Batting questions remain unanswered

Alec Swann Columnist

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    Matthew Wade has been named to tour India. Is he good enough? (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

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    When Ricky Ponting called it a day after the Perth Test, he left the obvious question of who was going to replace him.

    Phil Hughes was the immediate answer and that seemingly solved the dilemma of the identity of the sixth batsman in the Australian line-up.

    Fast forward to the current day and no progress has been made on this issue, and if you add the unexpected retirement of Mike Hussey to the mix, there is some serious head-scratching to be done.

    Two of the three main men gone and hardly a queue lining up to take their place does not a healthy scenario make. If I were an Indian or English bowler, I would be licking my lips in anticipation of what I was about to face.

    Take Michael Clarke and probably David Warner, who is consistently debunking the myth that he is a short format cowboy, out of the equation and you are looking at an exceptionally callow top order.

    Ed Cowan has the temperament to succeed at the top level but not the game to do so. Phil Hughes, while showing some promise, is yet to be given an examination by a Test attack worthy of the name and then there is, er, nobody.

    I would include Shane Watson in this but he’s filling in another medical insurance claim form and when he does play nobody seems too sure where he fits in.

    And while Matthew Wade is a good, solid performer and took his chance at Sydney, he is not a number six at this level.

    Those in charge missed a golden opportunity to give someone a run out at the SCG and the outcome is that the waters have been muddied even further.

    That this situation came about because of the ridiculous rotation of the seam bowlers makes it even more ironic.

    ‘We’re worried about our bowling line-up despite the fact that there is a far bigger issue staring us in the face’ is so lacking in any kind of thought that it is almost funny.

    Leaving Mitchell Starc out at Melbourne with the softener that he would play in Sydney had backfire written all over it and that, with the Sri Lankans offering next to no resistance, is what came to pass.

    This in turn, saw Wade move up to six and all four seamers given the chance to boost their averages. But in both India and England, Australia will need more depth in the batting if they are to prosper.

    Watson has to return even if he can’t bowl. He was making a decent fist of opening the batting and if he is one of the best six players then he should play. If that means he replaces Cowan, the order would look stronger for it.

    That leaves the middle order to sort out. Usman Khawaji looks a cert, but who else comes in is a guess I’m in no position to put forward.

    Wade could stay at six but, similar to the South Africans, that would necessitate a specialist batsman a place further down the order.

    The upshot is somebody is going to be awarded a gilt-edged opportunity somewhere down the line. For Australia’s sake I hope the hierarchy know who that is.

    Just a final thought on Mike Hussey’s retirement. I was fortunate to play alongside him for a season at Northamptonshire and he obviously had the makings of the cricketer he turned out to be.

    He is a fantastic player and a great bloke and it was good to see him go out at the very top.

    Alec Swann
    Alec Swann

    Alec Swann is a former Northants and Lancashire opener turned cricket writer. Outside of the joys of a Test match, Newcastle United and golf generally occupy his other sporting interests with a soft spot for the Newcastle Knights.

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    The Crowd Says (58)

    • January 8th 2013 @ 7:26am
      Robie said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:26am | ! Report

      Khawaja must come in to the team for the Indian series, not playing him in the last test wasn’t right given it was a dead rubber. I would open with Watson and Warner too. OKeefe would be a better option then Maxwell as his offies won’t stand up against the Indians,Though i am a fan of Mitch Marsh and Henriques as well

      • January 8th 2013 @ 8:51pm
        The Kebab Connoisseur said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:51pm | ! Report

        Hmm, Usman is not averaging even 40 at Shield level and you want him to play tests? His record at the highest level has been pretty so-so and he had a fair crack already. Give someone else a go. The Shield bats so far this season have not really been knocking down the door for selection. We have a very average bunch at the moment.

