Mitchell Johnson is carried off on Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood’s shoulders
Ryan Harris rates Australia’s Ashes pace battery of Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins as superior to the trio he formed with Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle to inflict a 5-0 sweep on England in 2013-14, but believes both teams face potential trouble in the form of unsettled batting line-ups.
In a judgement some may find surprising, given the older group combined for a total of 627 Test wickets, including 75 in that Ashes series alone, Harris said that this summer’s combination boasted a more outstanding collection of fast-bowling attributes than the one he was a part of, starting with Hazlewood’s greater height.
“I think so. Hazlewood’s probably doing the job that I did and he’s quicker than me, and he gets more bounce,” Harris said in Adelaide when asked if the current attack was better than his own. “And you’ve got Starc who can definitely do a Johnson role, and you’ve got Cummins so you’ve probably got an extra bit of pace.
“Cummins on his day, he’s fast as well. Obviously we did a good job last time but the key is going to be working as a team, as a bowling unit. That’s what we did well last time and obviously got the results.”
Australia and England each enter the series with doubt swirling around their batting line-ups – for the visitors at the top of the order and the hosts in the middle order. Then there is the uncertainty around the possible participation of Ben Stokes – pending a police investigation and an ECB internal investigation – after his involvement in a fight outside a Bristol nightclub during the northern season. Harris said these issues raised the potential for a closer series than four years ago.
“I think both squads are a bit unsettled, more on their batting line-ups, which I think brings them closer together,” Harris said. “I think Australia have got a pretty good idea of who they want to pick but having unsettled feelings going into that first Test – the bowling line-ups are fine – but I think they’re on even par with their batting line-ups.”
“[Stokes missing] it’s huge. He’s the one that if England lose wickets at the top he is the one that comes out and steadies or counter-attacks. It’s a big hole for England to be honest. I’m sure Australia will be happy he’s not here but they’d also want him here because you want to play against and win against the best. I guess time will tell whether he comes but I think it’s a big hole for them.”
Joe Root’s tourists are in Adelaide preparing for a four-day floodlit fixture that will give them a first look at the conditions in which the inaugural day-night Ashes Test will be staged in early December. Harris is coaching a Cricket Australia XI that lacks bowlers of the sort of velocity expected from Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood, but he still expected the adjustment to be a challenging one for England.
“The ball will probably swing early around start time, it may stop swinging in that sort of 30-45 overs and then when it gets to dusk the grass seems to stand up and it zips around,” he said. “We saw in the Shield game the other week that Starc got it to talk a bit around that time when the sun goes down.
“Talking to a couple of boys they find it tough to bat around that time so that’s where we’ll try to make it as hard as we can for them. Hopefully we’re not batting around that time, that’s my plan. But they’ll have to get used to that real hard seeing time, and we’ve got some good bowlers here. We haven’t got the pace of Starc or Cummins or Hazlewood, but they’ll have to get used to it.”
As for the possibility that the moving pink ball would provide an advantage for England, Harris said he saw bowling attacks as the strong suit of each team. “The bowling line-ups are world class and I think they’re going to have a big say on each Test match,” he said. “With the ball moving around, it’s been well documented that we’ve had trouble with that, but we’re in our own conditions.
“But Anderson and Broad – I’m not sure about England’s third quick, probably Woakes – but those two blokes can destroy games and destroy line-ups and they’re proven good bowlers over here. Anderson’s gotten better in these conditions, it’s pacey and Broad likes the pace.”
Having met with the national coach Darren Lehmann before venturing to Adelaide, Harris said the invitational side was not planning to “bat for four days” but would endeavour to make life difficult for the tourists, while also keeping a close eye out for any information that might be useful once the Test matches start.