DARREN WALTON AND JIM MORTON
Steve Waugh is backing Australia’s unfancied Ashes tourists to repeat the heroic feats of his 1989 “worst-ever” comrades and return home from England with test cricket’s famous urn.
Chief selector John Inverarity on Wednesday named a 16-man Australian squad that bookmakers swiftly dismissed as the biggest Ashes outsiders in living memory.
Selectors turned to veteran wicketkeeper Brad Haddin to be Michael Clarke’s deputy, relegating Matthew Wade to second-string gloveman, and recalled fellow 35-year-old Chris Rogers to bolster Australia’s under-performing top order.
Waugh had no problem with the “change of direction” and was equally unconcerned about Australia’s recent 4-0 defeat in India, insisting history could repeat during the five-test series starting at Trent Bridge on July 10.
Under Allan Border in 1989, Waugh, opener Mark Taylor and swing expert Terry Alderman inspired Australia’s memorable 4-0 series whitewash of England after the tourists had been similarly written off.
“We went away and they all said it’s the worst team to tour England,” Waugh said on Wednesday.
“We had a lot of inexperience and players who were trying to prove themselves, including myself, and all of a sudden we just clicked.
“We won that first test out of nowhere at Headingly, got our confidence.
“It was a four-month tour, we got to know each other very well touring on the bus together and got this great camaraderie going and all of a sudden we became this really strong force.
“We won 4-0. We would have won 6-0 except for the rain, so it can turn pretty quickly – but the first test is obviously very important.
“There is certainly enough talent there for this team to be successful.”
The former test captain said carrying the underdog tag could work in Australia’s favour, providing the team itself believed it could win and not merely compete.
But he stressed an improved batting performance was “definitely” the key against an English outfit hungry to bounce back from their recent drawn series in New Zealand.
“We’ve got the bowlers to take 20 wickets,” Waugh said.
“We can beat any team in the world and we proved that, almost, last year when we nearly beat South Africa, who are the No.1 team.
“So we’re not that far away. It’s a matter of the top six getting some consistency, getting some confidence.
“England have themselves been very inconsistent over the past 12, 18 months.”
Inverarity admitted the vast experience of Haddin and Rogers was a major factor in their selections, especially following the retirements of greats Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey.
Rogers, currently captaining Middlesex in English county cricket, was the second-highest run-scorer in the Sheffield Shield last season, behind Ponting, with 742 runs at 49.47.
Haddin’s appointment means he is set to go into the first Test as wicketkeeper ahead of Wade, the incumbent.
“The firm intention at this stage is that Brad is the preferred keeper for the Ashes,” Inverarity said.
Selectors also included Tasmanian bowling allrounder James Faulkner among a six-man pace battery featuring comeback quick Ryan Harris, alongside Peter Siddle, James Pattinson, Jackson Bird and left-armer Mitchell Starc.
With Nathan Lyon the only spinner selected, young West Australian left-armer Ashton Agar could bowl himself into Ashes test contention by impressing in Australia A’s three tour matches in the UK beforehand.
The inclusion of Harris, who only returned from shoulder surgery a couple of months ago, and Faulkner’s late-season domestic form meant Mitchell Johnson was jettisoned after being part of the squad whitewashed in India recently.
Allrounders Moises Henriques, Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith also paid the price for the India debacle.
Inverarity confirmed Shane Watson, who stood down from the vice-captaincy, would tour as a batting allrounder despite his history of breaking down with injuries.
Australian Ashes squad: Michael Clarke (capt), Brad Haddin (vice-capt), David Warner, Ed Cowan, Chris Rogers, Phillip Hughes, Shane Watson, Usman Khawaja, Matthew Wade, James Faulkner, Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc, James Pattinson, Ryan Harris, Jackson Bird, Nathan Lyon.