        Most runs
        Player Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 0 4s 6s
        PJ Hughes 5 10 0 518 158 51.80 891 58.13 1 3 0 69 0
        (South Australia)
        CJ Ferguson 6 11 0 463 164 42.09 1002 46.20 1 1 0 53 1
        (South Australia)
        UT Khawaja 6 11 0 438 138 39.81 752 58.24 1 3 1 61 6
        (Queensland)

        AJ Doolan 5 8 1 409 149 58.42 738 55.42 1 2 0 60 2
        (Tasmania)
        MJ Cosgrove 6 10 0 373 104 37.30 687 54.29 1 2 1 51 2
        (Tasmania)
        RT Ponting 4 6 3 355 162* 118.33 587 60.47 1 2 0 38 9
        (Tasmania)
        BCJ Cutting 5 9 0 348 109 38.66 362 96.13 1 1 0 29 16
        (Queensland)
        CJL Rogers 6 10 2 340 125 42.50 731 46.51 1 0 0 43 1
        (Victoria)
        BJ Haddin 4 6 1 337 114 67.40 541 62.29 2 1 0 42 4
        (New South Wales)
        MC Henriques 4 6 2 314 161* 78.50 470 66.80 1 2 1 34 6
        (New South Wales)

    • January 8th 2013 @ 8:27am
      The no. Three said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:27am | ! Report

      I dont see the benefit of placing a batsman under the wicketkeeper in a batting order. South Africa do this cause AB de Villiers is reguarded a top line century maker, and JP Duminy was to be a spinning allrounder initially.Then Faf Du Plessis was to throw down some overs too, as a replacement. England batted Flintoff below Prior because Prior gets runs. Freddy was a pinch hitter and an outstanding bowler. If Wade was to bat at six, an allrounder would have to bat at seven. Its the rule of thumb, the method for selecting a cricket batting lineup. The idea of Henriques or Marsh at seven has merritt if Wade stays at six for a long period.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 1:42pm
        matt h said | January 8th 2013 @ 1:42pm | ! Report

        Is O’Keefe good enough to be a 7?

    • January 8th 2013 @ 8:55am
      WW said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      1. Watson (simply a must for the current australian side with little test match batting experience)
      2. Warner (I believe England’s quicks will make mince meat of Warner and he will end up batting lower done the order ie 6 where I believe he could be more effective against the older ball where a quick fire 50 can turn test matches in our favour.)
      3. Hughes (will end up replacing Warner as opener by the end of the ashes series in england)
      4. Khawaja (a test no 3 in the waiting)
      5. Clarke (plays his best cricket at 5… an important role if we lose quick wickets and/or if the ball starts reversing)
      6. Henriques (Maxwell in india)… ultimately lets just pick our best all rounder at 6 and forget the notion that Johnson can be our allrounder at no7. This unbalances the side. Henriques to become a test match no 4 and if not Mitch Marsh to replace him.
      7. Wade (haddin is th ebetter option but Wades SCG century keeps him in the side despite obvious keeping inadequacies)
      8. Starc (lest stick with a left hand paceman and if he gets injured bring in Johnson)
      9. Cummins or Pattinson (whoever is fit.. if neither fit than Siddle)
      10. Lyon (if he doesn’t do well in India lets think about bringing back Hauritz)
      11. Bird ( the find of the summer… if he succumbs to injury Cutting is the other bowler to play the line and length role)

      • January 8th 2013 @ 8:57am
        Red Kev said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:57am | ! Report

        No matter how many times you write that Watson is a must, that doesn’t make it true.
        Nor is an allrounder a must – 6 test quality bats is more important than a not ready or shield level allrounder like Maxwell or Henriques.

        • January 8th 2013 @ 9:33am
          WW said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:33am | ! Report

          Our greatest ever all rounder and a must for our all time no 6 is keith miller who batted at 6 and averaged 36 with the bat and in less than 30 with the ball. Thats all you need at no 6.

          henriques first class career he averages 30 with the bat and under 30 with the ball. He’s no miller but an allrounder is what we need to balance the side.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 8:57am
        josh said | January 8th 2013 @ 8:57am | ! Report

        Henriques. You have to be kidding, might as well put Quniey in the mix too.

