The Ashes: Dithering Ausralia lose their air of invincibility
Australia picked their team for the Ashes yesterday. Or rather they named 17 players, enough to fill a squad for a packed three-month tour rather than one match, the first Test at Brisbane in nine days. Maybe they think that many will be needed to beat England.
Rainy days: Michael Clarke and Nathan Hauritz wait to go on stage during a press conference to announce the Australian squad
Whatever the reasoning, it smacked of indecision, concern and procrastination. The announcement, made in a specially convened event at Sydney Harbour, was less like selection than organising one of those competitions in nursery schools where everyone wins a prize.
At one point it was possible to think every professional cricketer in the country was about to be given the selectorial nod. But they stopped at 17, the youngest at 21-years-old being Steve Smith, a leg-spinning all-rounder, the eldest at 36 the captain, Ricky Ponting.
Three of them, Callum Ferguson, Usman Khawaja and Xavier Doherty are uncapped at Test level, another, Ryan Harris, has played two matches. There is no chance that three debutants will play in Brisbane.
The caution has partly been enforced by injury doubts but the poor form of senior players allied to the recent 2-0 defeat in India after they made above 400 in the first innings of both matches has seriously taken the spring out of the Australia step (the swagger in the hips disappeared long ago).
By prevarication and the picking of walking wounded they are turning into the England of not so long ago.
It means that there are still places to play for in the final round of Sheffield Shield matches coming up this week and perhaps especially in the four-day encounter between Australia A and England in Hobart starting tomorrow.
Of the three uncapped players, Ferguson and Khawaja are probably about to be engaged in some form of bat-off in the match against England.
Both are playing for Australia A, both have had formidable starts to the season. Ferguson, an upright right-hander, was impressive in the one-day series in England in 2009 when he made two fifties, and Khawaja, a left-hander, is reported to be exhilaratingly talented with no discernible weakness.
The men they have particularly in their sights are the West Australians, Mike Hussey and Marcus North.
Hussey who had an explosive start to his Test career with three hundreds in his first nine innings has no gone 13 without out, seven without a fifty. It is looking a harder game.
As for North, doubts have frequently been cast about his ability to cut it at the highest level but he has continued to defy critics with runs in the nick of time and did so again in India with a second Test hundred.
But there is another batting concern about Michael Clarke, vice-captain, heir apparent. His Test form has not been supreme in recent matches but it is his back which is giving cause for concern.
He has a chronic condition which affected him once more in his Shield match for New South Wales last week, when he made a hundred.
Two spin bowlers have been named, Nathan Hauritz and Xavier Doherty.
Australia Test squad: Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Clarke (vice-captain), Doug Bollinger, Xavier Doherty, Callum Ferguson, Brad Haddin, Ryan Harris, Nathan Hauritz, Mike Hussey, Ben Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Usman Khawaja, Marcus North, Peter Siddle, Steven Smith, Shane Watson.