It’s a mystery. It’s our weakest link. It’s a magic formula. It’s the key to winning back the Ashes. It’s the Australian middle-order, and it has a lot of expectations riding on it.

The starters

Michael Hussey: they call him Mr Cricket. Hey, they called Jiminy that too, but since Jiminy never had to score 15,000,000 first-class runs before earning his baggy green it’s Hussey you’ll see making up for lost time in the centre this summer.

Shane Watson: he looks like the product of an illicit romance between an ox and a pro surfer, but all-rounder Watson is more delicate than both. His shoulder dislocation last year was the nastiest-looking injury since Simon Jones’s knee exploded on the first day of the 2002/3 series, and now with an injured hamstring, he is 50/50 to take the field in Brisbane.

Adam Gilchrist: has earned a lot of accolades in his career, but none he will have enjoyed less than the one Adam Flintoff gave him last year – bunny. Gilly’s vulnerability to a fast ball closing in from outside his off stump has shaken his confidence. If he doesn’t get it back this series, stump-cam will get the best views of the ball; if he does, try Google Earth.

The bridesmaids

Michael Clarke: Watson’s replacement hit the ground running when he made his debut two years ago but is now fighting with Andrew Symonds for the middle-order scraps. At 25, he’s got time on his side, but you won’t see him bat like it if he gets a chance this week.

Andrew Symonds: “Roy” is a snazzy one-day player who wants to be considered Test-worthy but never quite seems to be giving it everything when he gets the chance. Hence, he’s an also-ran in the Test squad instead of its Flintoff-style all-rounder. With Watson and Clarke to beat for a place in the team, Roy could spend the rest of his career winning one-dayers.

Brad Haddin: Adam Gilchrist has averaged over 50 for most of his career and hit almost every wicket-keeping milestone faster than anyone else. He’s honest, largely ego-free and everyone loves him. He’s the greatest wicket-keeper-batsman this country has ever produced. So there’s no pressure, Brad.

Tomorrow: Part three – The Bowlers