FIVE Australians who are most likely to make it tough for England in this year’s Ashes...
It used to be a case of ‘which Mitch’ turned up, after Johnson’s wild inconsistencies in the 2009 and 2010/11 Ashes. In fact, he was not present at all for Australia’s 2013 defeat, on their last tour - before serving notice of his brutal winter revenge by dusting up England in an end-of-summer one-day international series win. England’s batsmen have never yet demonstrated they can deal with Johnson at his best, so can only cling to the hope - unlikely on current form - that he somehow regresses again.
These days, of course, for good measure there are two ‘Mitches’ - three including emerging all-rounder Marsh. Arguably, and frighteningly for England, it is Starc who is the most dangerous of the two left-arm fast bowlers. In tandem, if both are on song, there is a taxing variety too. Both are very quick, but Starc can attack the stumps at a more regular full length with a high arm and often late swing - while Johnson’s slingy approach just gives the batsman nowhere to go, as England discovered two winters ago.
If pace - Australia have three other proven frontline options as well as Starc and Johnson - is perhaps England’s biggest worry, Warner loves to hammer home an advantage with his combative shot-making. The opener, with fellow left-hander Chris Rogers his stoic foil at the other end, can make a merely under-par total appear woeful in barely a session if the mood takes him. It very often does, as England have already witnessed first hand home and away. Warner had a false start last time round, thanks to his Champions Trophy loss of temper in Birmingham, and will be itching to prove the points he made in 2013/14. More than ever, England will know they must get him early.
At 26, by the time the Ashes begins, Smith will arrive on a high. His methods remain those of the player Australia not so long ago continued to back, in the absence of convincing evidence why. But the hunch has been entirely vindicated by a prolific past 12 months. Smith used to fit in where he could, often field and catch brilliantly, bat passably, bowl a few leg-breaks - and always apparently tell good jokes. His new currency as an inked-in number four is pure runs - at a Test average above 50 - albeit with the same homespun, front-foot technique which looks sure to be vulnerable at some point but instead seems to ensure he middles everything that comes his way.
If any one member of Michael Clarke’s team embodies Australia’s edge over England, it is their veteran wicketkeeper. Haddin will be 38 later this year, yet just seems to get better - and more cussed. He came within less than a handful more defiant blows of scrambling an improbable opening win at Trent Bridge on his last visit. Then in the 2013/14 5-0 whitewash of England, it was Haddin who had as big a say as anyone with his five 50s and a hundred - often just when the tourists had threatened a minor foothold. He dropped very little too, and will be more determined than ever to make his last trip to England an unqualified success.