Batting order puzzle extends to ODI side

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    Phil Hughes (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

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    With all the debate going on currently around what is or isn’t the ideal batting order for the Australian Test team, the form of a few in the coloured gear means we now have similar puzzles to solve for the one-day side.

    With Michael Clarke, David Warner, and Matthew Wade recalled as expected to the now 12-man ODI squad for the next two games (in Brisbane on Friday, and Sydney on Sunday), it appears the order is still very much a work in progress.

    For one, Phil Hughes’ outstanding debut knock last Friday brings to a close Matthew Wade’s role as a one-day opener, for the immediate future at least. Hughes’ strokeplay was an absolute pleasure to watch, as was the way he consolidated and calmed his innings when he got into the 80s, to ensure he reached the milestone well in control.

    Once there, he launched two cracking boundaries that had “I’m not here to cook eggs,” written all over them, as he went into attack mode.

    The Nine commentators went into raptures about the second of the two, a back foot thrash-with-bat-flourish (or “lasso”, as they’ve going on about ever since) through cover. But for mine, the deliberately paused square cut off a Malinga slower ball the previous delivery was the real shot of the innings. It showed perfect poise, and then precision to pierce the gap at point.

    Regardless, he was out in the same over (the 39th), just when he looked like he was in for a big one. It’s fair to say now he’s earned a prolonged start to his national one-day career, and it’s great to see him so obviously enjoying his cricket again.

    It was actually hard to believe Hughes’ century was the first from an Aussie batsman on ODI debut, particularly given the one-day game has been going more than 40 years. Sure enough, though, Hughes’ 112 topped Phil Jaques’ 94 in Melbourne in 2004 (at the Docklands, interestingly, according to CricInfo), and Shaun Marsh’s 81 in the West Indies in 2008.

    (Even more surprisingly, on the list of all 201 players to have played one-day cricket for this country, only 12 players have topped 50 in their debut innings.)

    Hughes’ knock provided the perfect platform for Australia’s big total in the first game of the series, just as the early wickets paved the way for a pretty ordinary showing in Adelaide on Sunday.

    Some of the calling between wickets was worryingly bad (again), and ball-watching has become an endemic problem.

    One of the best runners between the wicket in Australian limited overs history was Dean Jones, and he has a mountain of work to do with the team in his current role as stand-in batting coach. However, there probably aren’t too many better mentors in this department, so the players need to listen up, and listen good.

    George Bailey might be timing his run into form perfectly. His two knocks so far this series have shown that he might just be a whole lot better batsman than plenty of us realise, myself included.

    He’s not necessarily textbook perfect, but he’s got a nice sense of improvisation about his game without being ridiculous, and an impressive ability to play with hard or soft hands as required by the delivery.

    A couple of mates nearly choked on their Thai takeaway on Sunday night when I suggested that Bailey is emerging as a better-than-even money chance to tour India with the Test team, but soon came around to my premise as we talked it through.

    The selectors evidently aren’t sure about Usman Khawaja again, and so Bailey has to be a big chance of taking Mike Hussey’s vacant middle order spot.

    And though I don’t want to turn this into a ‘next Australian captain’ debate, I reckon Bailey is holding more than a few NAC cards right at the moment, too.

    David Hussey has similarly impressed me with his mix of deft and improv, and his ability to hit gaps is something I’m sure was always there, but probably hasn’t been noticed as much as now.

    It’s almost as if he’s jumping at the chance to shine in his own right now, but there’s no question in my mind he’s the best placed to provide that ‘finisher’ role perfected by his brother, and the likes of Michael Bevan before that.

    Sunday night also confirmed my suspicion that Steve Smith and Glenn Maxwell can’t play in the same side, let alone bat in the middle order.

    They’re very similar players in that they both have abundant all-round talent, but also that they’re both evidently struggling to convert that talent into performance.

    It would appear the selectors agree with my suspicion, too, with Smith dropped from the squad for the next two matches. Maxwell remains though, and he has a massive job in front of him to convince the paying public he is all he’s cracked up to be.

    On his two showings in an Australian shirt this last week, and even on his Big Bash League form this summer, I have to admit I’m going to take a lot of convincing. His footwork and shot selection leaves a lot be desired and doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence that he can bat in the top six at international level.

    And from what I’ve seen of his bowling so far, his only variations appear to be whether he bowls over or around the wicket. If he’s the best all-rounder in Australia currently – for any form of the game, for that matter – then I’d be pretty happy if we just went back to the old six bats/four bowlers combination, frankly.

    So looking ahead to these next couple of games, Hughes and Warner are the obvious openers, but it all gets a bit blurred below them.

    Michael Clarke in the past has shown that he doesn’t necessarily have that same ability to consolidate and then accelerate, like either of the Husseys or Bailey seems able. His best spot in the order might be to come in at first drop, where he can build an innings if coming in early, or play his shots if the openers have laid the platform.

    I think Bailey could actually bat anywhere, but I’d have him at no.4 because I think David Hussey is better lower down the order where he can come in and finish the innings.

    That leaves Wade, Maxwell, and Moises Henriques now, to occupy the next three spots, and it feels like there’s much debate to be had here. Wade should be the obvious no.6, but this fascination with Maxwell could mean otherwise.

    I’d even bat Henriques above Maxwell if they do play together, but hey, what would I know? I’m just sitting on a couch.

    Shane Watson’s eventual return can only complicate things even further.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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