Stoinis bolts into Ashes contention

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    On Australia’s last ODI tour of India a standout series performance vaulted George Bailey into the 2013 Ashes series despite his poor first-class form. Could that be an omen for man-of-the-moment Marcus Stoinis?

    Stoinis has been a revelation in ODIs this year, averaging 86 with the bat and regularly playing vital innings in the middle order in the wake of batting collapses. The 28-year-old all-rounder was among Australia’s best three players in this just-completed ODI series in India – his first in Asia.

    Four years ago, Bailey was Australia’s shining light in India, making 475 runs at 96, an effort which earned him an unexpected Ashes berth just weeks later.

    It was unexpected because Bailey was coming off a horrendous Shield campaign in which he averaged just 18 with the bat. But Bailey’s dominance in India, combined with good efforts in the Shield campaigns prior to that poor season, was enough to sway the selectors.

    Stoinis is in a similar position as he too is fresh from a woeful Shield season in which he averaged only 18 with the bat. There is another parallel with Bailey in that Stoinis also had several seasons of good performances prior to the bad season – Stoinis made nearly 1800 runs at 44 across the previous three Shield campaigns.

    To head off those Roarers itching for an argument, I’m not advocating Stoinis play in the Ashes, rather predicting that he could well be a bolter based on the past choices of Australia’s selection panel.

    There are several factors working in Stoinis’ advantage. Firstly, the Australian selectors like to have a fifth bowling option at number six in the Test team and will be especially keen on this because of England’s very deep batting line-up. That all but rules out the claims to the number six spot of specialist batsmen such as Shaun Marsh, Joe Burns or Kurtis Patterson.

    Secondly, on hard home pitches the selectors prefer for that all-rounder to bowl pace not spin, which greatly weakens the appeal of incumbent number six Glenn Maxwell and rising ODI star Travis Head.

    Thirdly, the only other likely Test candidates who are seam bowling all-rounders – Mitch Marsh and Hilton Cartwright – would probably have significant drawbacks in the eyes of the selectors.

    Fresh back from injury, Marsh is currently playing as a batsman for WA and is not expected to start bowling again until the Big Bash League, which starts nearly a month after the first Ashes Test.

    Cartwright, meanwhile, is in the same boat as Maxwell in that his bowling appears not to have the confidence of captain Steve Smith. Smith did not offer Cartwright a single over in his two ODIs and gave him just nine overs across his two Tests.

    The 25-year-old from WA is not really an all-rounder – he is a quality top-order batsman who also happens to roll his arm over.

    So, if Australia want a batting all-rounder who bowls pace well, Stoinis is the most obvious candidate. The fourth factor that plays into Stoinis’ hands is that there will be three rounds of the Sheffield Shield before Australia are expected to announce their Ashes squad.

    Marcus Stoinis of Australia celebrates

    (AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

    This gives him enough time to erase the selector’s memories of his poor 2016-17 Shield campaign.

    Should Stoinis come out and dominate with the blade, while the likes of Maxwell and Cartwright underwhelm, don’t be surprised to see him leapfrog that pair into the Ashes line-up.

    Putting aside Stoinis’s Test prospects, there is no doubt he has quickly become a fixture of Australia’s ODI team. Very few players have come into the Australian ODI side and immediately looked as comfortable as Stoinis. In his eight ODI innings, six times he has batted well.

    On four occasions he has arrived at the crease with Australia in a mess and guided them away from trouble.

    Two other times Stoinis has played a nice unbeaten cameo in the death overs. Only twice in eight knocks has he failed. Stoinis has proved himself to be exactly the kind of versatile middle order ODI batsman Australia desperately need, someone equally capable of putting out fires or setting the pitch ablaze.

    Yesterday it was the latter which was required of him after Australia lost 3-18. Consolidation was needed and that was just what Stoinis provided as he compiled a patient knock of 46 from 63 deliveries on a slow, dry pitch perfectly suited to India’s fine spinners.

    Stoinis has swiftly become a key member of Australia’s batting line-up because of its propensity for middle order collapses. Australia lost 6-63 in the second match of this series, 5-51 in the third ODI, 3-5 in the fourth match and then 3-18 yesterday.

    This has exposed Australia’s over-reliance on Smith to play the anchor role in ODIs. With Smith struggling (142 runs at 28 this series), Australia have looked rudderless at times.

    Their total of 9-242 batting first yesterday was at least 50 to 60 runs short of a competitive total against an Indian side which is brilliant at chasing. India cruised to a 4-1 series victory, continuing Australia’s run of poor ODI efforts away from home.

    Realistically, though, this tour quickly will be forgotten as Australia turn their attention to the Ashes, a series Stoinis is suddenly an outside chance of playing in.

    Ronan O
    Ronan O'Connell

    Ronan O'Connell has been a journalist for well over 13 years, including nine at daily newspapers in WA. He now traverses the world as a travel photojournalist, contributing words and photography to more than 30 magazines and newspapers including CNN, BBC, The Toronto Star, The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Examiner and The Australian Financial Review. Check out his work and follow him on Twitter @ronanoco