With the summer of cricket fast approaching the Australian sporting spotlight is now shining squarely upon our boys wearing Baggy Green caps. With the recent Test series over in South Africa now in the books, MoTD look to wade through the outstanding and mediocre performances, suspicion and innuendo surrounding the team and the selection decisions that need to be made. Chiefly we ask: (setting aside injuries) who should be the players representing the country girt by sea when we take on the still-hung-over-from-our-World-Cup-win Kiwis?
Let’s start at the top. The openers. Phil Hughes has had a perceived mediocre Test career with many believing his unorthodox style and loose technique do not lend to sustained success at Test level. Bottom line, he has made 3 tons and 3 fifties at an average of 38 in 28 Test innings. Not outstanding, but he has shown plenty of promise and as he is only 23, persistence is the key from the selectors. His partner in crime, Shane Watson has been Australia’s most consistent and successful player with bat and ball. The question with Watson is not his position in the side, which is unquestionable, but rather his position as an opener AND a strike bowler. With his high bowling workload and fragile body his position at the top of the order must be considered. He broke down in South Africa, like he has so many times in the past. For his longevity and overall effectiveness, he should be placed in a traditional all-rounders position at number 6. This also gives great stability to Australia’s very hit-and-miss middle to lower order.
So we must now find a partner for Phil Hughes. The most likely candidate in my opinion is Shaun Marsh, who has opened at state and international level with success. David Warner would be not far away and could count himself unlucky but I believe the preference should be towards an older player who has proved himself for a sustained period rather than a player more known for his T20 hitting.
At number 3 Usman Khawaja has showed exemplary temperament and technique. Every opportunity to play him at international level should be taken given his talent and potential.
Number 5 is to be occupied by the incumbent skipper, Michael Clarke who I must admit has done well with his captaincy and batting while in the top job. So now spots 1,2,3 and 6 are taken. So we need one player at number 4, but two realistic options: Ricky Ponting, or Michael Hussey (whether you like them or not).
Ponting’s head has been called for in the same vein as one of King Henry VIII’s wives. His recent record is nothing short of abysmal – his last innings of 62 was his first fifty for a year. Yet his overall record is unparalleled and outstanding.
Michael Hussey follows a similar trend. He too has a great overall record, averaging over 50 with the bat and having a reputation for being a handy partnership breaker with the ball. His recent record however fares a lot better than Punter. He topped the Australian batting averages in Sri Lanka but he did struggle in South Africa and if were not for a solid Ashes campaign, in all likelihood he would not be in the team.
So who do you choose? Both are the same age – 36. So if it makes it any easier within in year (two if very lucky) both will be gone anyway. On current form, Hussey gets the nod. However for sentimentality and a more reliable #4, Ponting should be picked…at least for the 1st two tests against the Kiwis. Then he should retire with the fanfare he deserves at his backyard in Tassie or be told enough is enough. It’s harsh on Hussey, but Khawaja should be selected ahead of him for the future.
The wicketkeeping spot, to me, is a little more straightforward. Brad Haddin has been good, serviceable and even very good at times. However, he is 34 and as a batter has shown an inability to be reliable as a batter. Matthew Wade is waiting in the wings (say that last bit 100 times over as fast as you can!) and is no worse with the gloves and much better with the bat – the below table compares Wade, Haddin and Adam Gilchrist’s batting prior to test selection (Haddin’s record below is at the same stage in his career as Wade is currently and Gilchrist’s record is immediately before he was selected to play for Australia). As you can see, it’s a bit of a no-brainer.
Three players go straight in. Cummins, Lyon and Harris.
Pat Cummins was awesome. Those who witnessed him bowling in Johannesburg will agree he will more than likely continue to be awesome. Mainly to stop the revolving door of spinners since Warney retired and shack up with Liz, Nathan Lyon should keep his spot – also so we don’t have to research some random, obscure selection (i.e. Michael Beer). Ryan Harris is the best bowler in the country, consistently getting wickets and proving his status as a frontline bowler – easy selection.
So that’s three out of four. Ordinarily Mitch Johnson would take the last bowling spot but he, like Haddin, Hussey and Ponting has been tremendously poor of late – he is averaging 1 wicket per test in his last 7. Bottom line – he will always be a tremendously talented but inconsistent player. The question is, do you persist or bring in a new player? I believe he should keep his spot for the two tests against the Kiwis. If he cannot show enough then, he should be shown the door. If he does take wickets and get a few runs, his confidence may allow him to get back to his devastating best, like when he tore England to shreds in Perth last year.
So that makes my Australian team for the 1st test at the Gabba against the Kiwis to look like this:
- Phil Hughes
- Shaun Marsh
- Usman Khawaja
- Ricky Ponting
- Michael Clarke
- Shane Watson
- Matthew Wade
- Mitchell Johnson
- Ryan Harris
- Patrick Cummins
- Nathan Lyon
But there are a few problems with this team. Injuries mean Watson, Harris, Cummins, Marsh and Johnson are ruled out.
As a consequence the selectors won’t have the balls to drop Haddin. So the team will in all likelihood look more like this:
- Phil Hughes
- David Warner
- Usman Khawaja
- Ricky Ponting
- Michael Clarke
- Michael Hussey
- Brad Haddin
- Trent Copeland
- Peter Siddle
- Ben Hilfenhaus
- Nathan Lyon
That leaves 3 pacers and a spinner to take the lion’s share of the overs bowled with Hussey and Clarke chipping in. The batting on paper looks reasonably solid, with only Clarke and Hussey failing to get at least 50 in the last test (Clarke did score a century in the 1st test, however). James Pattinson should be picked for injured Harris with Siddle keeping his spot for Johnson. Pattinson is an exciting prospect at just 21 whom already has a couple of ODI’s under his belt. He has impressed the selectors so much so that he was on tour to Sri Lanka recently. However the also up-and-coming Trent Copeland will get the nod for two reasons: he went on tour to South Africa recently in place of Pattinson and (mainly) he is from NSW and not Victoria.
The selectors will look to Hilfenhaus to replace Cummins as we will need experience on hand to guide through the younger bowlers in Pattinson and Lyon.
Big hitting David Warner will replace Watson at the top of the order. His First-class record currently stands at 895 runs at an average of 59.66 with 3 tons and 2 fifties. His last two innings were scores of 148 and 86 so he is in form and without any other clear standout in the Shield ranks at the opening position, his selection is justifiable. Whether he makes the position his own is another matter.
So overall a vastly different team due to availabilities of key personnel. Will it still be enough I beat the Kiwis? I think so. I think both sides will struggle to take 20 wickets but the Aussies have a stronger batting line-up. They also go into the series with great confidence having bagged their greatest Test win in recent times in their last outing.
So what are your thoughts? Should Punter be shown the door immediately or be given a proper farewell? What do you think of David Warner as a test opener? Or do you just want it to stop raining on Saturdays so you can play cricket yourself?
P.S: As a final note, it would be remiss of us here at MoTD to not pay tribute to the late Peter Roebuck. A personal favourite sporting journalist who wrote and spoke with tremendous passion and humour mixed with an amazing ability to dissect the game with unparalleled clarity. The coverage of the Australian cricket will not be the same. You will be sorely missed.