| Ricky Ponting to lead Aussies for the Ashes
Australian selectors will sit down in a little more than a fortnight to finalise a touring party of 15 to defend the Ashes in England and Wales this year, with eyes cast around the globe to consider merits of those already playing county cricket, others battling it out in the Indian Premier League in South Africa and more still who are doing service in difficult conditions in the United Arab Emirates against Pakistan.
The prize remains the greatest in an Australian cricketers' life: the tour of England and the chance to write a page in the long book of Ashes rivalry. This year the tour is preceded by the Twenty20 World Cup, a tournament with the potential to make mere cricketers into superstars; be that as it may, it's not the Ashes.
Obsessed with the one-game-at-a-time mantra of professional sport, most Australian players have insisted the Ashes is only in the back of their minds. "This is the tour we're on at the moment," argued spinner Nathan Hauritz, the last spinner standing after the rest fell over like whirling dervishes at the end of the night.
Brett Lee is more honest: "The main aim here is the Ashes, with all due respect to all other cricket. If I can be frank, it's the Ashes first, the Twenty20 World Cup, Australian tour here and the IPL. That's the way it sits."
Green oases in the desert sands, the cricket ovals of Dubai and Abu Dhabi play like any in pitch the subcontinent and are a world away from Cardiff, where the first Ashes Test will be played from July 8. Form in a different context, in another country, i another format may not count as much as it normally would. Fitness, however, is another matter, which is why Lee was so desperate to be here, why Stuart Clark is touring and why Shane Watson is as keen as mustard to bowl in the final game, a Twenty20 in Dubai.
All three missed the Test series in South Africa through injury, while Andrew Symonds, whose impaired judgements had him sidelined twice in recent months, arrived knowing his career was on the line.
Chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch this week confirmed a likely 15-man party, with a back-up wicketkeeper to Brad Haddin a possible 16th tourist.
The batting, which is thin, picks itself. Simon Katich and Phillip Hughes to open, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke to follow, with Haddin a certainty behind the stumps.
Beyond that the picture is far more muddled. Marcus North is the incumbent at No. 6 and will tour, jostling with Watson, Symonds and another incumbent, Andrew McDonald, for three spots in the touring party and one or two in the Test sides.
LIKELY AUSTRALIAN TOUR SQUAD: Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Simon Katich, Phillip Hughes, Michael Hussey, Brad Haddin, Marcus North, Andrew Symonds, Shane Watson, Mitchell Johnson , Peter Siddle, Brett Lee, Stuart Clark, Ben Hilfenhaus and Nathan Hauritz.
- The Age