May 032013

During that 2005 series, all rounder Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff was responsible for some of the most heartbreakingly frustrating (because he is English) yet horribly impressive (because he was) all round cricketing performances witnessed by this writer.

This laconic Lancashire man is descended from Norse invaders, and like some mead swilling Viking marauding his way through a hapless baggy green village he proved an irresistible force with both bat and ball.

It was a nightmare on an English pitch, and Freddie was the Kruger-esque monster of the piece.

Flintoff was the difference in a tight series that first turned on the twisted ankle of Glenn McGrath.

It finished with Flintoff being awarded everything from Man of the Series to the rather more exciting sounding (and where Freddie is concerned, dangerously inviting) Freedom of the City of Preston.

When Australia returned to the antipodes with their Ashes dreams shattered, a proverbial penny dropped.

We need a ‘Freddie’.

Thus the Ashes tour of 2005 set the ball rolling for the epic quest to find Australia’s analogous answer, an obsessive search for a cricketing saviour equal parts leather-flinger and willow-wielder.

Shane Watson was the preferred candidate, a Flintoff-esque figure in both skill and physique. A player with the potential to hold his place with bat or ball alone: it must be said a potential he is yet to fully realise.

Unfortunately he also owned the tag of being potentially ‘injury prone’, sadly a potential he would realise.

As a result of Watson’s injuries many suitors to the role have been tried and discarded with over the past eight years.

Andrew Symonds, Andrew McDonald and most recently Glenn Maxwell, Moises Henriques and Steve Smith all attempted to fill the void.

Henriques and Smith both impressed with the opportunities they were afforded in that erroneous tour of India, and can consider themselves unlucky to not be in the Ashes squad.

As it turns out they are making a trip to England, but instead of playing in front of 30,000 parochial, sun-baked soldiers of the Barmy Army, they will play in front of 30 sun-stroked pensioners as members of the Australia A squad.

Australia took three all-rounders the most recent tour of India, four if you include Shane Watson. If you include Watson as an all-rounder on the coming Ashes tour, that number has been halved.

Consistency of selection not only breeds confidence in a playing group, and in this regard I feel the most for Steve Smith.

He will surely be in line for a call up should form or injuries warrant it.

But none of this is to deny our new great all-round hope his opportunity.

Step up James Faulkner, a player selectors believe (and fans hope) has the ability to lay waste to that most reviled of opponents; the English cricketer.

Faulkner has been one of the most consistent performers both domestically and in shorter international fixtures for the best part of a year.

He possesses one of the best all-round games in Australia, his size and style of play not unlike that of Watson or indeed Flintoff at his peak.

Faulkner’s left arm seamers in particular could prove very handy on the swinging decks of the Old Dart. And his batting has improved markedly over this past summer, having lifted his average 10 runs from the previous season.

In fact with youth on his side, his potential as a match-winner may surpass that of Watson at a similar stage in his career.

And lets face it, his ability to call on a little bit of that curiously Australian ‘mongrel’ trait will ruffle a few pommy feathers and assure him a special place in the hearts of his English opponents and their fans.

Faulkner is not assured of a start in the coming series, though Clarke and the powers that be could do worse than throw him in as the specialist all-rounder, at the very least it would allow Watson to continue concentrating on being a batsman.

If he does get an opportunity let’s hope the young man from the apple isle can become the apple in the eyes of every Australian cricket fan by putting the wind up a few straight English backs and helping the baggy greens bring home the urn.

First Posted 03 May, 2013 3:32PM AEDT

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