Cricket: Plight of the Kiwis may also befall Australians

New Zealand might have been swept 2-0 by England in the away test series but looking at early Ashes intelligence data, Australia can expect much the same.

When the England side hums, as it did in the fourth innings of the first test and the majority of the second, they're a juggernaut.

The key difference, at this stage, is offspinner Graeme Swann. His flight grenades had the New Zealanders tending to freeze like garden gnomes, despite trying to get their pad across to play him outside the line of off stump in the second test. They earned him career-best figures of 10 for 132, despite having not previously taken a wicket at Headingley or against New Zealand.

The murmur in the English press boxes is that pitches will be made drier for the Ashes to give Swann greater assistance later in the tests when footmarks start to form from Australia's left-arm bowlers (much like Neil Wagner and Trent Boult). A more abrasive surface could also hasten reverse swing.

Australia has two left-armers - Mitchell Starc and the uncapped James Faulkner - in their squad. It's feasible both will not play at once for fear of giving Swann a Headingley-type advantage. However, Australian sides have rarely been selected on fear and, with offspinner Nathan Lyon in their own ranks, they may work on the footmarks themselves.

That's a risky plan given Swann's accuracy but adds another twist to a series which is still five weeks from starting in Nottingham. Regardless, there is blanket coverage in the papers, especially with Australia's arrival for the Champions Trophy. The New Zealand series went from entrée to long-forgotten dessert within 24 hours.

Swann has taken 222 test wickets at 28.50 in 52 tests; Lyon has 76 wickets at 33.18 in 22 tests. The Australian can't bowl a doosra (neither can the Englishman) but is hoping 'Jeff' - his delivery which appears to go the other way - can match Swann's overwhelming guile.

Swann's potential impact has even prompted talk legspinner Fawad Ahmed might be added to the Australian squad, provided his citizenship can be fast-tracked.

Ahmed reached Australia in 2010 and claimed asylum as a refugee on the grounds he had been subject to death threats for the promotion of women's rights in Pakistan.

Currently the earliest that the 31-year-old can get an Australian passport is August 18, shortly before the final test. If a bill is passed next week, which allows the government to rush through citizenship for applicants who will "engage in an activity that is of benefit to Australia", he could be an instant Aussie.

Ahmed played three Sheffield Shield games last season for Victoria and has taken 39 first-class wickets at an average of 32.20. He also played 10 first-class matches in Pakistan.

Australia's battle to avoid inferiority on the bowling front extends to pace. England's attack of James Anderson (307 wickets at 30.14), Stuart Broad (195 wickets at 30.93) and Steven Finn (88 wickets at 28.73) shade their opponents for experience. Only Peter Siddle (41 tests) has played more than 12 tests in Australia's six-man arsenal made up of Starc, Faulkner, Ryan Harris, Jackson Bird and James Pattinson. Mitchell Johnson has been dropped.

The other factor consuming the preamble is whether Australia's decision to opt for 35-year-old veterans Brad Haddin and Chris Rogers can help settle the team; avoiding further controversies like the homework scandal which saw Shane Watson, Usman Khawaja, Johnson and Pattinson sit out the third test of the 4-0 loss to India because they failed to provide coach Mickey Arthur with a report on the team's struggles during the series.

David Warner's Twitter account will also be under scrutiny. Haddin has been named vice-captain and Rogers has experience in English conditions for four counties.

- Herald on Sunday

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