Close your eyes and take your mind back to February and March of 2011. Australia went into the 50 over World Cup as the number 1 ranked side in the world, but far from the best line up in the competion. Jason Krejza played the whole tournament as the frontline spinner, after coming in as a late replacement for Test incumbent Nathan Haurtiz, who hurt his shoulder late in the Aussie summer. Before that, Australia had filtered through Xavier Doherty and Steve Smith to fill spin duties, to hardly any avail. When the 1st game against Zimbabwe was played- he had only donned the Australian colours twice over a four year period- a Test against South Africa in Perth in 2008, and a dead rubber ODI against England in the Ashes summer of last year.
The Tasmanian offie subsequently took 5 wickets in 7 matches, while
having an economy rate of a touch under 4 and a half an over. Unsurprisingly,
he hasn’t played for Australia since. Cameron White and Steve Smith were
unproven and underwhelming over the same period, and Australia faulted, knocked
out in the quarter final against India.
What i’m getting at is, new players need to be filtered in and given a good chance, not just spasmodic appearances. That is why i’m worried, when Australia, after winning the 1st T20 in Sydney against India, dropped young stars of tomorrow in all rounders Dan Christian, James Faulkner and hard hitting left hander Travis Birt. This seems silly to me. It looks as if the selectors are using other formats to try out players for future international commitments, even if it’s not their strongest format. A prime example of this is New South Welshman turned Queensland batsman, Peter Forrest.
He was included in the ODI squad for the upcoming tri-series against India and Sri Lanka. Forrest has never made a One-day-domestic century, but has 6 Sheffield Shield centuries, including 3 centuries in six games this summer. He has obviously been earmarked, which is by no means a bad thing, but i’d imagine he’s a better chance to become a Test player than anything else. But why include him if he is most likely only going to play the last two or so games, as dead rubbers when batsman who are cemented in the order like Ponting, Clarke and the Hussey’s, may need a rest?
A trait in selectors long before Mr Inverarity came along, was including players in squads but not playing them. The NSP said that they would reward domestic form, and not pick players on reputation. That is why i’m confused why contracted CA player Callum Ferguson (leading ODD run scorer this season) and Queensland quickie Alistair McDermott (leading ODD wicket taker this season) quite surprisingly, aren’t in the One Day squad. We need to grow out of that.
That brings me to the Ashes series of 2013. The Test side is starting to make a better shape. The top order looks good with Warner and Cowan, although both need to make sure once they get to 30 or 40, they go on and be the anchor of the innings- like Warner did in Hobart and Sydney, but hasn’t made a score of significance since.
Shaun Marsh’s tenure as a number 3, has now reached it’s use by date. Shane Watson is a candidate to fill that place in the middle order. His powerful pulls and crisp drives should be key in England, as will be his canny little inswingers.
Usman Khawaja is to good a player to be out of the Test side. He peeled off another hundred against South Australia yesterday, and may have booked his plane ticket to the West Indies with it. He has only got to 50 once in Test cricket, but that was in Australia’s mammoth run chase in Johannesburg, where he made 60 at number 3. If you make runs on a lively Jo’Burg pitch, with guys like Steyn, Morkel and Philander steaming in at you, you can make runs anywhere. A first class average of 46 doesn’t lie.
Even though Australia’s bowlers have been the surprise of the summer, tough choices remain. How do they fit guys like Cummins and Pattinson in, who demolished sides like South Africa, India and New Zealand in a few Tests? But then again, do you leave out Ben Hilfenhaus who is primarily a swing specialist, and loved the Duke ball in 2009? Or a man who has found a new niche in pitching the ball up, in Peter Siddle?
Questions remain, but with 13 Tests between now and the Ashes (3 against West Indies, 3 vs South Africa, 3 against Sri Lanka and 4 against India) there is time, but a settled line up is the best way forward, for players and supports alike.