PUZZLE MUST BE SOLVED
Warner, Smith to slot straight in, but how do the rest fit?
AUSTRALIAN cricket is in a strange position, one we don’t really want to be in with such a massive year to come.
The international summer is done; that’s six Tests, one day games and T20s against South Africa, India and Sri Lanka, nearly 60 games of Big Bash, plus we’ve had six rounds of Sheffield Shield played before Christmas, as well as the JLT Cup one-day competition, but we still don’t know what the best Australian teams are and we should.
Steve Smith and Dave Warner are straight back in to both the Test and one-day sides when their suspensions end — they are class — just in time for the World Cup and the Ashes. And through the two Test series, against India and Sri Lanka, we have seen several players emerge, which is great.
But they are all just the puzzle pieces. How they best fit together, to win a World Cup and then the Ashes, is hard to know.
The players’ performances against the worst Sri Lankan team to tour Australia shouldn’t cloud our judgment either.
All you can do is beat the opposition in front of you, albeit a very depleted one, and Australia did that comprehensively.
But the Test series against India was where the players should be judged.
The final rounds of Shield cricket could produce a bolter too, a batsmen or a bowler, to book a trip to England.
There’s no point making predictions about what might happen given there are still so many unknowns about what the Aussie teams may look like. THE BATSMEN I definitely have David Warner and Joe Burns opening. And my number three is either Marcus Harris or Cameron Bancroft.
I like Harris at number three. I think he’s a very aggressive player. I think the number three has to play that way. The best Australian number threes, like Ian Chappell, David Boon or Ricky Ponting, they have all been aggressive.
Bancroft might be a surprise to some, but he was the firstchoice opener before his suspension, and while he hasn’t been spoken about much, he makes my squad. He can also go as the back-up keeper. This means Usman Khajawa misses out on the starting side. He got a hundred in the last Test innings of the summer but until then, he hadn’t performed. He has played a lot of Test cricket now, and he was our most experienced batsman this summer, we really needed him, and he went missing. Everyone is going to fail some times, and go through a lull, but it was the way he got out at times which was a huge concern. He tours England, but as backup.
In English conditions you need attacking batsman at the top. You have to take the game to the bowlers. You can’t sit on guys like Jimmy Anderson, and an opening three of Warner, Burns and Harris, is a good, positive top three.
Smith walks straight in at four, and Travis Head comes in at five. Head was the batsmen of the summer. There were a few head-scratching moments, like when he was caught twice at third man in the second Test in Perth, but he also gets the most improved trophy.
Kurtis Patterson misses out in the starting team, but only because I am going for the allrounder, Marcus Stoinis, at six. You are going to need that extra bowler. People are talking about his first class numbers maybe not being too overwhelming, but you could say that about the first class numbers of most of the Australian players at the moment.
This summer Stoinis has grown as a player. Everything he’s been asked to do; make runs in ODIs, T20s or the Big Bash, and that’s all he can play right now, or take wickets when the game has been on the line, he has delivered. I think the penny has dropped, and along with that x-factor he brings, I think he will thrive in the heat of an Ashes battle. I think he could be the difference. THE BOWLERS Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood pick themselves, and Jhye Richardson gets that final
fast bowling spot in the first XI.
Mitch Starc’s 10 wickets against a depleted and inexperienced Sri Lanka, for me it wasn’t enough. I go back to everything he has done over the past 12 months, and even in Canberra, he went for 11 off the first over of the Test. The first few overs have to set the tone, and he’s not doing that. He’s been taken off after two or three overs every innings because he’s been spraying the ball all over the place, plus he averages over 50 with the ball against top six batsmen.
I still think Mitch Starc has a huge role to play if Australia are to win the Ashes, but he doesn’t start at Edgbaston. Jhye Richardson has been impressive, he bowls a Test match length, and the late swing he gets will be perfect in England. He has to play, he’ll challenge the English top-order.
The back-up batsmen are Khawaja, Bancroft and Patterson, with D’Arcy Short too. Short goes as an allrounder, because of his spin. If something happens to Nathan Lyon, you can draft someone in, but Short is an option anywhere in the top six.
An extra fast bowler could come from Dan Worrall, Chris Tremain, Peter Siddle or Scott Boland. The second half of the Shield season, when they get to bowl with the Dukes ball, could determine who gets that spot. Marnus Labuschange doesn’t make the squad, because with Warner and Smith coming back, someone has to give way.
If Will Pucovski had been picked in the first Test against Sri Lanka at the Gabba, and he should’ve been picked, he would have made a century in one of the innings he got, and we could have taken him to the Ashes. He has to wait now.