Yesterday we profiled the sixteen hungry men tasked with retaining the Ashes for England on Australian soil. Today, we look at their hosts who will be aiming to win their sixth successive home Ashes series:
Ricky Ponting – A fading force with the bat and a captain on the verge of becoming the first Australian skipper to lose three Ashes series. The next two months are likely to embellish or potentially curtail a fine career.
Michael Clarke – Was arguably the best batsman on either side in the 2009 series, but has looked out of sorts since his much publicised split with Lara Bingle. His press conferences are an unbeatable cure for insomniacs.
Shane Watson– Has proved an unlikely success as an opener - and as such is after Ponting, Australia’s key batsman - but is a walking LBW early on. Innocuous medium pace is more dangerous than it looks – just ask Pakistan’s batsmen.
Simon Katich – As difficult to dislodge as the most plucky of barnacles - until he reaches 80 or 90 that is. Not the prettiest to watch at the crease, which even the man himself acknowledged recently when he said that "I think more people get enjoyment out of watching me bowl than bat".
Michael Hussey – Only averages 34 in his last 28 tests and may be lucky to survive the series especially as Kamran Akmal will not be behind the stumps.
Marcus North – Just when you thought he was out for the count, North sprung back off the canvas (and not for the first time either) with a career saving hundred at Bangalore. That revival does not hide the fact though that North is another unlikely to last the series if Australia make a poor start.
Callum Ferguson – Has a “big chance” of making his test bow at Brisbane according to Tim Nielsen. But a first-class average in the mid-thirties will not have England quaking in their size nines.
Usman Khawaja – Immensely talented New South Wales batsman with a first-class average of 54 who could become the first Muslim to play cricket for Australia.
Phil Hughes – Tagged as the “new Bradman” when he exploded onto the test scene against South Africa in 2009 before being rapidly dispensed with. A first-class average of 60 suggests Hughes is better than his brief appearance in the 2009 series suggested.
Cameron White – Test career has been harmed by the fact that White is a blond Victorian who bowls a bit of leg-spin. An Australian middle-order with White at five would look a much tougher proposition for Strauss and co.
Brad Haddin – An exceptionally good number seven – albeit with a propensity for being over-reckless at times. Not so good with the gloves and his place must be under pressure from the impressive Paine.
Tim Paine – Impressed with bat and gloves in India and is clearly the long-term bet to cement a place in the test side. Will probably be Haddin’s understudy this time, however.
Nathan Hauritz – The nation that brought us Warne, O’Reilly and Grimmett now gives us the impotent Hauritz. In a contest between two evenly matched sides, the disparity between him and Swann could prove crucial in the final reckoning.
Steve Smith – If Australia choose to be adventurous, the young leggie could bat at seven ahead of four pacemen. But they won’t and Smith will start the series on the sidelines. A promising batsman, but significant work would appear to be needed on his bowling.
Xavier Doherty – A first-class average of 50 with the ball suggests his mention in dispatches is perhaps a ploy to wind up that habitual victim of slow-left armers – Kevin Pietersen. If he plays in the series, despite his impressive ODI bow yesterday, we will eat our collection of Wisdens.
Mitchell Johnson – His waywardness may make Harmison look metronomic in comparison, but he has an uncanny ability to take wickets with bad balls and is a different proposition on home pitches. England will underestimate Mummy’s Boy at their peril.
Ben Hilfenhaus – The best bowler on show on either side in the 2009 series is to some extent unproven on Australian wickets at the highest level having only played one of his 13 tests at home. That said, is a good bet to be the leading wicket taker in the series.
Doug Bollinger – The children’s TV lookalike (see Doug Bollinger's moonlighting again) is not as brave as Australian quicks of previous vintageif his absence from the final stages of the Mohali Test is anything to go by. Will test Strauss’ perceived weakness against left-arm new ball bowlers.
Peter Siddle – The man with the white lipstick is a solid if unspectacular performer and his recent injury problems mean he is likely to start the series on the sidelines.
Ryan Harris – A rag to riches tale has seen the late-blooming Harris emerge as an international bowler in the last 12 months. Another with recent injury worries.
Peter George – Innocuous on debut at Bangalore, but his height and natural bounce will be clearly more suited to home wickets should injuries give him an opportunity.
Tim Nielsen (Coach): The man who drew the short straw when taking over from Buchanan. His task of returning his charges to former glories looks a tougher one each day.