        • January 8th 2013 @ 9:34am
          WW said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:34am | ! Report

          in 2012/13 Henriques is averaging 78.50 with the bat and 17.69 with the ball

          • January 8th 2013 @ 10:14am
            josh said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:14am | ! Report

            And Ponting is averaging 118… The all rounder problem cause more headaches; just pick the best XI, which the NSP seem to has issues with in the first instance.

            • January 8th 2013 @ 10:22am
              WW said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:22am | ! Report

              i don’t understand your point. are you saying ponting should return? what do you mean by ‘the all rounder problem cause more headaches’…?

              picking a best xi is exactly that. 5 batsman, 1 allrounder, 1 wicketkeeper, 3 seamers and 1 spinner.

              at the moment the best option at no 6 is a player capable of contributing with bat and ball and that player is Henriques now that Watson is giving up bowling.

              • January 8th 2013 @ 10:30am
                josh said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:30am | ! Report

                I’m saying shield form isn’t the best indicator of form. Ponting averaged 118 domestically but 6 internationally this summer.

                A test team doesn’t need an all rounder. There is no use picking an allrounder just because they are one. Pick the best XI. Picking an allrounder cause they an allrounder failed last time (McDonald).

                The best case is for Australia to pick a team based on what’s required. Currently with the batting line up as it is batting down to 6 is a must. Not just someone who is handy.

              • January 8th 2013 @ 11:00am
                WW said | January 8th 2013 @ 11:00am | ! Report

                are you saying henriques can’t bat? how do you explain his 160 odd not out and his two other fifties this year from 4 matches. If it was a case of domestic cricket being easy than why doesn’t everyone average 70+

                our current etst side needs an all rounder now that watson is not going to bowl. Having 6 specialist batsman leaves us short of options in the field and is completely unnecesary to have a genuine batsman at no 6. Its a waste. the top 5 are capable of scoring the bulk of the runs and the no 6 and no 7 (the allrounder and the keeper) need only chip in along with the tail.

                Clarke and co know that which is why they wish Wade and Johnson to be the all rounders at 6 and 7… i just think Johnson is not a good enough batsman to carry the all rounder tag. Henriques reminds me of a young Mark waugh and could be a decent test match all rounder.

              • January 8th 2013 @ 11:00am
                Red Kev said | January 8th 2013 @ 11:00am | ! Report

                No that is not the best XI. The best XI is 6 batsman, a wicketkeeper and 4 bowlers. If some of your batsmen (Clarke, Warner, Khawaja, Watson) can throw down a few overs (like Hussey or Waugh or Symonds could) that is gravy, not a necessity. Similarly you pick the bowlers that suit conditions, if that is 4 quicks so be it, if it is two quicks and two spinners then that’s fine too.
                All rounders are not a requirement in any test or first class cricket team. You need one in limited overs cricket because of the limitation on the number of overs each bowler can bowl.

              • January 8th 2013 @ 11:15am
                WW said | January 8th 2013 @ 11:15am | ! Report

                you are showing your lack of knowledge of cricket.

                Playing an all rounder is much more important in the longer form of the game. Shorter forms of cricket rely much more heavily on individual brilliance. Some games entirely so. You can also ask your batsman to roll there arms over to make up the extra ten overs and as long as they collectively can keep it to a reasanable economy rate the side doesn’t suffer. Test cricket is much more about the collective due to the fact one performance can rarely win a test match. Its about contribution which is why the better side wins almost every time. Your all rounder is the one player that can influence both in bowling and batting. Batsman that can roll there arms over are of extremely little bowling benefit in test cricket. you need a genuine all rounder. One that can genuinely take a wicket or two almost every time they bowl and one that can score some fifties and the odd hundred.

                The only reason 6 batsman a keeper and 4 bowlers worked for us during the time of warne, mcgrath, gilchrist and co was because we had warne, mcgrath, gilchrist and co.

                as for your notion that you can win test matches with just 4 seamers… just no. we are not the windies in the 80’s and we do not have Marshall, Holding, Garner, Roberts, Croft, Ambrose, Bishop or Walsh at our disposal. We need atleast one spinner to take twenty wickets in good time to win test matches.

