Aussies have strength in depth
Former Australia batsman Jimmy Maher believes there is a host of talent waiting to prove themselves in Ricky Ponting’s Test line-up when the Ashes series has been concluded.
Maher, 31, is a veteran of 26 one-day internationals but like so many other talented batsman found opportunities limited at Test level because of the form of Australia’s top order.
The tourists, however, have struggled with the bat this summer - only Ponting has reached three figures - with Matthew Hayden and Damien Martyn particularly short of runs.
Maher, who was in the victorious World Cup squad of 2003, believes there are players ready for the step up.
He said: “There are a lot of players between the age of 27 and 33 that are seasoned players, like Andrew Symonds who hasn’t even been talked about for the Ashes. He could have quite easily have slotted in there and done a good job.
“(Mike) Hussey is another one, (Brad) Hodge is reserve batsman, Matty Elliott is out injured at the moment.
“There’s a lot of very good players just below the Test team, but because these guys have been there for so long those players are now between 27-28 to 32-33.
“Marcus North is another one, he’s been at Lancashire and is a talent and one to keep an eye out for. There are a lot of guys around that could come in and do a very good job.”
Maher, however, still has faith in Ponting’s men raising their game for the final Test of the summer, with victory needed at The Oval to retain the Ashes.
“They’ve been so good for so long, and that hasn’t changed. A couple of them are short of runs, but they still average over 50,” said Maher, who has joined Durham until the end of the season.
“It does make it hard to break your way in, but that’s why Australia have been so dominant.
“One of the strengths of Australian cricket is that there are a lot of players that are not there, obviously because the top six have been so formidable.
“They know they have good back-up, and that keeps the players there performing to a higher level because they know they can’t afford to slip up for too long because there are players waiting in the background to come through.”
He added: “It’s been an amazing series. I still think Australia can, and will, win at The Oval and keep the Ashes.
“England have played very well, Australia haven’t played as well as they can - but they’re too good not to do well at The Oval.”
Maher has also been impressed with England’s talent below Test level, and he has tipped 20-year-old team-mate Liam Plunkett to make the step up.
“From the little I’ve seen of him, I’m a bad judge if he doesn’t play for England at some stage,” Maher said.
“He’s got a lot of ability, hits the deck hard, swings it and nips it around. If he keeps working hard at his game he can do anything.”