By Justin Langer
Former Australia batsman and Somerset captain
Shane Watson...is potentially a superstar on the world stage
If the reactions of some critics to the Australian touring squad are anything to go by, then the current Ashes holders might as well stay at home this summer.
It's a similar situation to 1989 when Australia arrived, having been branded by some as the worst touring team ever to visit England. Now, that series is deemed to be a turning point in Australian cricket fortunes, which led to the successes of the past two decades.
Much has been said on the omission of Andrew Symonds and while I am an unabashed fan of the dynamic all-rounder, I can understand why the selectors decided to leave him out.
No-one has a God given right to be selected in the Australian Test team and the facts suggest his form on and off the field has fallen below the expected standard over the last 12 months.
Andrew McDonald over Symonds may be hard to comprehend for some - but in my view the uncomplicated and old-fashioned red-head from Victoria is an excellent selection. Batting at eight and bowling his wily medium pacers, he provides good balance to the team.
In the four Test matches McDonald has played against a very strong South Africa team, Australia have won three of them. His enthusiasm for the game is infectious and that attitude helps create harmony in the team, a critical ingredient when touring England.
Shane Watson has been chosen as a second all-rounder but his role will be different to that of McDonald. He could bat at number five or six and his bowling will be seen as a bonus, considering his history of injuries.
Ponting targets Ashes win on English soil
With his insatiable hunger for success and incredible work ethic, everyone in Australian cricket is praying Watson's body will hold up because he is potentially a superstar on the world stage.
Also fighting for that number six position will be Marcus North, who scored a brilliant century in his debut Test match in South Africa.
I expect him to be in the side at the start of the series and his off-spinners, which have improved remarkably over the last few years, will also be handy if Australia decide to go into the series with four fast bowlers.
That policy worked well for England in 2005 and without a world-class spinner in their squad, Australia will be tempted to use the same strategy this summer. The returning Brett Lee and Stuart Clark will add much needed experience to the bowling outfit but the men to watch out for are Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle.
Both have played outstandingly over the last eight months and they will be primed for this contest. Neither of them minds a fight and they are sure to pose some questions to England's top order.
Rounding off the bowling attack is workhorse Tasmanian Ben Hilfenhaus, who is strong and swings the ball away from the right handers, and off-spinner Nathan Hauritz.
Again, many critics scoff at Hauritz's selection but in my view he is at the very least as good a bowler as Graeme Swann and therefore neither team takes any great advantage in the spin bowling department.
Australia's batting looks strong. The top three is incredibly important in the success of the team and with the combination of Simon Katich, Phil Hughes and Ricky Ponting the Australians will go into the series with confidence.
England's strength in 2005 was in the weight of runs they scored in their first innings; heavy scoring allowed their four-pronged pace attack to come at us with constant aggression and Australia will look to do the same this time.
I would have liked to have seen one extra batsman, namely Brad Hodge, included but my instincts are that Australia will be a very hungry, closely knit squad, who will contest what I expect to be a most entertaining Ashes series.
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