              • January 8th 2013 @ 11:28am
                WW said | January 8th 2013 @ 11:28am | ! Report

                oh and josh

                btw mcdonald came into our side having lost a series to SA and he played the next 4 tests against SA. We won 3 of those 4 test with him contributing the respective averages of 20 with the bat and 30 with the ball….

                we then went to england and played the extra batsman north instead (because he could roll his arm over RK) and we couldn’t bowl out england in cardiff and we went on to score more than enough runs in the series but struggled to bowl out england in all but one of the 5 tests.

                a genuine all rounder plays in that series ahead of north… i say we win that series!

              • January 8th 2013 @ 12:23pm
                Red Kev said | January 8th 2013 @ 12:23pm | ! Report

                Actually you are the only person here showing how little you know about cricket.
                We have won tests plenty of times with 4 quicks – you will notice if you bother to read that I said “bowlers that suit conditions” and 4 pacemen in Perth has served Australia well many many times.
                Allrounders are not and have not ever been necessary to winning test matches.
                1989 Ashes: Marsh, Taylor, Boon, Jones, Border, Waugh, Healy, Hughes, Lawson, Campbell, Alderman.
                Waugh bowled 6 overs and Border 7 overs in the first test. They were not allroudners. Warner and Clarke and Hussey are not allrounders despite the fact they bowl a few overs an innings.
                1993 Ashes: Taylor, Slater, Boon, Waugh, Border, Waugh, Healy, Julian, Hughes, Warne, McDermott
                Waugh didn’t even bowl in some of the tests.
                1997 Ashes: Taylor, Elliott, Blewett, Waugh, Waugh, Bevan, Healy, Gillespie, Warne, Kasprowicz, McGrath.
                I could go on, but I can’t be bothered.
                Does the fact some batsmen can send down a few balls make them allrounders? No.
                Is an allrounder needed? No.

              • January 8th 2013 @ 1:34pm
                Red Kev said | January 8th 2013 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

                No test side needs an allrounder

              • January 8th 2013 @ 1:53pm
                matt h said | January 8th 2013 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

                Im with Kev on the all rounder. Remember England’s obsession with finding “the next Botham”. An allrounder is of value only if they add to the team. A bits and pieces player is not worth it. Maxwell bowls no better than North at this stage. Henriques has one (ONE!) century in his entire career. McDonald is actually the best credentialled all rounder in the country and would go well in England.

                If we keep Cowan and Watson we cannot fit in an allrounder. If we only have one of them, then you could consider it, but only if no batsmen deserves the spot.

              • January 8th 2013 @ 7:03pm
                WW said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:03pm | ! Report

                Who said anything about a bits and pieces player. We want a genuine all rounder but frankly most fans expect a morphing of pointing and McGrath.

                That’s a pipe dream. An all rounder is not a specialist batsman nor a specialist bowler.

                A decent all rounder, one that averages around 35 with bat and 30 with the ball will balance a mediocre side like the one we have.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 9:35am
        saad said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:35am | ! Report

        Ed Cowan can face indian spin and pace bowling attack while Khawaja not. Ed Cowan made a century against number one South Africa. Australia needs Cowan not Khawaja. Cowan’s average is increasing match by match. Cowan has a lot of experience while Khawaja is a new blood. I hope Cowan will make a lot of runs during indian tour having 1 or 2 centuries.

        • January 8th 2013 @ 10:06am
          Frankie Hughes said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:06am | ! Report

          Ed Cowan is useless against spin Saad.

          He was making Dilshan look like he was Muralidaran.

          Whilst Ashwin, Ojha and Jadeja aren’t the of Kumble and Harbhajan – they’ll be licking their lips at bowling to Cowan.

