The Ashes: Aussies do not reel in Symonds
Australia have omitted controversial all-rounder Andrew Symonds from their squad for the 2009 Ashes Series. Other than not calling up Symonds there are no major surprises in the squad chosen by chief selector Andrew Hilditch.
It looks like being the end of Symonds' Test career despite an average of 40.61 with the bat in 26 Tests and taking 24 wickets at 37.33. His career has been blighted by controversy and misdemeanours including abusing Brendon McCullum on radio, going out drinking and missing a team meeting to go fishing.
Instead of the 33-year-old the squad includes two all-rounders. The talented but often-injured Shane Watson is picked as well as the incumbent Andrew McDonald. Despite the fact that the latter only scored 13 and took one for 105 in the last Test against South Africa in March.
A fit Watson is a notable boost to the tourists and if he can maintain his fitness then he will add great balance to the side. Where the Aussies seem to be lacking though is in a top quality spinner.
They have been unable to replace legend Shane Warne and Nathan Hauritz is the only specialist spinner in the squad. If, as predicted, the first Test in Cardiff is played on a spinner-friendly surface then England could well have an advantage with the in-form Graeme Swann and perhaps a recall for Monty Panesar.
The squad sees recalls, as expected, for fit-again bowlers Stuart Clark and Brett Lee. The pair will most likely form a fearsome trio with Mitchell Johnson. Indeed Johnson in typical Australian style has thrown down the gauntlet to recent England hero Ravi Bopara.
Johnson follows captain Ricky Ponting in challenging the hosts as while England's recent thrashing of the West Indies was impressive the Ashes will be much more of a contest with far stronger opposition.
Ponting has stated that the biggest thing missing off his captaincy CV is that of an Ashes series win in England and he will seek to prove that odds of 4/6 for an away series win is too long.
The Aussies faced some problems a few months ago with series defeats against India and South Africa. But in their last Test series in South Africa they demonstrated what a good side they are with a 2-1 series win.
They may not have fully replaced legends Justin Langer, Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist and Shane Warne. But it is fair to say that other than Warne Australia have competent replacements. In fact opener Phillip Hughes looks a class act already.
The 20-year-old has an average of over 69 in his three Tests so far and now the youngster has taken advantage of domestic bowlers in the County Championship scoring 574 runs for Middlesex at an average of 143.50.
Hughes' experience of English conditions come the start of the Ashes could be invaluable and if he bats in the five-match series like he has done so far in his career then England could struggle to justify odds of 15/8 to win the series. While it is 5/1 for there to be the first drawn series since 1972.
England will hope that the one-day series with the West Indies and the World Twenty20 do not damage their recent rebuilt confidence ahead of the Ashes too much. But even if they don't Australia should once again have too much for England, albeit, another whitewash is probably not on the cards, as was suffered last time Down Under.
Australian Ashes squad: Ricky Ponting (captain), Michael Clarke (vice-captain), Stuart Clark, Brad Haddin, Nathan Hauritz, Ben Hilfenhaus, Phillip Hughes, Michael Hussey, Mitchell Johnson, Simon Katich, Brett Lee, Graham Manou, Andrew McDonald, Marcus North, Peter Siddle, Shane Watson.