Doolan’s selection could solve the Watson imbalance

Brett McKay Columnist

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    Australia's Shane Watson may have played his last Test. (AFP Photo/Paul Ellis)

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    We’ve been saying for years now that Shane Watson’s presence in the Australian Test cricket team – warranted or not – brings with it an imbalance that belies his returns.

    How many times have you read the words, ‘Shane Watson remains under a cloud for the upcoming Test…’ in the last say, even just two years?

    With Watson under yet another cloud for Sydney, and with elegant Tasmanian batsman Alex Doolan added to the squad as batting cover for Watson specifically, we once again face the situation where the imbalance Watson’s presence produces means that replacing him for the fifth Test might actually involve more than just the one change.

    Australian coach Darren Lehmann has again stated his preference for playing an allrounder in the Test side, and has also stated that for Watson to hold his place in Sydney, he must be 100 percent fit and able to bowl to full capacity.

    This all sounds very good as a sound grab, but I’m quite sure that the desire to get through this series and achieve a 5-0 whitewash with the same XI will overrule these well-meaning sentiments.

    What’s more, with Watson’s second innings unbeaten 83 being so crucial to Australia’s fourth Test win, I’m sure that will give him some leeway around the selection table, even if ‘full capacity’ is a relative term as far as Watson’s bowling goes.

    I’m sure that if Watson is fit enough to bowl five or six overs a day in Sydney, even if over a couple of spells, he’ll hold his spot.

    However, let’s just assume for a minute that Lehmann’s post-match comments hold true.

    We would quickly find ourselves in the uncomfortable place again where replacing Watson is not just a simple one-for-one equation.

    Just over twelve months ago, I wrote in a column wondering Watson’s worth to the Test side, that the selectors:

    “… have brought a funny situation upon themselves over time. Their insistence on playing an all-rounder evidently comes at the price of imbalance when theoretically it should be helping the balance of the team.”

    This still rings true now, despite Watson’s much-improved performance.

    Doolan has been brought into the squad as a top-order batsman, and you would have to assume that he would go straight into the number three spot if Watson doesn’t get up.

    I know there is a train of thought out there that suggests batsmen should come into the Test side lower down the order, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to that, and Doolan doesn’t strike me as being a genuine middle order option anyway.

    By the same token, and as much as it would get Ian Chappell’s oft-stated goat, Michael Clarke moving to number three is not really an option either, as it would leave a relatively inexperienced 4-5-6 rather vulnerable. If Watson is out, Doolan has to bat at three.

    But this then means that Australia loses a bowler, and even at less-than-capacity, Watson’s economical bowling has been very handy for Michael Clarke this series.

    So to replace Watson as a top-order bat and as a fourth seamer, Australia will have to look at bringing James Faulkner in as well, meaning new number six George Bailey would suddenly be in the firing line.

    Now some of you – plenty of you, maybe – will argue that that’s not really an issue, and that Bailey is probably lucky to be in the side in the first place, let alone struggling to hold his spot.

    He would admit himself that he has hasn’t quite produced the runs he’d like to have this series, but even so, he’s done everything asked of him so far.

    He batted selflessly in getting the team to their desired point of declaration in Perth, probably even quicker than they had hoped after he took down Jimmy Anderson in such spectacular record-equalling fashion.

    He did make a duck in his only innings in Melbourne, and even if the suggestion is that he looked out of place in those 19 balls, more than a bit of doubt remains as to whether he should have been given out, after scant DRS evidence overruled Aleem Dar’s original onfield decision.

    And that’s not a defence of Bailey, for what it’s worth, that’s just what happened.

    What Doolan’s inclusion in the squad for Sydney does do, however, is give a pointer to the touring squad for South Africa.

    I can’t imagine many more than 14 or 15 boarding the plane, in which case there might only be one spare batsman considered. And even if Bailey plays and fails in Sydney, I’m not sure he would be discarded so swiftly after a comprehensive Ashes series win.

    If a change is made, though, and wherever that change might come, there is a chance to correct the Watson imbalance.

    Doolan coming in at number three could see Watson moving down to the number six spot that so many believe he should always have been occupying.

    The ‘traditional all-rounders spot’ as folklore almost demands, the middle order slot means Watson could actually bowl more and still be refreshed enough to produce with the bat. Ideally, coming in at six should have him coming in to face the new ball, too.