        • January 8th 2013 @ 12:47pm
          Rob Barrow said | January 8th 2013 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

          Saad you are facing a losing battle defending Cowan, he had 13 tests in a row to show what he can do and so far he is averaging 32. Khawaja had 2 tests at one time to show his stuff, at 26 he is the man to bring in as Cowan had his chances and failed. Don’t even get me started on Cowan’s running, it was terrible boht in Melbourne and Sydney and he had no clue facing Herath’s spin. Get Watson to open and bring Khawaja in at 4.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 12:44pm
        Rob Barrow said | January 8th 2013 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

        WW like your lineup, Khawaja is the best 3 in the country and Wade should bat 7, i wouldn’t pick Maxwell as his bowling won’t hold up in India and get anothe allrounder such as Faulkner or henriques.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 1:50pm
        matt h said | January 8th 2013 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

        I’m curious about the lack of love for Peter Siddle. He has been our most consistent and go to man for the last two years. He is ranked 5 in the bowling rankings. He should play when fit. Starc, Cummins/Patterson, Lyon, Bird is a very inexperienced attack without the wood chopper. I would have Siddle for Starc. Let’s face it – we will only get 2 tests out of Pattinson and Cummins anyway, so Starc will get a few games. And I would have Pattinson over Cummins if both are fit. cummins will be badly underdone and has only played a small handful of senior games.

        • January 8th 2013 @ 3:13pm
          Demonoid said | January 8th 2013 @ 3:13pm | ! Report

          Yep Siddle is a definite inclusion when fit. Has proven himself time and time again. Does not always get big bags of wickets (although he cleaned up in Hobart), but he consistantly remains the go to bowler for Clarke to break a partnership – (e.g. SL captain Jayawrdene in the Sydney test). And his wickets are always top/middle order batsmen – hardly ever the tail.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 2:24pm
        Disco said | January 8th 2013 @ 2:24pm | ! Report

        Watson Fan Club.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 5:23pm
        Rob from Brumby Country said | January 8th 2013 @ 5:23pm | ! Report

        Why do we have to have a left-arm fast bowler?

        Why would we even consider Hauritz?

        Why do we have to have an all-rounder?

        For fairness’ sake, I’ll give you my preferred team:

        1) Warner
        2) Cowan
        3) Hughes
        4) Clarke
        5) Khawaja
        6) Watson
        7) Wade
        8) Pattinson
        9) Siddle
        10) Lyon
        11) Bird/Hilfenhaus

        I’ve got Watson in there only until a better batsman announces himself. Callum Ferguson, Moises Henriques need not apply.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 5:24pm
        sittingbison said | January 8th 2013 @ 5:24pm | ! Report

        once again you have tow all rounders in the top six, not specialist batsmen. We can only afford ONE all rounder in the top six because Wade is solid enough at 7, even thats not ideal. And given Watson cannot bowl, he has to go. He is NOT one of the top six batsmen in the country

    • January 8th 2013 @ 9:49am
      Christo the Daddyo said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:49am | ! Report

      I’m not sure that arguing for Watson’s inclusion based on experience is a good enough reason. The good players’ style evolves over their career – I don’t think I’ve seen anything change in Watson’s game over the years. I mean, even Warner’s game has evolved in the much shorter time he’s been in the Test team. Hughes has returned to the team with an evolved batting style.

      But Watson? He might have played a few games more than the younger ones, but I’m not sure how that translates into such a benefit for the team that you’d select him over someone who is in better form.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 9:58am
        WW said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        he scored an 80odd in his last test innings at a crucial time when we needed it… is that poor form?

        Watson has been part of the test squad since 2005 and although it took until 2009 to become a certain selection his experience on the periphery and now as a player with 30 odd tests is just too valuable at a time where Ponting and Hussey have only just retired.

        He has certainly changed his game in order to go from a lower order batting allrounder and make it as a test match opener and average 43 as such. that’s not exactly an easy thing to do

        • January 8th 2013 @ 1:55pm
          matt h said | January 8th 2013 @ 1:55pm | ! Report

          Agreed

        • January 8th 2013 @ 5:38pm
          sittingbison said | January 8th 2013 @ 5:38pm | ! Report

          his 80odd was laborious, including some mistimed terrible slogs including the one that got him out straight after Clarke putting us in a jam. And he was dropped on 30 by replacement keeper Sangga (with a sitter). He is woefully out of form.

