Australia stumped over first Ashes Test squad

Sydney: Australia announce their squad for the first Ashes Test at a gala event on Sydney harbour on Monday but England may not be closer to knowing the exact team they are going to face at the Gabba even after the bunting is packed away.

Announcing the squad 10 days before the Brisbane Test may have been originally thought of as a display of confidence but after a long run of losses, a string of injuries and form slumps for key players, it could end up looking more like hubris.

The four-strong panel of selectors are expected to hedge their bets by naming a squad of up to 14 players before reducing the pool after England`s final warm-up match against Australia A and another round of Sheffield Shield action this week.

With a lively wicket expected at the Gabba for the first Test, Australia were always likely to pick at least three pacemen along with a spinner to try and exploit what they perceive to be a fragility in England`s batting line-up.

In the post-Shane Warne era, the name of the spinner is no longer one of the first on the teamsheet and there are question marks over the form of current front-runner, off-spinner Nathan Hauritz, after he took a hammering on the recent tour of India.

Hauritz may have secured his spot with a snappy 2-47 for New South Wales against Victoria on Friday and believes he deserves to be in the team despite the "massive learning experience" against the Indians.

"I`ve bowled pretty well over the last 12 months," Hauritz, who is coming under pressure from young leg-spinner Steven Smith, told Reuters last week.

"Obviously the last couple of weeks weren`t the best I`ve bowled but that`s part of life, you`re not always going to have a good game. But I know I`ve done a lot of work in the nets and the ball`s coming out a lot better."

Injury Concerns

Mitchell Johnson is still expected to lead the attack despite being sent back to club cricket this weekend to try and arrest his own slump in form.

Ben Hilfenhaus aside, the other fast bowling contenders have only returned from injury in the last couple of weeks.

Doug Bollinger has had only one club game to his name since returning from India with a side strain and Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris have played little more, although Harris`s nine wickets for Queensland against Tasmania last week was impressive.

Shane Watson looked one of Australia`s sharpest players with both bat and ball in the lost one-day series against Sri Lanka but his fellow opener Simon Katich was also back in club cricket this weekend to prove his recovery from a thumb injury.

Skipper Ricky Ponting is in rude health if not the top of his imperious form but his vice-captain Michael Clarke`s back problem worryingly resurfaced when he was playing for New South Wales on Friday.

There are question marks too over the form of experienced batsmen Mike Hussey and Marcus North but they look set to retain their places for the first of the five Tests at least.

England, who are defending the Ashes, will name their team on Nov. 25, the first morning of the Brisbane Test.

Bureau Report