Why Australia needs Khawaja and Hughes
Usman Khawaja will pin his hopes of an Ashes call-up on the upcoming Sheffield Shield (AP Photo/Tertius Pickard)
Australia will likely start next summer with Ed Cowan opening, Ricky Ponting at number four and Michael Hussey in the lower middle order.
Despite their incumbency, these three will almost certainly be discarded within the next few years. But there’s argument for Australia biting the bullet immediately and cutting its losses now.
Ponting and Hussey are entering their late 30s and the writing has been on the wall for some time now. It would have been an excellent time for both to go out on top against India, following Australia’s four-nil series victory in the summer of 2011-12.
They have both, however, decided to continue to play on with an eye on the 2013 Ashes in England. A wise move? Quite possibly not.
Cowan is still under pressure having not yet scored a Test hundred and struggled in the West Indies. He currently averages 29.83 after 12 Test innings. His first-class record is solid, however, once again, an average of 41.48 isn’t yet setting the world on fire.
It looks as though the Australian selectors have missed the boat on at least two batsmen who should have been made regular parts of the test side. David Hussey and Chris Rogers both have impeccable first-class records, yet have one Test match between them.
Had both Hussey and Rogers been integrated into the Test set-up throughout the past two to three years, they may have 20 Tests each now under their belts. Australia’s batting line-up would look dramatically more formidable.
Dwelling on the mistakes of the past, however, will certainly not help going forward. Lessons must be learned and effective changes must be made. But John Inverarity, Australia’s head selector, has indicated George Baily and Peter Forrest are the next two cabs off the rank for Test batting spots. Once more I find myself at odds with this intended direction.
After 135 years of Test cricket, we have drawn the remarkable conclusion that you won’t become a successful Test cricketer without first proving yourself in the first-class arena.
The likes of Baily (40.70), Cowan (41.48) and Forrest (35.04) fall towards the latter end of the spectrum when you compare first-class averages of Australia’s potential crop. While Test discards, Usman Khawaja (43.10) and Phillip Hughes (45.89[not including his hundred in the current County Championship match]), loom in middle to high table positions.
The Australian selection table have spoken about an increased onus on proven ability rather than potential; however their recent selections seem to contrast these protocols and directives.
While Cowan, Baily and Forrest all had good domestic summers last time around, they have yet to string together years of dominance at the crease. On the back of this, Inverarity recently claimed the current side is “the best we’ve got”. Despite this, better players seem to loom on the outer.
It’s time the Australian selectors took a different approach. Picture the Australian Test team three years from now. Will we really have Baily and Forrest forging the backbone of the middle order and can Cowan truly cement a place as Australia’s dogged Test match opener (his recent performances in the Australia ‘A’ tour of England have been promising and I truly want him to prove me wrong)?
I find these scenarios highly unlikely. Cowan will struggle his way through another eight or so Tests and be dropped for another young opener (who will be thoroughly unproven), Forrest will fill in during a few Tests here and there and will scrap his way to 30 on each occasion, and when Baily enters the fray he will be energetic in the field but offer sub-par batting contributions.
The National Selection Panel (NSP) need to be short listing Hughes and Khawaja — who scored 122 runs against Australia ‘A’ for the loss of his wicket once—along with the exciting battery of young fast bowlers, as the future core of the Australian side.
The suggestion that Baily, Cowan and Forrest will suddenly average mid to high 40s — which is what we should be expecting — in Test cricket is absurd. History tells us that first-class cricket is the building block for test players. How then can we ignore the Sheffield Shield’s finest?
Ironically, it may end up being their non-selection which will help Khawaja and Hughes reach their goals as Australian batsmen. Now that they appear to be out of the selectors’ minds, they seem to have more focus and an increased drive.
Both will now have the time they require to continue developing their individual game and get back to the basics of scoring runs. And with Australia’s middle order appearing to be in crisis, we dearly need these two to reach their full potential.
Even more surprising to me is that these two have been completely ignored in the one day format. Hughes and Khawaja are among the top one day batsmen in the world, let alone the county.
While English county cricket may not be the pinnacle of the 50-over game—in part because its 40 overs—Hughes’ performances cannot remain unnoticed by the NSP. He topped the Friends Life T20 batting charts in emphatic style and is averaging a Bradmanesque 97.80 across his eight CB40 appearances thus far.
Khawaja is likewise a fine one day batsman who averages in the high 30s at a decent clip. He brings the added benefit of being a batsman who makes the most of his starts. Of the six times Khawaja has passed 50 in List A matches, on four of those occasions he has gone on to record triple figures. Why should he not be given the chance to do similar in the green or canary yellow of Australia?
Australia could certainly do with Khawaja and Hughes blossoming into international sensations. However, only time will tell what the future holds.
can only hope that it’s a bright one for the Australian cricket team, regardless of who tomorrow’s stars might be.
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