A maiden Test century at The Oval in 2013 proved the opening of the floodgates for Smith who, having once been the butt of English jokes for his initial selection in 2010-11 based on an ability to bring levity to a humourless Australian dressing room, has now arrived on these shores as the world’s No1-ranked batsman and the key wicket for Alastair Cook’s attack following 12 months in which he has averaged 102 in 16 innings.
Key wicket – Steve Smith
Idiosyncrasies in the right-hander’s technique give bowlers hope right up to when the ball flies off the middle of his bat, while in the field he represents one of the most dynamic in world cricket. All nine of his Test hundreds have come in the first innings.
Pace ace – Mitchell Starc
Dominating large swathes of the Ashes buildup by virtue of being player of the tournament at the World Cup, it is Mitchell Starc – not Mitchell Johnson – who is being touted as the most dangerous weapon in the Australian armoury. Those 22 wickets at 10 runs apiece, in a tournament dominated by the bat, were claimed with the white Kookaburra ball, however, and do not guarantee the 6ft 5in left-armer success with the red Duke on English pitches. But while his Test career is yet to ignite in the same fashion as in one-day cricket, with just two five-wicket hauls in his 17 matches to date – both on home soil – his 10 victims in the recent two-Test series with West Indies suggest we may be about to witness the 25-year-old’s coming of age in the format.
Latecomer – Adam Voges
Arriving in Test cricket at the age of 35, Adam Voges had booked in for a full season captaining Middlesex in the County Championship, where he had previously filled in for fellow Australian Chris Rogers during the 2013 Ashes, until a monstrous showing in the most recent edition of the Sheffield Shield – he scored 1,358 runs in 11 matches at an average of 104.46 – convinced the selectors that age was his least important number. Leaving Lord’s after four championship games, Voges was awarded his Baggy Green on the recent Caribbean tour and repaid that faith with an unbeaten, match-changing 130 on his debut in Dominica. The right-hander may not be one for the future but in the here and now of the Ashes cricket, his seven summers of experience playing for Nottinghamshire and Middlesex gives the tourists additional local nous.
Newcomer – Josh Hazlewood
Tall (he stands at 6ft 5in), quick (he regularly clocks 88mph) and blessed with the ability to consistently threaten off stump, the 24-year-old Josh Hazlewood has made up for time lost to injury early in his career and goes into his first Ashes series brimming with confidence after finishing as the leading wicket-taker on Australia’s recent tour of the Caribbean with 12 in the two-Test victory over West Indies, and on pitches not entirely conducive to fast bowling. The Glenn McGrath comparisons – by virtue of being a metronomic quick from the country in New South Wales – are yet to stretch to predictions of a whitewash. Give it time.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010