With the upcoming tour of India only weeks away, there are many interesting ways the Australian team could be assembled. With the inclusion of what is essentially four spinners in Lyon, Doherty, and all rounders Smith and Maxwell, there is a feeling that the pace-based lineup that thrived in Australia this summer could be in for some changes. Add in the “rotation policy” and we not only have an exciting series in prospect, but also great debates on our hands.
What is Shane Watson’s role going to be? Will Ed Cowan still be in the side at the end of the series? Is Steve Smith somehow going to defy selection logic yet again and get a run? All these questions will be answered in due course, but here is how I believe the Australian team should line up for the opening test in Chennai on February 22.
Probably the most improved batsman in the Australian team in the past 12 months, Warner has made the opening spot his for the foreseeable future. With questions coming into the Australian summer regarding his temperament as a Test player, let alone an opener, he returned an average of close to 50. A batsman in a similar mould to Chris Gayle, he needs to be dismissed early in his innings or the bowling team may be retrieving balls from the boundary for a session. Only a session you say? Well Warner can take a game away from you in a session and before you know it, its 1/130 at lunch. The only worry for Warner, if you can call it a worry, is he doesn’t convert 50’s into 100’s as often as he should. With 4 50’s in the series against Sri Lanka, he looked in sublime touch in each innings, and would be disappointed he couldn’t convert them. One thing he could take from this though is he was getting out the way he plays – by going for his shots. You will rarely see Warner get out through indecision, and with the ball doing generally less on the Indian pitches, he could be in for a big series.
Cowan has had a rough time of it recently, and you would think that any slip up in India will be the end of his run in the Aussie team, but I think it would be silly to break up the established opening pair of Cowan and Warner. These two seem to complement each other really well, with the patience of Cowan fitting in nicely with the explosive tendencies of Warner. Cowan has shown he has the goods for an international batsman, with a world class century in Brisbane against the world’s best bowling attack in South Africa. That showing of form and class however seemed to abandon the Tasmanian for the rest of the summer. Getting out through silly shots, terrible run-outs and what sometimes looks like a lack of concentration, Cowan needs to step up big time. India will no doubt try to exploit his weaknesses around the 4th or 5th stump region, where he gets caught playing a lot of shots to balls he doesn’t need to be tempted with.
A lot of the reason why I’ve kept Cowan in the team is for the opening partnership. It was the most successful opening partnership in the world last year scoring an average of 41.18, not earth-shattering numbers by any means, but over 10 matches and 17 innings, it is solid enough.
Back in the test side for a 3rd time, Phil Hughes is certainly more of a complete player now. His domestic form at the end of 2012 certainly warranted a recall into the Aussie team, despite many concerns from the Australian public. These were quickly put to rest though with a composed 86 in his first Test back. His main failing during his previous two goes at the Test team was his weaknesses outside off stump leading to the “caught Guptill, bowled Martin” saga. After another crack at the domestic game, he has not only corrected this gaping flaw, but added a much stronger leg side game to his batting. He still scores plenty of runs through backward point, but he is certainly much more of an all-round batsman now. Form permitting, he should be in the Australian test side for the rest of his career.
His positioning at first drop was explored in the series against Sri Lanka, producing great results. He is the perfect player for this position, being great against the new ball, and able to counterattack when needed. The only other player I believe is suitable for this role in this team would be Khawaja, but Usman can get a bit bogged down at times, which may be a concern for the No. 3 spot.
The best batsman in the world and a great attacking captain is a no-brainer for the team, but his position in the batting order may be the only thing that comes under scrutiny. I’ve moved him to No.4 for a few reasons, but mainly because it won’t make much of a difference. Clarke’s 3 double centuries and 1 triple century had him coming to the crease at 3/55, 3/40, 3/84 and 3/37. Obviously, heading out to the middle earlier on certainly doesn’t worry him, and hopefully with a more stable top order now with Phil Hughes, the No.4 spot will come in at a more regulation time.
There’s no real need to talk about his game – he has it all. He can play a regular middle order innings full of composure and making the most of bad balls, or he can play a quick fire run-a-ball innings when his team is batting for a declaration. He is simply a delight to watch.
For someone with a massive amount of potential as well as the technique for a great career, Khawaja doesn’t seem to have much support from Cricket Australia. His debut against England at the SCG certainly lived up to expectations and came at a time where Australia was in need for a new Test cricketer. In an era where T20 matches seem to be the feed-in for new players, Khawaja proved that a great technique will take you places in the game of cricket. So, despite being built for Test cricket, Cricket Australia doesn’t have that much confidence in him. Take the ODI’s against Sri Lanka and the West Indies for example. There was absolutely no perseverance with him, while meanwhile Aaron Finch, who isn’t in the test squad and is in just as terrible form was getting every chance to find his feet at a time when Australia are short on middle-order batsmen, not openers.
