Selectors juggle pieces of bamboozling top- six puzzle
JUST like the Australian bowlers who found Cheteshwar Pujara an unsolvable riddle by the end of the Test series, the selectors were no closer to deciphering the identity of the top six batsmen in the country.
They’d been duped by Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja, the experienced pair supposed to provide the backbone in the line-up.
Peter Handscomb, with his multiple variations of a misguided technique, had failed to convince anyone of his permanency at the crease. And the ongoing experiment with batting all-rounder Mitch Marsh had failed for one simple reason — lack of runs.
The only shining light was tyro opener Marcus Harris, who, despite the lack of a really big score, had displayed good temperament and solid technique.
The time was right for drastic changes and it came in the selection for the two Tests against a struggling Sri Lanka. An argument could be mounted that the deposed players would have succeeded in the less pressurised atmosphere of a Sri Lankan series but that would only have led to greater disappointment in the upcoming Ashes series.
The time was right for a change of direction and the biggest detour was the choice of 20-year-old batting hope Will Pucovski.
Australia, a cricket nation once renowned for gambling on young batting talent, had returned to its roots. Pucovski has joined the ranks of such illustrious players as Donald Bradman, Neil Harvey, Doug Walters and Ricky Ponting — all picked for Australia before turning 21.
If Pucovski comes close to emulating any one of those batting genii at the start of their careers, he’ll provide a lot of relief for the selectors and some much-needed runs for captain Tim Paine.
Pucovski was chosen on potential and two big scores in the Sheffield Shield. There’s no doubting his talent; the only concern is his health as he has incurred a number of concussions, which will be noted by opponents eager for the upper hand.
Joining Pucovski in the revamped squad are Matt Renshaw and Joe Burns — two players with a history of some success in Test cricket.
Renshaw was unlucky to lose his spot in the side originally, having suffered a string of failures at firstclass level rather than in the Test arena. Burns is an adaptable batsman, playing both as an opener and in the middle-order. Although he has a string of single-figure scores, Burns does have three Test centuries.
In the middle of a muddled season, with Test matches often obscured by the Big Bash tournament, these are reasonable selections. The selectors will then face the difficult task of putting together the jigsaw puzzle that is the Ashes squad.
Having failed to reach an innings total of 300 in losing to New Zealand, Sri Lanka is unlikely to embarrass the embattled Australian attack. There’s nothing like a bag of wickets to boost the confidence of a bowler, and the big three — Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins — should have smiles on their faces after a bout with the Sri Lankans.
Victory should be a formality against Sri Lanka and hence a clearer picture for the top six batsmen to feature in the Ashes series.
Having suffered through the toughest season for choosing a Test team, the selectors will be hoping the picture of the top six is much clearer come the end of the summer.
If it’s not, then it won’t matter who they choose to face England.