when batting.
The English have been expecting big things from their project player, and after 23 Tests this could be the tour he delivers. Australians will better remember him as the bowler who nearly cost England victory in the first Test but it’s worth noting the towering paceman was one of his team’s leading wicket-takers in the 2010-11 campaign before being left out for the Melbourne and Sydney legs of the series. Finn’s record of 90 wickets at under 30 is handy considering he is the junior member of England’s powerful seam-bowling attack.
Deano’s verdict: I noticed at Trent Bridge when Haddin went after him that he didn’t like having punches thrown back at him. He’s one you can be aggressive with because he’s vulnerable keeping line and length under pressure.
The left-arm finger spinner was selected despite a troubled year which involved sanctions after he made unwanted headlines for urinating on a bouncer outside a nightclub in Brighton and he subsequently moved county teams after being sacked by Sussex. World class at his best, Panesar is largely here as a back-up to premier tweaker Graeme Swann but, with 10 wickets at 38, he has a handy record in Australia. Will be a fan favourite if he gets a run but given he’s likely to have spare time on his hands, England know they have to keep him on the straight and narrow.
Deano’s verdict: He’s a street fighter and loves a scrap. But I don’t think there is much need to worry about him because England won’t play two spinners out here.
The giant paceman broke Irish hearts with his decision to defect to England last year to give himself a chance of realising his dream to play Test cricket, but the move is about to pay dividends. With 52 matches under his belt for Ireland, Rankin is no stranger to the international arena and is likely to get his chance this summer. He was one of England’s best in the one-day series after the Ashes and, at 201 centimetres, should appreciate the extra bounce on offer inAustralia.
Deano’s verdict: Another good England player from another country. He bowls a heavy ball – he hits the bat hard – and could be the surprise packet of the series. He’d be my replacement for Tim Bresnan.
Stokes tipped out Chris Woakes from the all-rounder’s berth in the touring party. His career averages of 36 with the bat and 27 with the ball are marginally inferior to Woakes, who played in the last Ashes Test, but his extra pace was deemed to be more likely to make an impact at the elite level. The 22-year-old booked his berth with a strong performance in the one-day series in September, culminating in a five-wicket haul in the final game. England’s strong stocks with both bat and ball, however, mean Stokes is unlikely to play a key role this summer.
Deano’s verdict: I need to have a closer look at him in the warm-up games because I haven’t seen a lot of him. Comes to Australia as a bit of an unknown package to locals. Keep safe.
No man scored more runs in the top flight of County cricket this year than the 23-year-old Zimbabwean-born batsman. With 1251 runs at 63, Ballance simply knocked the door down for a seat on the plane to Australia. Uncapped at Test level, he is locked in a battle with Jonny Bairstow for the No.6 slot in England’s batting line-up. He celebrated his Ashes call-up by making centuries in each innings for Yorkshire in September, and earlier in the season hit a ton for the England Lions against Australia. That England can have a player with a first-class average of 54 on the fringes underlines their depth in batting talent.
Deano’s verdict: Not the worst and has already inflicted some pain against the Australians. But inexperience on bouncier pitches and the bigger grounds might be a problem for him.
The 33-year-old is at an age when he should be fading from the international scene but a steady return of 602 runs at 40 on the County scene this season was enough to convince England selectors to give the veteran his first Ashes trip. A gritty top-order batsman, Carberry played four one-dayers against Australia this year but other than a half-century in Cardiff, failed to make an impact. He will only play if injury rocks England’s incumbents but is excellent in the field so do not be surprised if he makes more of an impact as a substitute fieldsman a la Gary Pratt.
Deano’s verdict: He’s the back-up opener on this tour, and Cook and Root are set at the top of the order, so I don’t expect to see him in the Test series.