South African Dale Steyn (centre right) celebrates the wicket of Matthew Hayden (left) caught and bowled for four during the third day of their Test match against Australia at the WACA ground in Perth, Friday, Dec. 19, 2008. AAP Image/Tony McDonough

If Matthew Hayden does not announce his retirement after the current Test series against South Africa, the selectors will have to retire him from Test cricket themselves.

Two points are crucial in this analysis.

First, at age 37, Hayden is not going to improve as a Test batsman.

His recent record suggests that his batting has lost its dominance and authority, and despite the sympathetic response of journalists (who Hayden says he does not admire) that he’s had unlucky decisions and run-outs, his time at the top of the batting order is up.

Second, the next Test series is in South Africa next year, followed some months later by the Ashes series in England.

A partner for Simon Katich needs to be found in South Africa so that Australia goes into the Ashes series with an opening combination that has a certain familiarity with each other.

According to the cricket writers and commentators, the likely candidates to succeed Hayden are Shaun Marsh, Chris Rogers, Phil Jacques and Phillip Hughes.

North and Jacques, who are generally the most-named candidates by the cricket writers, are already in their 30s. Marsh is more of a one-day specialist. Hughes is only into his second year of first class cricket.

Interestingly, Peter Roebuck in an article on Saturday in the SMH on the end of Hayden, mentions Hughes and Hughes only as a possible replacement.

In my opinion, Roebuck is right to make this call.

It was Greg Chappell who made the case that, if possible, talented players should be picked before age 25 because after that, they tended to lose their natural confidence and exuberance. The comment was made in the context of the selection policy of recent years of picking players in their 30s, rather than youngsters.

The money that has come into cricket with the commercialied spread of the game, especially in India, has meant that even journeymen players are staying longer in cricket. The selectors, too, have had some success in bringing older players like Michael Hussey into the Test side, and re-selecting players who had been dropped previously, like Katich.

But the Australian way for more than 100 years, and an important factor in the success of the Australian Test sides, has been to take a punt on young and talented players, even if their first-class experience has been limited.

Class does not need years to identify itself. It is self-obvious in the case of Archie Jackson, Don Bradman, Neil Harvey, Norman O’Neill, Doug Walters, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke.

And, in my view, in the case of Hughes.

I wandered down to the SCG late last year to see Hughes play his first first-class match for NSW. He batted for 40 minutes without scoring a run, but was unflustered.

Then he opened up and scored a tidy, nicely-compiled 50. I wrote this innings up on The Roar and predicted that the next great Australian batsman had arrived.

Nothing that Hughes has done, or not done, has suggested anything other than that this prediction still holds good. He scored a match-winning century in the Sheffield Shield final. This season, after a slow start, he has scored three centuries.

His first-class batting average is a shade over 50, remarkable for an opening batsman.

There is no doubt about the quality of Hughes’ play. He has the temperament, the appetite for runs and the tight technique to succeed at the highest levels of cricket, in the Test arena.

It’s now up to the selectors to have the foresight and courage to do the Australian thing and give a batting prodigy a chance to establish himself as the next long-term opener, a true successor of Hayden, who has been on averages the most successful of a golden line of great Australian opening batsmen.

Spiro Zavos
Spiro Zavos

Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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The Crowd Says (11)

  • December 23rd 2008 @ 8:19am
    sledgeross said | December 23rd 2008 @ 8:19am | ! Report

    I concur Spiro. I would drop Hayden after the SA series this summer if his form slump continues. Provided Jaques can regain some form, I would probably try and get him a game in SA, to run into some form for teh Ashes. Jaquesy has scored a ton of runs in the UK, so would seem an ideal candidate to open the innings over there, especially given our woes last time against Pommy bowlers. The good thing about Katich is that he can literally bat in any position, so if Hughes’ form warrants selection, he may (like Boonie) drop to 3 or 4 (Punter hasnt looked good lunging at every ball with the new cherry).

  • December 23rd 2008 @ 9:07am
    Skull said | December 23rd 2008 @ 9:07am | ! Report

    I dont think they wil go with Hughes just yet. Just reading between the lines of some comments from various writers, the selectors may want to give Hughes another year or two in 1st class cricket before selecting him for Aust. In a way I think this would be better in the long run because it remains to be seen how Hughes reacts to the inevitable form slump. There is also another bloke putting his hand up for selection and that is Klinger for S.A who is by far the leading run scorer in Shield cricket this season. He is a seasoned hard nut who has battled away in Vic and now SA. This is the type of player IMHO we need at present.

  • December 23rd 2008 @ 10:15am
    JohnB said | December 23rd 2008 @ 10:15am | ! Report

    The one caveat on Klinger is that he’s made a lot of his runs in Adelaide. Fair enough, you still have to make them but you still have to apply some discount to runs made there. Chris Rogers has looked the goods this year for mine, but if Jaques shows some form and fitness he’d be entitled to play the “incumbent coming back in after injury” card, which has often seemed pretty valuable.

  • December 23rd 2008 @ 10:39am
    sledgeross said | December 23rd 2008 @ 10:39am | ! Report

    I think the issue is that openers generally mesh better when they contrast. I think that Rogers and Klinger may be too similar to Katich to be truly effective.

  • Roar Guru

    December 23rd 2008 @ 1:39pm
    Greg Russell said | December 23rd 2008 @ 1:39pm | ! Report

    I agree with Spiro that Hughes is the next great Australian batsman. During a recent Sheffield Shield match at Bellerive, on a very difficult pitch he made 93 of 172 NSW first innings runs and then even exceeded this by making 108 out of 173 in the second innings. Further, he did this against an attack of Hilfenhaus, Geeves and Denton, which is basically Austraila/Australia A in standard, and he did it an impressively high scoring rate. In his first year of Sheffield Shield cricket he has made 1217 runs in 13 matches at an average of 60.85 (the figure of 50 quoted by Spiro is lower because of some Australia A matches).

    This is a level of sustained performance that cannot be fluked and has not been seen in Australian cricket since Hayden and Ponting burst onto the scene (in fact Hughes exceeds even them in the way he has started). They turned out to be OK, didn’t they.

    As for Klinger, I have just written a post on him with LeftArmSpinner’s article “Australian cricket selectors need to be more ruthless”. To summarize: Klinger is a 3, and he would be worth considering for selection there, not least of all because this would allow Ponting, Hussey and Clarke all to drop down a batting spot into positions that better suit their current situations.

  • December 23rd 2008 @ 1:55pm
    sledgeross said | December 23rd 2008 @ 1:55pm | ! Report

    Greg, I just dont think Klinger is international class. I think he’s a good first class player having a fantastic year. He could prove me wrong of course, but I am a biased New South Welshman!

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