At least he’s in the squad right? Whether or not he ends up making the team, he should be in it. He is clearly the best batsman not in the team, and putting him down at No.5 may relieve some pressure. Batting with Michael Clarke will be a real possibility, which may give him the confidence he needs to feel as if he belongs in the side
Probably the most indecisive cricketer in history as well as no one ever knowing where he is best suited in the batting line-up. I’ve put him at No.6 for two reasons. Firstly, he will be able to play more of a one day innings here, and we all know his success at that form of the game. He should slot into the Michael Hussey spot and play a similar style of innings – strike rate of 70, working the ball around for easy singles and batting explosively when needed. This position will also be better for his bowling (if he makes his mind up about it one day). The big man is prone to injuries, so batting higher up the order doesn’t do him any favours after bowling. Whether or not he will be used as a true all-rounder in India is yet to be seen, but he may be needed during the long downtimes that are common on the dull decks in India.
Matty Wade may have cemented his spot in the side with an amazing knock at the SCG batting with tail. While there have always been questions about the quality of his work behind the stumps, this innings may have helped people see past these issues. During the ODI’s this summer however, some significant improvements have been made in his keeping, with much better footwork and body positioning seeing him take some excellent catches. In India his keeping will best tested to its fullest, so hopefully for his sake, the improvements he’s made in the ODI’s continue into this test series. His batting is exactly what Australia needs down the order. A complete natural with the bat, he manages to put away the bad balls, and is also capable of letting loose when runs are needed while batting with the tail.
After having significant time off with a side strain, Pattinson will be keen to pull the creams out for another crack against India. Picking up 11 wickets from his 2 matches against them, he certainly wasn’t intimidated by bowling at legends of the modern game. He bowls at a heavy pace, is extremely accurate and hits the seam regularly. On top of this, he is another workhorse in the similar frame of Peter Siddle, bowling plenty of overs when his team needs them – which will be crucial in India. His batting is exceptional for a bowler of his calibre. Opening the batting as a junior shows he’s got what it takes to score some runs, and with an amazing average of 38.20 (inflated slightly by 3 not-outs), his batting is well appreciated down the order.
I believe James Pattinson is the next big thing for Australian bowling. Even with many unknowns with so many up and coming bowlers, Pattinson has proved he can be Australia’s number 1 strike bowler for years to come. He demonstrates many of the same attributes as Dale Steyn – fast, accurate and swings the ball. It is definitely too early to see if he reaches the heights that Dale Steyn has taken fast bowling to, but we can only hope.
Throughout the ODI’s in Australia Starc has shown the amount of damage he can do with the swinging ball. He is like Mitchell Johnson on steroids. Bowls as fast, is more accurate, swings the ball, and delivers the ball from an incredible height. Absolutely no one in the world can play him when he is bowling like this, so he’ll be looking to keep it up against the Indian batting order. My one and only criticism of his bowling would be that he isn’t as aggressive as Mitch Johnson. While Johnson sends many people off to the X-ray department, Starc seems to be a bit timid at times. He does have it in him, as seen in the Hobart test where he wrapped up Sri Lanka’s middle and lower order with some brutal bowling. He may need to channel this in India, especially when the conditions aren’t favouring swing bowling as much as they do in Australia
Oh, he’s a pretty decent batsman as well. He scored the fastest 50 in Australian cricket history, and saved the Aussie team in the ODI’s on several occasions
The leader of the bowling attack for Australia is always an inspiration to watch. He keeps charging in after a long day in the field, bowling mid 140’s at a nagging length outside off stump. He has a great record against the Indian batsman taking a total of 23 wickets @ 18.65 in India’s tour of Australia last summer. You get the feeling when Australia is struggling in the field that Siddle will make a breakthrough, which is something rare in a bowler. Michael Clarke must be loving having him fit and in the side, giving him crucial wickets at big moments. He sometimes struggles however to bring his length to the right spot at times, where he may tend to drag the ball a little short. This is usually corrected by the next session, where he starts pitching the ball up allowing it to swing – where he is most lethal.
Again, another solid batter who has come in at No. 8 throughout his career. What a luxury this would be for Clarke to have.
His spot should never be up for grabs in the Aussie side, because there is no one close to him. The public tends to get unnecessarily frustrated at Lyon, which will always be the case for Australian spinners since the departure of Shane Warne. The simple fact is that he has great potential. He can turn the ball a decent way and has started to develop a nice level of drift which has started to trouble batsman. I think this notion of “spinners having to win you the test on the final day” is now rubbish. With today’s greatly improved pitches, plus the fact that Warne, Muralitharan, Kumble are not around anymore, who may have inflated this attitude slightly, the spinner’s role may be changing slightly. In saying that though, India will give Lyon an opportunity to exploit the most spinner friendly pitches in the world.
Once again, he is a solid batsman who fills the night watchman role on occasion. He has it in him to stick around for a handy 30 run partnership with a designated batsman, adding vital runs to the team’s total.
Stay tuned for Blindside Sport’s first ever podcast in which I’ll discuss Australia’s upcoming Tour of India, Cricket Australia’s ‘Rotation Policy’ and everything else Australian cricket with Roman Barbera.