At present being a member of Australia’s top-seven must be a bit like playing musical chairs – when the music stops, grab a seat.
Or perhaps, more correctly, slump down in the one the selectors have slipped behind you.
Australia headed to England with major questions over its Test batting line-up.
It will return home without the Ashes and with about as many questions still unanswered.
Since the retirement of Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey during last summer, Australia’s selectors have tinkered with the batting more than a mechanic would with a dicky engine.
Usman Khawaja has been discarded for tonight’s final Test at The Oval with Shane Watson to bat at number three while all-rounder James Faulkner will debut and bat at number seven behind Brad Haddin.
Working backwards, this is how Australia’s top-seven has looked over the past eight Tests:
The Oval – Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke, Smith, Haddin, Faulkner
Chester-Le-Street – Rogers, Warner, Khawaja, Clarke, Smith, Watson, Haddin
Old Trafford – Rogers, Watson, Khawaja, Clarke, Smith, Warner, Haddin
Lord’s – Rogers, Watson, Khawaja, Hughes, Clarke, Smith, Haddin
Nottingham – Rogers, Watson, Cowan, Clarke, Smith, Hughes, Haddin
Delhi – Cowan, Warner, Hughes, Watson, Smith, Wade, Maxwell
Mohali – Cowan, Warner, Clarke, Hughes, Smith, Haddin, Henriques
Hyderabad – Cowan, Warner, Hughes, Watson, Clarke, Wade, Henriques
Some of the changes through those matches were forced through injury – Clarke at Delhi and Wade at Mohali – while Warner was a scratching for the opening two Ashes Tests having been suspended by team management and Watson was infamously omitted for disciplinary reasons at Mohali.
In the main, however, it has been at the selectors’ behest that the batting order has had so many faces.
Faulkner will be the third young all-rounder to be blooded following cameos from Henriques and Maxwell in India.
Across the past eight matches Watson will have opened, batted at three, four and six.
Skipper Clarke will have occupied three, four and five.
Along with Khawaja, Hughes and Cowan it means that Australia will have used five players in the pivotal number three spot in the space of just eight matches.
For anyone who has watched Fox Sport’s coverage of this series you will have been privy to Allan Border’s thoughts on what needs to be done.
His philosophy is succinct – “pick and stick”.
Steve Waugh has taken up the same mantra in recent days while Matthew Hayden has also been critical of the chopping and changing.
With the exception of Rogers (344 runs at 43) and Clarke (346 at 49), there has been precious little to get enthused about – and it needs to be remembered that Rogers turns 36 in ten days’ time.
Behind that pair, the next best series averages belong to James Pattinson (36) and Ashton Agar (32) – hardly a glowing recommendation for supposedly the country’s best willow wielders.
Watson has once again shown a serious flaw in his technique with his susceptibility to being trapped in front by the full swinging delivery.
Hughes returned to the Test arena late last summer with glowing reports on how his newly modified technique would place him in good stead as he looked to restart his career.
He was made to look inept at times to spin in India and with the exception of his fighting unbeaten 81 in Australia’s first innings of this series his remaining three knocks produced a mere three runs before he was jettisoned once again.
While few batsmen have done much to enhance their prospects of long term places in the team it is surely time that the selectors anointed a top six plus a ‘keeper and stick with it for a good few Tests.
The constant changes in the order and the revolving door policy in and out of the team has done little to build some sort of core batting unit.
Once the home Ashes series gets underway, it is imperative that the selectors have settled on a preferred batting line-up and that they allow it an opportunity to bed down.
It may be a matter of going beyond the current touring party in order to find the right candidates but whoever they end up being, Border’s “pick and stick” philosophy has a lot going for it.