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Picking the Australian XI for Brisbane (part II)

High fives all round for Mitchell Johnson as he tore through the English line-up. (AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE)
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13th November, 2014
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Mitchell Johnson is a certain starter for Brisbane, but who shares the new ball, who stands behind the stumps, and who bats at six?

I covered the top five in part one, with Phil Hughes joining David Warner at the top.

I had Shane Watson returning to the side at number three, with Steve Smith and Michael Clarke filling out four and five – or maybe five and four, I still can’t decide.

At six, for the time being, I’m sticking with Mitchell Marsh. I believe he did enough against Pakistan when most of his, much higher regarded, teammates did not.

There are plenty of other guys on the verge of selection with the likes of Usman Khawaja, Tom Cooper and Ed Cowan all scoring plenty of runs early in the season – that’s just to name a few.

Sure, if Marsh doesn’t work out against India then that’s fine, make a change for the Ashes, but for the moment the selectors should stick with him.

Between Marsh, Watson, Clarke, Smith and Warner, there are more than enough options to cover the ‘fifth bowler’ duties.

Shoulder permitting, Brad Haddin is still first-choice keeper, and there is no real reason why that shouldn’t still be the case by the time the Ashes roll around.

Plenty are shaping to knock him off the perch in the shorter forms of the game, but a genuine contender to take over in the Test arena is yet to emerge.

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Right now, Chris Hartley and Peter Nevill seem the most likely alternatives if Haddin isn’t fit. Sam Whiteman’s name is getting thrown around a bit, but he’s not at the top of the queue just yet.

Then there are the bowlers.

Mitchell Johnson – with super-human powers embiggened by his marvellous moustache – has secured his spot for the immediate future as the spearhead of the Australian attack, and seems to be the only bowler whose spot is genuinely safe.

Nathan Lyon should be safe, but there is always the lingering concern that selectors flip a coin and decide to drop him or try someone else. I really hope they refrain from doing that this Summer.

The real uncertainty lies in who gets selected as Johnson’s sidekicks.

In a perfect world, Ryan Harris will be fit a ready to go by the first Test, but he’s only returning to the Queensland Shield side this weekend. Fingers crossed he’s back firing on all cylinders.

Maybe not at his best in recent times, but Peter Siddle has been a consistent workhorse for several years now – the absence of several other quicks through injury has helped him hold his spot though.

Mitchell Starc returned to the side against Pakistan with mixed fortunes, and is still a strong chance for Brisbane. Ben Hilfenhaus was also in the UAE keeping the benches warm, while James Pattinson is still working his way back from injury.

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Then you’ve got guys like Doug Bollinger who want another run in the baggy green. His fellow New South Welshman Josh Hazlewood who has apparently been “on the cusp” of Test selection for some time now – but Starc should still be ahead of both of them.

A couple of other options include Western Australia’s Nathan Coulter-Nile – who has been in-and-out of the one-day side – and South Australia’s Chadd Sayers.

Some say that Sayers isn’t quick enough (does that make them nay-Sayers?) but on the back of his performance in the Sheffield Shield last year I would have had him as the back up pace option for the South African tour back in February.

Regardless of his pace, a continued strong showing in Shield cricket should keep Sayers in the frame. Also in the South Australian’s favour should be his strong efforts against India A a few months ago.

Nathan Lyon must be the spin option picked, he is still the best option available. Stephen O’Keefe was dropped after the first Test against Pakistan, but I hope it is not the last we see of him – perhaps we could get spin twins at Adelaide or Sydney.

Some noise has been made in the last week or so that Queensland’s Cameron Boyce could be a chance, but I don’t know if that is simply because the first Test is in Brisbane, or if people think he is a genuine possibility.

He took 26 wickets in Shield cricket last year, but his strike rate of 77.2 and average of 45.15 put him a long, long, way behind O’Keefe – even Xavier Doherty had a slightly better record than Boyce.

It would also seem a little daft to select Boyce seemingly based on a couple of good T20 outings, but the selectors have done stranger things, especially to Lyon. Remember Ashton Agar?

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