    In turn, this move would bring an element of future-proofing the Test team, too.

    With a proper number three batsman, dare I say it, replacing Watson down the order becomes a lot easier, as it means that Faulkner, or down the track someone like Mitchell Marsh, even, could come in with relatively little disruption.

    If Watson can’t fill the number six batting spot, that’s a lot easier to replace or juggle than trying to find a genuine top-order bat capable of bowling 10-15 overs a day.

    Such a move might render Bailey’s Test career over as quick as it started, but it might actually leave the Test side in a more balanced and more easily manageable position.

    And it might finally reduce, if not completely remove, this long-held and sometimes arguably justified selection reliance on one player.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (73)

    • Roar Guru

      December 31st 2013 @ 6:42am
      JGK said | December 31st 2013 @ 6:42am | ! Report

      I am not convinced that Watson will be able to bat with the tail as would inevitably be required at 6.

      What we have at the moment js working OK. Perhaps a better solution will be to tell Warner to pull his head in a little more.

      • Columnist

        December 31st 2013 @ 7:11am
        Brett McKay said | December 31st 2013 @ 7:11am | ! Report

        I agree JGK, what’s there now is working pretty well, and as I said in the column, I think it will be the same XI in Sydney. I do however think Doolan’s selection will come sooner rather than later though, and when it does, this can be the major benefit.

        I take your point on Warner pulling his head in, but that still doesn’t assist Watson bowling more, or closer to full capacity, does it…

        • Roar Guru

          December 31st 2013 @ 7:31am
          JGK said | December 31st 2013 @ 7:31am | ! Report

          Must admit I haven’t seen enough of Doolan to comment. It doesn’t feel like he has done enough in Shield to suggest he is the “answer” to our No 3 dilemma but obviously some players can step up.

          • December 31st 2013 @ 10:45am
            Timmuh said | December 31st 2013 @ 10:45am | ! Report

            The thing with Doolan is that while he hasn’t dominated a summer, he has been among the top few each year for a number of years. He is not a flash in the pan, with one great season surrounded by mediocrity.
            He is, at least, sombody who seems to want to bat in the top order and that can be important for openers and the number three spot.

          • December 31st 2013 @ 2:51pm
            Jake said | December 31st 2013 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

            “I haven’t seen enough to comment” then you go & make a comment…..


        • December 31st 2013 @ 12:32pm
          Ruminate said | December 31st 2013 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

          Agree it’s time to look forward and blood a ‘career’ no. 3. Haven’t seen a lot of Doolan but all reports are good, though he hasn’t demanded selection… Not sure where to bat Watson though, he just doesn’t turn the strike over enough to bat with the tail at 6, if anything he looks more a 4 or 5 to me? His bowling is possibly more valuable than his batting most of the time….

          • Columnist

            December 31st 2013 @ 12:38pm
            Brett McKay said | December 31st 2013 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

            And David, I suppose if Watson’s at 5, it’s still relatively easy to manage. Watson 5, Smith at 6 would still work quite well, and then if for eg Faulkner had to come in for Watson, then Smith and Haddin could still shuffle up one.

            That’s still better than picking a new number 3, and then a another allrounder in place of a no.6 bat as well..

    • December 31st 2013 @ 6:45am
      Photon said | December 31st 2013 @ 6:45am | ! Report

      Kallis batted 3 then 4

    • December 31st 2013 @ 7:39am
      jameswm said | December 31st 2013 @ 7:39am | ! Report

      WHat does Doolan average this SS season?

      Watson adds balance, not imbalance to the test side. It becomes imbalanced when he’s NOT there, rather than when he’s there.

      Havin said that, I’ve alay said he should bat at 6. Even when injured though, he’s hard to replace. Where do you find a top 6 test bat who is a good test bowler as well?

      • December 31st 2013 @ 8:05am
        TheSilentProgressor said | December 31st 2013 @ 8:05am | ! Report

        He is averaging 39 this season and is quite a way down on the leading run scorers list. But they are basing this selection more off what he has done against South Africa last year and how fluent he looked against England this year before he got an awesome ball from Anderson.