          Forget the 43 opener average, thats going back four years. Look at Boxing Day 2010- Boxing Day 2012 results, two years 12 tests no centuries, average 24. Including opening for 2011. And he is now in his 30s.

          Watson has a temperament problem, failing after 50 and getting out at breaks. He has a technique problem getting bowled or LBW in majority of dismissals.

    • January 8th 2013 @ 10:08am
      Frankie Hughes said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:08am | ! Report

      We need a proper spinner. Lyon isn’t Test standard.

      Dropping Hauritz was a massive OG. Hauritz is considerably superior to Lyon.

      We also need Steve O’Keefe in the mix. He AB excellent all round package. He should be the second spinner ahead of Beer.

      • January 8th 2013 @ 1:57pm
        matt h said | January 8th 2013 @ 1:57pm | ! Report

        Hauritz has a slightly worse test record than Lyon at this point and Lyon is the younger. I thought Hauritz was very hard done by, but time has marched on.

        Re Beer or O’Keefe (or Doherty, etc), they are all much the same. None will average under 35 in tests. Holland may have been the man, but he is injured.

        Boyce and Zampa are not ready.

        So Lyon it is.

        • January 9th 2013 @ 8:23am
          Frankie Hughes said | January 9th 2013 @ 8:23am | ! Report

          Hauritz has more wickets and a better strike rate, but a worst average than Lyon.

          This is mainly down to the last tour of India, where Ponting’s clueless handling of Hauritz got him hammered by the Indians.

          After the India series I’d say Lyon’s stats will be worst than Hauritz’s

    • January 8th 2013 @ 10:42am
      Alan said | January 8th 2013 @ 10:42am | ! Report

      Agree with everything you’ve said here Alec. Unfortunately, we can’t magically create Test level batsman, and have them ready and waiting in the wings. They simply aren’t there at the moment. The selected players are no worse than the best we have and the balance (other than a stack of left handers all playing together) seems right to me – in terms of aggressive and conservative players. The other good thing is the selected batsman also have some Test cricket under their belt.

      Another thing fans are going to have to come to terms with in Australian Cricket in the immediate future is that batsman are going to struggle to reach a 45+ average in a season. If they do, it will be an exceptional year (unless pitches dramatically change to batting paradises in Shield Cricket). The side effect of having so many top class bowlers in the country is that our state sides are now filled with class in their bowling attacks.

      Every country in the world barring SA & England would love to have one of our Test bowling discards or up & commers. The guys such as Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus, Clint McKay, John Hastings, Trent Copeland, Josh Hazelwood, Ben Cutting, Alister McDermott….the list goes on. Our state batsman will be facing these class players and it’s likely none of these guys will tour India or England. The 6 they’ll go with in rotation would be Siddle, Starc, Pattinson, Cummins, Bird & Johnson.

      The long term benefit of these wonderful bowling stocks is that the batsman will have no choice but to raise their game. It’s inevitable and something I’m very much looking forward to (though a little more patience is required). Sheffield Shield is certainly coming back and in my mind will soon be the premier provincial competition in the World. Alas, if only people would turn up to watch it….

      • January 8th 2013 @ 12:25pm
        Winston said | January 8th 2013 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

        That’s true. It wasn’t that long ago when we had Johnson, Siddle and Hilfenhaus as our pace battery. Fast forward couple of years we now seem to have an abundance of good fast bowlers (albeit a bit green and fragile at times, but at least we have the numbers). There has been plenty written about there’s no batsman knocking down the door with massive averages over 3+ years. Maybe from now on we have to put that in perspetive.

        Having said that, Hughes had a good Shield average and still failed at test level. So what does that say about bringing someone in with a lower average? Numbers aren’t everything, but there’s not much else to measure on.

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