Rebuilt Aussies up for Ashes battle

Skipper Ricky Ponting says Australia have learned the lessons of their titanic 2005 Ashes loss against England, and promises a titanic battle this year.

The Australians hold the famous urn after regaining the Ashes 5-0 in the 2006/07 series, but much has changed with the retirements of modern-day greats Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer.

Selectors on Wednesday unveiled a transitional 16-man squad with a total match experience of just 418 Tests, compared with the 796 of the 2005 squad and the 666 of the party that toured in 2001.

Only Ponting, vice-captain Michael Clarke, Simon Katich and Brett Lee remain from the last series in England four years ago.

But 131-Test veteran Ponting warned England, fresh from trouncing the West Indies 2-0, that his Aussies will pose a much sterner threat in the five-Test July/August series.

In a squad notable for the absence of unpredictable all-rounder Andrew Symonds, eight have played fewer than 10 Tests, but they have been encouraged by their 2-1 series win earlier this year over the world’s second-rated side, South Africa.

”England have done everything very well against the West Indies, but I can guarantee that they’ll be facing a stiffer opposition when we arrive,” Ponting said.

”England will be a very stiff and tough opposition, they always are when we play against them.

”With 2005 we got off to a great start and then things just slipped away from us. A lot of us have been there, learned from our mistakes and we’re keen to rectify that.

”There’s a void in my cricketing career that hasn’t been achieved yet and that’s being captain of a winning Ashes series in England. That’s something very dear to my heart.”

Ponting believes the experience of beating the Proteas will work in Australia’s favour when the Ashes get under way in Cardiff on July 8.

”We went to South Africa with a less experienced team and we’ve got an extra three Test matches into some of these guys now,” he said.

”You don’t face many tougher tasks than playing South Africa over there, and our guys came through particularly well, so that excites me about what we’ve got coming up on this tour.

”We’ve got a great balance of youth and experience, so hopefully when the big moments come around it will be all of us who stick up our hands and get the job done.”

Selectors went for three all-rounders — Shane Watson, Andrew McDonald and Marcus North — but there was no room for the 34-year-old Symonds.

Symonds has had a chequered 26-Test career and has not played a Test since Boxing Day last year against South Africa in Melbourne following a season of injury, poor form and off-field personal problems.

Chairperson of selectors Andrew Hilditch said the selection of injury-prone Watson was subject to his recovery from a groin injury.

”I suppose Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson were competing for the same spot,” he said.

”Shane was in extremely good form before his minor injury and he also gives us quality pace bowling and he’s capable of batting anywhere in the top six, so we think he’s a very good selection for the Ashes tour.”

Watson said he expected to be bowling next week after recovering from his latest setback and to be fit by the time the team arrives in England.

Opening batsman Phillip Hughes is the youngster of the tourists at 20, and comes into the Ashes series on the back of scoring four centuries during a six-week English county guest stint with Middlesex.

Ponting’s touring party will have a six-strong pace attack, headed by Brett Lee and left-armer Mitchell Johnson.

They will be backed up by Stuart Clark, Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Watson, while off spinner Nathan Hauritz was handed the specialist spinner’s role, supported by North and left-armer Michael Clarke.

Graham Manou was named as the extra player as back-up wicketkeeper to Brad Haddin. — Sapa-AFP

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