Who will bat at No. 6 for Australia in the first Test?

Eddie Otto Roar Pro

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    With a big Ashes summer on the horizon, we need to look at the likely candidates for the contentious Number 6 position in the Australian Test team.

    Whilst the preference has often been to play an all-rounder over the past few years, no player has made the position their own. With Usman Khawaja likely to bat Number 3, and Matthew Renshaw and Peter Handscomb cementing their spots in the Test side, the Number 6 position looks the only real spot up for grabs.

    Here we look at all the candidates, by dissecting their respective ages, averages and current form, and predicting where they might sit in the current pecking order, with three important Shield games before the first Test in Brisbane on 23 November.

    Front runners
    Glenn Maxwell – Age 28

    Test Averages (7 Matches @ 26 Batting Average, 8 Wickets @ 42 Bowling Average)
    ODI Averages (80 Matches @ 32 Batting Average, 45 Wickets @ 38 Bowling Average)

    First Class Averages (51 Matches @ 39 Batting Average, 57 wickets @ 41 Bowling Average)
    2016/2017 Sheffield Shield Averages (3 Matches @ 25 Batting Average, 1 Wicket @ 86 Bowling Average)

    Form/Stats Breakdown – Maxwell’s form has really fluctuated in the past 12 months despite a breakthrough century in Test Cricket.

    What should have been the catalyst for a prolonged period in the Test team, his 104 in the Third Test in Ranchi against India has instead resulted in some indifferent form in both Test and ODI cricket. Whilst Maxwell has played five straight Test matches, it comes at a time when his ODI form has been disastrous over the past 12 months, and he could only average 25 from three Shield games last season.

    Maxwell has been a complete non-factor with the ball of late, barely getting a bowl in Test and ODI cricket despite conditions favouring the spinners in both India and Bangladesh. Maxwell took just one Shield wicket in the three matches he played last summer, suggesting his days as a genuine option with the ball might be numbered unless he can reinvent himself.

    Verdict – Maxwell holds the advantage of being the incumbent, however his hold on the Number 6 position looks tenuous at best. I have been a huge fan of his talent over the years, however now it’s time to back it up with consistent performances.

    Being dropped in India from the ODI side is a sign that the selectors are far from sold on Maxwell. The message is clear – at 28 years of age, it’s time to turn glimpses of brilliance into more consistent results.

    In Maxwell’s defence, all of his seven Test Match appearances have come in Asia, generally with Australia on the back foot in the game, on turning tracks, with close fielders surrounding the bat.

    He would relish a chance in home conditions, but he has to earn it first. His off spinners have diminished to such as extent that you can hardly call Maxwell an all-rounder these days, if you discount his outlandish fielding ability.

    Given the fact his bowling is hardly a genuine fifth option, he needs to be averaging close to 40 in the Test side with the bat to justify his place in the side in the long term. I believe he needs strong early season form for Victoria to be there in Brisbane.

    Australia Test player Glenn Maxwell raises his bat

    (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

    Marcus Stoinis – Age 28
    Test Averages – Yet to debut
    ODI Averages – (8 Matches @ 85 Batting Average, 5 wickets @ 60 Bowling Average)

    First Class Averages (43 Matches @ 35 Bowling Average, 33 Wickets @ 48 Bowling Average)
    2016/17 Sheffield Shield (7 Matches @ 17 Batting Average, 8 Wickets @ 43 Bowling Average)

    Form/Stats – If you’re looking for the form player right now of all the contenders, Stoinis is the man, despite all of his good performances having come in white ball cricket. Not only has he starred recently with his stunning 146 n/o in New Zealand, but he backed it up with some strong performances in an otherwise failing Australian middle order in the recent ODI series against India.

    Stoinis managed 153 runs, and was only twice dismissed in the series, averaging 76 with the bat in a series in which the hosts dominated. The black mark against his name would have been a dismal 2016/17 Shield season where he averaged just 17 with the bat. His First Class average is only modest at 35, with just four centuries.

    The fact he averages less than a wicket per game in four-day cricket suggests his bowling is more suited to the shorter form of the game.

    Verdict – Personally I think Stoinis is the player that is firmly in the selectors’ minds at the moment. I think, given they persisted so long with a player like Mitchell Marsh, Stoinis is the sort of “project player” that fits the mould of a batting all-rounder, that bowls seam at a decent enough pace, to be considered a fifth bowling option.

    With the likes of Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins as strike bowlers that bowl in short spells and are susceptible to injuries, this elevates Stoinis’ case further. Not only does he have recent form on the board in ODI cricket, but by all accounts he is a highly intelligent cricketer who works on his game harder than most.

    From what I have seen, his personality and belief don’t appear to shrink at the International level. He owned some recent games in New Zealand and India, and looks comfortable in hostile environments.

    However, considering poor Shield form last season, he would need to produce some runs, especially for Western Australia in the first three Shield games. I think he is right in the mix, if not the outright favourite at this stage. Whether he deserves to be, or not, is another question.

