We are going to learn a lot about where the Australian Test side is at in the next 12 months. Back-to-back tours of India and England are about as tough as it gets.
As we know, we will be missing Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, our two most experienced batsmen and two of the ‘elders’ in the dressing room.
Michael Clarke has proven to be not only the premier batsman in the world in 2012 but an attacking and nuanced captain. Regardless, he has the job ahead of him in 2013. He certainly does not have the cattle that the last three captains had at their disposal.
In this and a following article I review how the incumbents and possibles are likely to fre in the next 12 months. I start with the batsmen.
David Warner: It has already been a summer of transformation for Davey Warner. Famous for his brutish six-hitting, he has found a batting rhythm more akin to a Test opener. He will always score near to a run-a-ball but this is something to be celebrated rather than discouraged.
As Mark Taylor pointed out in the Sydney Test, the lofted ‘hoiks’ to cow corner have been replaced with well timed-pushes, and such shots maketh a Test opener. Warner has classic technique through the ‘V’ that will hold him in good stead in 2013.
Ed Cowan: Started the summer so well with his breakthrough century in Adelaide, but in the following five Tests he has failed to cement his spot. Some of Eddie’s old demons refuse to leave his shoulder. He can occupy the crease but too often he gets out in the 30s after having done the tough stuff.
The fact that he is such a counterpoint to Warner has probably played in his favour thus far, but his current Test average of 32.81 will not cut the mustard for long. Part of Shane Watson’s reluctance to bowl again is about his desire to open the batting. This along with the presence of an in-form Phil Hughes at three (a natural opener) will be keeping Cowan up at night. His relatively anchored stance looked awkward against spin in Sydney and no doubt will be tested further in India.
Shane Watson: Watson has announced that he no longer wants to bowl, meaning he has to force his way back into the Test team as a specialist top-order batsman. Despite a purple patch at the top of the order which saw Watto take out the AB medal in 2010 and 2011, he is not a natural Test opener. He is heavy footed and likes to plant his front foot down the wicket. He always looks vulnerable to a good LBW shout.
Take away his bowling and he is a batsman who has averaged 37.02 in 38 Tests. He is also famously injury prone. It is hard to believe that the Watto of two years ago would be struggling to reclaim his place in the Test team in 2013 but that is the case.
Phil Hughes: Hughes did what plenty of other Australian Test batsman have been asked to do. He went back to state cricket and improved himself after being dropped for perceived weaknesses in his technique. Looked more still and composed at the crease, but there was no one in the Sri Lankan bowling line up with the pace or bounce to expose his weaknesses. The fast swing bowling in England will be the genuine Test as to whether this prodigious cutter and square driver is the real deal.
Michael Clarke: 1595 runs at an average of 106.33, no more need be said. Perhaps more importantly shaping up as one of our best attacking captains of the modern era. Was within touching distance of the number one world Test ranking. Will need even more nous in the absence of Ponting and Hussey.
Usman Khawaja: It is a mystery to me why Rob Quiney played the first two Tests against South Africa at number three instead of Khawaja. He was dropped due to scratchy rather than disastrous form, and perceived lack of fielding ability. He has also failed to post really big scores at state level, which former Test aspirants such as Pup Clarke have done. For me, Khawaja should be picked for the first Test in India and every subsequent Test for the next ten years. A player of immense substance. His textbook technique will yield runs if the selectors show patience.
Mathew Wade: Despite a crucial hundred in the second innings in Sydney, Wade remains under considerable pressure. He dropped one in Sydney which hit him in the bread basket. He has a couple of howlers per Test match. Gilchrist changed what we look for in a keeper, but catching is surely the baseline.
Mickey Arthur’s comment about Brad Haddin’s recall to the one-day team being a potential springboard for a full international recall would be increasing Wade’s anxiety levels. In his favour, Wade gives 100 per cent every time he dons the baggy green and you get the sense this garners the respect of his captain and his team mates.
Brad Haddin: Usually when someone is dropped at 35 it is the end of their international career, but there is some life in the old dog yet. This is due to two factors: Wade’s form with the gloves and the retirement of Huss and Punter. When Katich and then Haddin were moved on, the selectors cited their reluctance to carry four guys over 35 into the Ashes. Now we have none, and Haddin’s experience would be a big plus.