Maxwell deserves Ashes selection, but Cartwright is better

Ronan O'Connell Columnist

By , Ronan O'Connell is a Roar Expert

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    Glenn Maxwell’s Test performances this year warrant his selection for the Ashes, but Hilton Cartwright is the better short and long-term option for the Australian team.

    The number six spot for the first Ashes Test is one of the trickiest decisions the Australian selectors have faced in recent years.

    It would be harsh on Maxwell for him to be dumped after doing a fine job for Australia over four Tests in Asia, a place where so many other Australian batsmen have floundered.

    His average of 37 across those four Tests is, in my opinion, equivalent to averaging 50-to-55 on far friendlier and more familiar home pitches. If Maxwell’s last four Tests had been in Australia and he had averaged in the 50s his position would not even be in question.

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    He will have reason to be greatly aggrieved if he is not selected to play against England. It is important not to undervalue Maxwell’s Test century in India in March, when he came to the crease with Australia in trouble at 4-140 on the first day.

    The list of other Australian batsmen who have scored Test centuries in India over the past decade is a short one filled with elite cricketers – Steve Smith, Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey, Simon Katich, Shane Watson and Marcus North.

    Not only was Maxwell’s ton in India a rare achievement for an Australia batsman but it was also the first century scored by an Australian number six in more than three years. The number six position was a gaping hole for Australia during that period.

    Maxwell was asked to fill that hole, in Asian conditions no less, and did his job. He wasn’t outstanding, but he was good. Denying him the opportunity to build on that in home conditions would be cruel. Yet I think that is the fate which awaits Maxwell, unless he can shine in the second round of the Sheffield Shield.

    Flashy players such as Maxwell typically find it much harder to earn loyalty from fans and, more importantly, selectors. As a comparison, there are far fewer people calling for the axing of circumspect opener Matt Renshaw, despite the fact his batting average was 18, half that of Maxwell’s, during Australia’s last four Tests.

    Both men deserve patience from the selectors.

    However, as much as I think Maxwell deserves to play in the Ashes, I also believe Australia would be a better side with Cartwright at six instead.

    The West Australian batsman’s first-class average of 50 suggests he is ready for Tests. Putting his stats aside, Cartwright just looks every millimetre the Test cricketer.

    He is beautifully balanced at the crease. He plays the ball late, under his eyes and with soft hands. He is rarely caught on the crease, either getting well forward or well back. He is equally strong off the front or back foot, through the off or the leg side.

    Hilton Cartwright of Australia bowls

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    He has multiple gears to his batting, appearing comfortable whether playing cautiously due to conditions or match situation, or taking on the bowlers when required. He is also a world-class fieldsman and a reasonable medium pacer.

    Crucially, Cartwright also seems to rise to a challenge. WA asked him to move up the order to number three in the second half of the last Shield season and he has dominated ever since, making 630 runs at 70 from six matches.

    In the opening round of the current Shield season I thought Cartwright was the second most impressive batsman across the country, after Usman Khawaja.

    On a WACA pitch which offered plenty of assistance for the quicks, Cartwright looked serene. Even Jackson Bird, who bowled so well and consistently troubled the remainder of the WA order, found it hard to disturb Cartwright.

    It took an absolute peach of a delivery, and a suspect LBW call by the umpire, to dismiss him in the first dig, when he had appeared on track for a ton.

    Cartwright’s strong foundation against fast bowling makes him well suited to playing both in the Ashes and in Australia’s following four-Test series in South Africa, with pace to be the biggest threat in both series.
    Cartwright is also an accomplished player of spin – quick to read the length and possessed of nimble and assured footwork.

    Whether all of these attributes translate to success at Test level is impossible to predict. There is no doubt, though, that Cartwright is the type of well-rounded batsman who tends to do well in Test cricket.

    My gut tells me he already has one foot in Australia’s Ashes line-up. Only a stunning effort from Maxwell in the second round of the Shield will stop Cartwright from planting his other boot.

    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

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