    Hilton Cartwright – Age 25
    Test Averages (2 Matches @ 27 Batting Average, 0 wickets)
    ODI Averages (2 matches @ 1 Batting Average, 0 Wickets)

    First Class Averages (23 Matches @ 50 Batting Average, 18 Wickets @ 45 Bowling Average)
    2016/17 Sheffield Shield Averages (10 Matches @ 53 Batting Average, 7 Wickets @ 64 Batting Average)

    – The first thing that strikes me about Cartwright is his eye watering First Class average of 50. Not many players going around Shield cricket these days put up this sort of number, even though it is early in his career. The fact he bats in the top order gives that average even more credence, pumping out some large scores with five First Class centuries already to his name.

    He has an experienced and battle-hardened coach, Justin Langer in his corner singing his praises who would have been watching his four-day cricket closely. His two Test matches and two ODI appearances haven’t really showcased his abilities, as he has been there to plug holes in different spots in the team.

    The fact he hasn’t taken a wicket in all four of his International games for Australia could count against him, if the selectors prefer to go for an all-rounder capable of taking a few key wickets.

    Verdict – I believe, long term, Cartwright is going to be vying for positions a lot higher than 6 in the pecking order. However, at this point that is all that looks available.

    I think in the long term Cartwright could easily bat Number 3 or 4 for Australia in Test Cricket if his trajectory continues along this path. Cartwright’s bowling looks more military medium pace than anything that could take regular important wickets at the highest level, and that could count against him in the battle for selection in the first Test.

    Hilton Cartwright of Australia bowls

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    However, that’s not to say he can’t become a useful fifth bowling option on seaming wickets with his big frame. If the selectors are looking for purely the best batsman for Number 6, of all the contenders, Cartwright has strong claims for selection. At 25 years of age, and with a First Class average of 50, the selectors will be looking to get him in the mix sooner rather than later.

    Given he has some leadership credentials, down the track the selectors might see the Number 6 position as the perfect way to ease into the team. I believe, in Australian conditions, he is definitely in the leading few contenders to be there in Brisbane.

    The chasing pack
    Moises Henriques – Age 30

    Test Averages (4 Matches @ 23 Batting Average, 2 Wickets @ 82 Bowling Average)
    ODI Averages (11 Matches @ 9 Batting Average, 7 Wickets @ 43 Bowling Average)

    First Class Averages (72 Matches @ 35 Batting Average, 101 Wickets @ 31 Bowling Average)
    2016/2017 Sheffield Shield Averages (9 Matches @ 64 Batting Average, 3 Wickets @ 67 Bowling Average)

    Form/Stats Breakdown – Henriques missed a golden opportunity in the recent Champions Trophy in England when he was elevated to the Number 4 position and was out with a couple of soft dismissals. Just when the door appeared to be closing, he emerged with a 60 n/o against India in the recent T20 series, to win a game for Australia.

    His First Class batting average of 35 is only moderate for a player of high talent and suggests, just when he has gathered momentum in Shield cricket or the BBL over the past few years, he has suffered an untimely injury or a poor run of form.

    Last season Henriques was one of the dominant few batsmen in Shield Cricket, averaging 64 from 9 matches and showing the class he possesses with his natural technique and powerful striking off front and back foot.

    I think those injuries have knocked the edge off him as a bowler, losing some pace as well as a reluctance to bowl long spells. Whilst his 101 First Class wickets at an average of 31 is handy enough, he only took 3 Shield wickets last season at an average over 60.

    Verdict – I’m a big fan of Henriques as a batsman as I think technically he is sound off both front and back foot, and he looks like he has plenty of time. Just like Maxwell, Henriques’ Test appearances have all come in Asian conditions when Australia have been struggling as a team, and in a pressure cooker environment.

    Whilst he has not taken his opportunities, the timing for his inclusions have been tough. I get the feeling the selectors would like to give him the opportunity, however he needs to have faith in his own ability at International level, as well as having his body hold together for long enough.

    I feel, in International Cricket, he has played defensively and not felt like he belonged. He really needs a breakthrough innings, as I believe he is a confidence player. The fact his Shield form was really strong last year, and the selectors sent him to India, shows they are still keen on him, I believe, as a potential Number 6 in the Test team.

    Henriques has been a player I have long admired, however the clock appears to be ticking fast in his bid to become the long term Test Cricketer that his talent probably deserves. He needs to get massive runs in the early Shield games, as his bowling appears to be on the decline through injuries.

    Travis Head – Age 23
    Test Average – Yet to debut
    ODI Averages (30 Matches @ 37 Batting Average, 12 Wickets @ 55 Bowling Average)

    First Class Averages (54 Matches @ 34 Batting Average, 26 Wickets @ 57 Bowling Average)
    2016/17 Sheffield Shield Averages (9 Matches @ 43 Batting Average, 12 Wickets @ 45 Bowling Average)

    Form/Stats Breakdown – Whilst his Shield record is moderate, averaging 35 overall, Head scored over 600 runs at 43 last summer, in a sign he is becoming a more complete player.