      • December 31st 2013 @ 8:37am
        Nudge said | December 31st 2013 @ 8:37am | ! Report

        Agree jameswm. Not sure he is a 6 though. He plays with hard hands, loves the ball coming onto the bat. Coming in at 6 against a soft ball is not good for Watson. He is also a good player of spin, but he struggles against it if he’s facing it as soon as he walks out to bat. He is the best 3 in australia

        • December 31st 2013 @ 10:51pm
          Mark said | December 31st 2013 @ 10:51pm | ! Report

          The best 3 in Australia with the initials S and W? Nah, Warney is probably better

    • Roar Guru

      December 31st 2013 @ 7:39am
      The Bush said | December 31st 2013 @ 7:39am | ! Report

      Why do we need an all rounder? They are a luxury, not a necessity. The only thing about all this is that Bailey hasn’t secured his place, so there’s no real harm. The real tragedy here is that Doolan is unlikely to be a long term prospects anyway…

      • December 31st 2013 @ 8:10am
        TheSilentProgressor said | December 31st 2013 @ 8:10am | ! Report

        Like Boof has sadi it is very hard on 4 bowlers to do all the bowling, having an all rounder there makes it easier on the frontline bowlers. An all rounder adds balance to the team, especially this team since Watson has fulfilled the role for quite a while if we sudden;y didn’t have an all rounder the team would become unbalanced.

        • December 31st 2013 @ 9:42am
          Matt F said | December 31st 2013 @ 9:42am | ! Report

          Apart from Perth, Watson has barely bowled this series (2 overs in Brisbane, 9 in Adelaide and 10 in Melbourne) but we’re still 4-0 up. That suggests that we’d still be at least 3-0 up if Watson didn’t bowl at all this series. Given the margin of victory in Perth I’d suggest that we could still have been 4-0 up if Watson didn’t bowl.

          If your bowling attack is good enough, and I’d suggest that ours is, then you don’t need an all-rounder. They’re useful if they’re good enough, but you can get by perfectly well without them.

          • Roar Guru

            December 31st 2013 @ 9:57am
            The Bush said | December 31st 2013 @ 9:57am | ! Report

            Exactly, Watson has barely bowled all series anyway and the moment he started to he got injured. I am all for keeping him as he’s batting well right now, but if he’s not available, I’d rather a real batsman. I do not subscribe to the belief that you need more than four bowlers.

            • December 31st 2013 @ 10:53pm
              Mark said | December 31st 2013 @ 10:53pm | ! Report

              Agreed. Let Smith bowl a few more overs.

    • December 31st 2013 @ 7:47am
      Jammel said | December 31st 2013 @ 7:47am | ! Report

      I whole heartedly agree w the Bush! Why always the need for an Allrounder….?

      Very shrewd comment by the author on all rounders must being able to add balance.

    • December 31st 2013 @ 7:57am
      Arthur fonzarelli said | December 31st 2013 @ 7:57am | ! Report

      Anyone who questions the value of Shane Watson to the Australian side has rocks in their head .

      Even if he can’t bowl in Sydney he deserves to hold his place purely on current batting form.

      • December 31st 2013 @ 8:19am
        jameswm said | December 31st 2013 @ 8:19am | ! Report

        What has Watson scored in his last 5 tests? I’m guessing two tons and 2-3 50s, average around 50 or more.

        • December 31st 2013 @ 4:05pm
          Clavers said | December 31st 2013 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

          He’s averaging 55.0 in his past five first-class matches, all of them tests, whereas Doolan is averaging 39 in his last first-class matches, all of then shirld, and only 27.0 in his last five.

          Which to me makes it quite ridiculous to talk of dropping Watson, even if he can’t bowl. He was for enough to score 83 not out with the bag on Dynday, so he is fit enough to play.

          If he can’t bowl and the selectors want a fifty bowling option other than Smith, they should drop Bailey for a batting all-rounder (not Faulkner; he is a bowling all-rounder so he changed the balance). I would actually look at James Hopes. But it is clear the selectors aren’t thinking that.

          Bringing in Doolan for Bailey would make more sense than dropping Watson.

          • Roar Guru

            January 2nd 2014 @ 2:33pm
            Chop said | January 2nd 2014 @ 2:33pm | ! Report

            James Hopes? He doesn’t even exceed his age in batting ave. His batting average is 32 and he’s 35. Hardly a progressive selection. Bowling ave is 28

            Faulkner’s 23 years old, his batting average is 31 and his bowling is 23.

            Where’s the upside in Hopes over Faulkner?

            For the record I’m on board with Faulkner being selected ahead of Bailey regardless of who bats three.

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