Make-up of the final Aussie XI still unclear
The Australian Test squad announced today to face South Africa in Brisbane is as predicted. As seemed likely despite recent frailties, Australia’s top six will be the same as which took the field in their last Test against the West Indies back in April.
The obdurate Ed Cowan and dashing David Warner make a nice combination on paper, even if they have only clicked as an opening partnership on fleeting occasions so far.
Captain Michael Clarke and Coach Mickey Arthur see great value in having Cowan at the top of the order as a new ball ‘blunter’, before the ageing, but still dangerous middle order of Ponting, Clarke, and Hussey come to the crease against a tiring attack with an older ball.
Warner is inconsistent, but has the ability to change, or set the tone of a game, in a session.
The number three spot has been an issue for Australia since Ricky Ponting relinquished the role last year. Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh, and Shane Watson have all been tried there with minimal success.
Australia might consider promoting either Clarke or Hussey to the role. Both are vastly experienced, and both possess techniques capable of countering a new-ball-barrage from the impressive threesome of Steyn, Morkel , and Philander.
Clarke has been reluctant to bat higher than number five in the past, but as captain he may now feel it’s time to set an example and take on the trickiest spot in the batting order himself.
Shane Watson’s game is better suited to number six a role where he can come to the crease with the freedom to play his natural game from the outset. He has been far from terrible as a top order player, but his inability to convert starts into big scores has gradually become an issue.
Watson’s bowling has also become a huge asset to Australia and batting him at six would allow Michael Clarke to bowl him for sustained periods without worrying about his batting being affected by the workload.
Despite talk of Brad Haddin coming back into the side after a nine month lay-off for family reasons, Matthew Wade has now been backed to be Australia’s long-term wicketkeeper. Therefore, barring injury to Wade, at 35 and with Tim Paine also pushing for another chance at test level, Haddin’s Test career is probably over.
Wade has been impressive since he made his debut against the West Indies earlier in the year, and deserves to be given the entire series against South Africa to establish himself.
Bowling-wise, Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus are considered the ‘bankers’ – their selection for Brisbane was never in doubt. Both are likely to make the final XI. The third seamer’s spot is something of a revolving door, however.
James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, and Pat Cummins are three of the most promising young fast bowlers in the world, but at this stage of their careers they have also shown a worrying tendency to pick up injuries on a regular basis.
Realising this, the selectors are considering a rotation policy involving these three, and another injury-prone quick, Ryan Harris. Pattinson and Starc have got the nod for Brisbane, but Cummins and Harris are still very much in the mix.
It is a sensible plan, but a plan that has the potential for backlash. If, say, Starc runs through the South Africans at Brisbane, while the other quicks look less effective, do they persist with the plan to rest Starc for the second Test at Adelaide? It would be a brave selector to rest a bowler in those circumstances.
It would also confuse Starc, and anger fans, who under normal circumstances expect Australia to field their best available Test team at all times, especially against a team as good as South Africa.
Further debate surrounds the spinner’s role. The limited, yet big-hearted Nathan Lyon has performed admirably in his short Test career so far but, on a Brisbane pitch likely to suit the quicks, he will be competing with Pattinson for the final bowling spot.
It is likely that a decision on whether to play Lyon will be made the night before the game, once the conditions have been properly assessed.
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