    However, given a golden opportunity in the recent ODI series in India, Head struggled to find any runs and admitted himself he missed a golden opportunity to really put his name up in lights. Head has performed really well, on the whole, in ODI cricket, averaging close to 40 and striking at close to 90 in his 30 ODI matches to date.

    He has also been given plenty of overs in ODI cricket and Shield cricket to try and push his cause as a fifth bowler, capable of taking a few wickets, at the highest level. Whilst his bowling record is moderate, he has clearly outperformed Glenn Maxwell in the past 12 months and, interestingly, has been relied upon to provide the majority of the spinning overs between the pair.

    Verdict – Travis Head is probably one of the smokies to win a position at Number 6 in the Test Team this summer, given his moderate First Class record, and the fact his spinners are more part time than anything at this point.

    It’s not necessarily his First Class form line or record, but more the fact he has risen to the occasion in the ODI arena, at both the top of the order and the middle order, which would have impressed selectors.

    Head has provided not only some later order power hitting, but been a busy and reliable player, capable of manipulating the ball into different areas and clearing the ropes. However, in his favour is the fact he has proven at the International level that he can produce, and that his personality with the bat remains the same.

    Unlike Henriques, his game actually elevated once he got picked for Australia, and he looked at home in the team. I believe another factor in his favour is the fact he has leadership potential, and the selectors are always looking around for players that could be Captain. Like all players in contention, if he makes big runs and takes a few wickets for South Australia early in the season, he is not out of the race.

    Travis Head of Australia celebrates after scoring a century

    (AAP Image/David Mariuz)

    Kurtis Patterson – Age 24

    Test Average – Yet to debut
    ODI Averages – Yet to Debut

    First Class Averages (40 Matches @ 42 Batting Average, 0 Wickets)
    2016/17 Sheffield Shield Averages (10 Matches @ 44 Batting Average, 0 Wickets)

    Stats/Form – Patterson has a really solid First Class record for a guy that doesn’t seem to get too many headlines. The fact he already averages 42, at 24 years of age, suggests that his average is only going to go up, if you consider most batsmen’s best years are in their late 20s and early 30s. Patterson doesn’t get as much exposure as some of his fellow contenders, given he is not considered a great white ball player, even though his List A record is decent, averaging 36 from 34 games.

    Verdict – Patterson was right in the mix for a position higher in the Test batting order before the likes of Matt Renshaw and Peter Handscomb took a strangle hold on the opening spot and Number 5 positions.

    In an era when selectors have churned through plenty of players, it seems a little strange that Patterson hasn’t been given an opportunity. He is perhaps an old fashioned type of cricketer, and unfashionable contender for a middle order slot given he doesn’t bowl, is not a noted athlete, and is more an accumulator of runs than a power hitter.

    However, for mine, he is the classiest and most measured batsman, alongside Cartwright, of all the contenders. Patterson, at 24 years of age, has time on his side, and could yet push for a spot higher in the order as a genuine batsman in the team.

    I think he will become a regular Test batsman in time; however, for the current Number 6 position, he would be a genuine outsider, given he doesn’t bowl at all.

    Ashton Agar – Age 24
    Test Averages (4 Matches @ 32 Batting Average, 9 Wickets @ 45 Bowling Average)
    ODI Averages (4 Matches @ 7 Batting Average, 4 Wickets @ 45 Batting Average)

    First Class Averages (46 matches @ Batting Average 26, 121 wickets @ 39 Bowling Average)
    2016/17 Sheffield Shield Averages (4 Matches @ 19 Batting Average, 16 Wickets @ 27 Bowling Average)

    Stats/Form – Agar did well on the recent tour of Bangladesh, scoring some handy late order runs and picking up some good wickets. His batting average of 32 in four Tests is good, however generally he has been considered more a Number 8 rather than a Number 6.

    His First Class batting average of 26 suggests he has more work to do if he is to be considered as a genuine all-rounder that can bat in the Top 6. Whilst his First Class bowling average of 39 might seem a tad high, it’s pretty good going for a young left arm orthodox spinner on wickets that generally don’t break up.

    Verdict – I was impressed by Agar’s performances in Bangladesh, where he looked like a much-improved cricketer to the raw youngster that debuted in England. His bowling was a lot more accurate and controlled, which is what you expect from a left arm orthodox spinner.

    There is no doubt he is a strike weapon with the bat down the order, and he batted with real freedom against Bangladesh, as well as being responsible when required. However, he is nowhere near surpassing Nathan Lyon as Australia’s Number 1 spinner, and his numbers are nowhere near good enough yet to be considered for the Number 6 position.

    I think the selectors will hope he has another strong year in Shield Cricket, hopefully batting around Number 6 or 7 for Western Australia, before be becomes a genuine contender for an all-rounder spot in the Test team.