Concerns aplenty in Aussies’ Ashes bid

Ten days ago Michael Clarke was asked about Australia’s preparation for the Ashes.

The tourists had just posted comfortable wins over Kent and Essex in warm-up games, having thumped the West Indies in a preceding two-Test series.

A World Cup triumph and Steve Smith’s unforgettable summer of runs against India were other causes for confidence as Australia started their bid for an Ashes series win in England – their first since 2001.

“We’re as well prepared as we can be for this Test match,” Clarke said of Cardiff.

From the moment Brad Haddin dropped Joe Root on the morning of day one in Wales, things have gone from bad to worse for Clarke’s men.

The crisis alerts are starting to sound – and they’ll only get louder if the visitors slip behind 2-0 with another defeat at Lord’s.

The first setback actually came on the final day of Australia’s final tour game, when Ryan Harris announced his retirement.

It robbed Darren Lehmann of arguably his best bowler in English conditions, certainly based on the 2013 Ashes.

Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood were backed to do just as good a job by Harris, but couldn’t deliver on that front in Cardiff.

“We didn’t start very well and England obviously dominated with the ball. The boys watched a bit of that and probably learned a few lessons,” Harris reflected.

Starc, who looked the man most likely to run through England, injured his ankle.

The left-armer is expected to be passed fit for the second Test, which starts on Thursday, but it’s a concern that is unlikely to dissipate during the five-Test series.

Australia were thumped by 169 runs inside four days at Sophia Gardens.

The visitors were out-bowled, out-batted and often out to loose strokes.

Pundits’ dissection of the XI focused largely on two men – Shane Watson and Haddin.

Glenn McGrath and Kevin Pietersen suggested Watson deserved another chance.

Geoff Boycott was predictably at the other extreme, saying Haddin and Watson should have gone 18 months ago.

Those calling for Watson to be axed have seemingly got their wish.

The fact Mitch Marsh is 11 years younger than Watson suggests it might be a long-term move too.

Regardless of what you think of Watson’s form, his omission represents a change of plans one week into an eight-week contest.

It is not an ideal time for the baton to be passed.

Haddin is also out of the side for Lord’s, but for incomparable reasons.

It means Peter Nevill will debut at age 29.

Nevill is a gifted gloveman, but his understanding of bowlers’ nuances couldn’t possibly compare to Haddin.

Then there’s the nerves that come with making your Test debut at the home of cricket.

Nevill can take heart from the tale of Bob Massie, who claimed 16 wickets for Australia on Test debut at the same venue in 1972.

It was an unexpected victory from an inexperienced XI that shocked many – including the Queen, who was due to visit Lord’s at tea on day four.

“She didn’t want to turn up after the game was over so we were taken to Buckingham Palace instead,” Massie said.

Australia (probable): David Warner, Chris Rogers, Steven Smith, Michael Clarke (capt), Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh, Peter Nevill (wkt), Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Nathan Lyon

England (probable): Alastair Cook (capt), Adam Lyth, Gary Ballance, Ian Bell, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler (wkt), Moeen Ali, Stuart Broad, Mark Wood, James Anderson

Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena (SRI), Marais Erasmus (RSA)

TV umpire: Chris Gaffaney (NZL)

Match referee: Ranjan Madugalle (SRI)

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