If cricket is the national sport at this time of year, then selecting the Australian cricket team must run a very close second.
As sure as day follows night, any discussion or debate on selection options will at some point include a new team being named. I fully expect to happen again today.
On Monday, the national selection panel named the one-day squad for the three matches in New Zealand, kicking off the latest round.
Nathan Lyon’s white-ball development is again on hold, in favour of the very promising Adam Zampa, while Usman Khawaja has once more been unable to force his way into the squad, which averaged more than 53 runs per wicket across the five games against India.
Over the weekend, during the final ODI in Sydney, and the Big Bash League Final in Melbourne, I got to thinking about just how tough it’s going to be to make the Australian squad for the ICC World Twenty20 in India, to be held in March and April.
Simply put, there’s going to be some very unlucky Australian batsmen.
The NSP named a 17-man squad for the three T20Is against India, starting tonight in Adelaide. The series heads to Melbourne on Friday, and concludes in Sydney on Sunday.
Joining skipper Aaron Finch – and I’ll admit surprise that he’s held onto the T20 captaincy – on the batting front are Travis Head, Chris Lynn, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steven Smith, David Warner and Shane Watson. That’s eight genuine batting options even without wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, and bowling allrounder James Faulkner.
For the WT20, squads will be restricted to 15. So two more players – I’d presume one batsman and one bowler – have to drop out of this initial squad. So not only are players already unlucky to miss out, but more will have to be dropped.
Initially, the two to make way in the current 17 will be Smith and Warner; at the time the T20 squad was named, it was announced “Steve Smith and David Warner will only feature in the first Twenty20… as they both prepare for the first ODI of the Tour of New Zealand that takes place in Auckland on 3 February.”
Furthermore, the NSP also told us that players currently outside the current T20 squad are still in the hunt to make the WT20 cut.
In naming the Twenty20 squad, national selector Rod Marsh explained, “sadly we could not find places for George Bailey and Mitchell Marsh in the Twenty20 international squad but for both of them, and for others who have missed out on places in that line-up, the door is certainly not closed for selection for the ICC World Twenty20.
“We know what both those players are capable of, and both have significant experience of playing Twenty20 cricket in India where the ICC World Twenty20 takes place, but we want them to continue to press their cases for inclusion while we take this opportunity to look at other contenders,” Marsh said.
Zampa was named in the ODI squad for New Zealand because it will “give us a chance to have a good look at [him] ahead of the ICC World T20.”
Khawaja was, along with left-arm quick Joel Paris at the time, advised by the NSP after the first three ODIs against India to “go back to [their BBL] clubs and demand we select them again through outstanding performances.”
Khawaja has certainly done that. Even if we ignore the sheer stupidity of commentary during the BBL Final on Sunday night, where he was described among other things as “arguably the best batsman in world cricket”, Khawaja can’t have done much more.
But from a selection point of view, 11 – or more – batting options simply won’t go into seven.
Mitchell Marsh will be the first casualty. His hundred in Sydney was well made, and exactly the sort of innings we’ve wanted to see from him all summer, but as an allrounder he doesn’t bring as much to the team as Maxwell or Faulkner. So now we’re down to ten.
At the other end of the scale, Smith, Warner, and Maxwell will all definitely go. So will Finch, I’d presume. Though I still question whether he’s a better captain than Smith, Finch is currently the No.1 ranked T20 batsman in the world, more than 200 points clear of Warner, the next best Australian.
So that leaves six batsmen competing for the final three spots.
Watson is ranked inside the top 20 T20 batsmen, inside the top 50 bowlers, and is third on the allrounder standings. All that, along with his vast IPL experience, will almost certainly see him picked for his international swansong.
So it’s now five into two: Shaun Marsh, Head, Lynn, Bailey, and Khawaja.
And from here I have only questions.
Is Marsh’s form this summer so commanding that his excellent IPL record can get him over the line?
Are Head’s gentle off-breaks with a remarkable habit of getting wickets just an exclamation mark on top of his obvious batting talent and potential?
Is Lynn likely to be anywhere near as destructive in India when the ball isn’t coming on as well as it does at home?
Could Bailey’s lower-order experience, and his ability to manage the situation late in the innings, be invaluable?
And is Khawaja in such supreme form that you can’t ignore him any longer?
If like me you can answer ‘yes’ to all of those questions, then you’re getting the point. Compelling cases can be made to include any batsman, but that’s the easy bit.
Working out who misses the WT20 cut is where the selectors will earn their money.