Australia squad profiles
The Ashes is fast approaching, here is what you can expect from all the players in the Australia squad.
Ricky Ponting (6/1 top series batsman)
This will almost certainly be Ricky Ponting's last Ashes series, and if Australia win then it would seem a fitting moment for the captain to call it a day. Pressure has been growing on Ponting after some unimpressive results lately, but to his credit he's continued to get decent scores, four 50s in his last five innings, and he's always had a great record against England. In the last Ashes Down Under he was Man of the Series having guided his team to a 5-0 whitewash and recorded an average of over 80 for the series, even in England last time he was the 3rd top runscorer and also took several quality catches as his team narrowly lost 2-1. Ponting is a proud man and won't want to lose a 3rd Ashes, I expect him to feature heavily at the top of the run charts again.
Michael Clarke (7/1)
Similarly to Ponting, Clarke is under scrutiny after some disappointing knocks of late and also poor results in the one-day games, in which Clarke often captain's Australia. He's a stylish batsman and in my opinion was the player of the series in England, having blasted just under 450 runs and could count himself unfortunate to be on the losing side. Clarke is the vice-captain, and will more than likely lead the side when Australia travel to England in three years time, he will need to improve his batting form and also show good leadership in the limited overs matches for that to be a guarantee though.
Doug Bollinger (8/1 top series bowler)
Bollinger has fitted in perfectly since his Test debut in 2009, taking 49 wickets with a healthy economy from just 11 matches. The left-hander will be vital for Australia's chances due to his ability to swing it in to right handed batsmen, with the likes of Collingwood and Pietersen short on confidence he could be the man to put the pair under real pressure in the middle order. He's also not short of a word or two to opposing batsmen, and who doesn't like a bit of sledging!
Xavier Doherty (20/1)
Doherty is likely to just be involved in the ODI series having never played a Test match before; even then the youngster Steven Smith is normally preferred to him in the shortened format. If he does play he's a player that can frustrate bowlers due to his canny knack of remaining not-out but his spin needs working on, he gives away too many runs and doesn't strike at a good enough rate to be considered for a Test career just yet.
Callum Ferguson (25/1 top series batsman)
Ferguson is another player who is in the squad to keep pressure on some of the underperforming first-team regulars, but is likely to be carrying the drinks as 12th man, or even out of the Test squad all together. He's a fine batsman who on his day can be a match winner due to his explosive nature, but too often struggles to get into double figures, his ODI average is a very healthy 46.07 though so he will hope to get a chance to build a similar tally in the five-day game.
Brad Haddin (28/1)
Haddin had to wait for some time to get his chance behind the stumps due to a certain Mr Gilchrist, but once the legendary keeper retired the 33 year old has made the spot his own. He's not always been totally reliable with the gloves, but then neither has his nearest rival Tim Paine, the one thing he has going for him against Paine is a slightly better average with the bat and also a more assured approach at the crease.
Ryan Harris (20/1 top series bowler)
Harris, despite being over 30, could be Australia's secret weapon for the series; he's a quick bowler who can also be half decent with the bat. He's only played two Tests before, both in New Zealand, but impressed in both of them, taking nine wickets at a decent average, if everybody is fit then he might not get a look-in, but should a quickie suffer injury then Harris will be the man that Australia go to to get them out of trouble.
Nathan Hauritz (10/1)
Hauritz is Australia's number one spinner, for the time being. Much like Haddin with Gilchrist, he has had to wait for a legend to retire before getting his chance, that man of course is Shane Warne. Performed quite well in the last Ashes series, picking up 10 wickets in the first three Tests, before Australia went with a four-man pace attack and North was entrusted to deliver some off-break bowling. This time I think it will be Smith that steps in if Hauritz isn't getting the turn he requires as the youngster can bat a bit too.
Ben Hilfenhaus (13/2)
Arguably Australia's most dangerous bowler. Hilfenhaus was sensational in the last Ashes, finishing with an unrivalled 22 wickets, he generates terrific swing at a fast pace and will cause problems for England's batsmen if they don't get their eye in early. He can be a stubborn batsman too and scored a 50 against Pakistan in England this summer, following that up with a few decent knocks at number 10 in his last few Tests.
Michael Hussey (10/1 top series batsman)
Having being nicknamed Mr Cricket and Mr Reliable before, Hussey is really feeling the heat about his place in the team. His average at one point was an unbelievable 86.18 and he became the fastest player to score 1000 Test runs, the runs have dried up a bit since then though and he's now had just one century since last summer's Ashes, a score of 136 that pretty much won Australia the game against Pakistan in January. He's still a player that the Aussies will look to to steady the ship in the middle order.
Mitchell Johnson (5/1 top series bowler)
Johnson is Australia's lead-bowler. He has a wonderful action that, when it's firing is impossible to deal with, but when it's wrong, like last summer, is easy to pick off and England certainly benefited from that. Not only is Johnson a devastatingly quick bowler, he's a more than useful batsman, with a century and four 50s to his name he won't be easy to dislodge should England think they're going to rip through the tail after they've dismissed the middle order.
Simon Katich (6/1 top series batsman)
Katich is not exactly easy on the eye with his stance and stroke play, but he knows how to score runs. He's got at least a 50 in nine of his last 13 Test matches, and high 50s at that, he's a player that is always tough to dismiss due to his doggedness at the crease. Not just an opener, Katich will also be thrown the ball a few times during the series, bowling a left-arm Chinaman.
Usman Khawaja (25/1)
Khawaja will be the most unfamiliar name in the squad, and that's because he's the only player out of the 17 to have not played an international fixture. He's unlikely to play in the Test matches, but with seven ODIs to be played after the Ashes I expect him to get a try out in at least one of those games. He averages over 50 in domestic cricket and will become the first Muslim to play for Australia when he does eventually get the nod.
Marcus North (22/1)
North is another player that's under scrutiny at the minute due to his wild inconsistency, since his Test debut at the start of 2009 he's either been amazing or terrible. In his last 10 or so innings scores of 112, 90 and 128 have been mixed in with 9, 16, 3 and three ducks. That must infuriate the selectors, they know he can do it; he just needs to show it on a more regular basis. If he does, he'll be the link between a great score for Australia or an average score.
Peter Siddle (10/1 top series bowler)
Siddle has been out of action since January with a stress fracture in his back, before that he had become an integral part of the Australia bowling attack. He should start the first Test as the track at Brisbane is bowler friendly, but arguably Bollinger, Hilfenhaus and Johnson are all ahead of him in the pecking order so he might not feature all the time. I would have him in there as he's a passionate guy who could be useful for winding up the opposition.
Steven Smith (33/1 top series bowler, 125/1 batsman)
Sooner or later Steven Smith will be the first choice spinner for Australia. It won't be while the Ashes is on I wouldn't have thought as that's some pressure for a youngster, but if Hauritz isn't on form then he'll be in the team by the end of the series that's for sure. What's more, he can bat too. He already has a 50 to his name from four Tests and has a near 30 average in the ODI side, he's confident too which can only be a good thing if his form dips.
Shane Watson (7/1 top series batsman, 25/1 bowler)
Australia's most improved player. Shane Watson is now considered a genuine allrounder, when a few years back he was neither here nor there. Elevated to opener during the last Ashes he has taken to the role with ease, scoring seven 50s and a century in his first eight Tests at the top of the order. With two five for's in his last four Tests he is somebody who can be relied upon as a 4th or 5th change bowler.