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From rugby to cricket, it’s déjà vu for Australian selectors

Jackson Bird is continually underrated for the Aussies in the Test setup. (Ross Setford/SNPA via AP)
Expert
9th November, 2016
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It’s hard to comprehend why the Australian cricket selectors have painted themselves into a corner for Saturday’s second Test several times over.

Maybe I’ve spent the rugby season with my eyes spinning trying to keep up with the revolving door policy that has been the Wallabies selections this year.

But whatever it is, quite why they’ve ignored two rounds of Sheffield Shield cricket played in the last fortnight in naming an unchanged side to play in Hobart is beyond me.

I don’t know what message they’re trying to send state cricketers around the country, but it’s far from positive.

It matters not that Shaun Marsh was later ruled out, and Joe Burns and Callum Ferguson were brought into the squad.

Well before the first Test thumping was confirmed in Perth, the selectors made their position clear. In fact, their position was made clear when the squad was named for the first two Tests.

As far as they were concerned, this was the squad to win the first two Tests and no changes would be necessary.

That announcement was on the final day of the first round of Shield games, immediately consigning the second round of games to centre wicket net sessions for the batsmen around the country.

Marsh’s broken finger ruled him out on Monday night, opening the door for Burns’ recall while Jackson Bird was drafted into the squad as cover on Tuesday afternoon when Peter Siddle was ruled out with a lower back complaint.

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Adam Voges remains in doubt with a hamstring complaint, which could give Ferguson a long-awaited Test Debut.

If the veteran Western Australian bat is ruled out, it could be his career done, and the same probably applies to Marsh and Siddle, to be fair.

Another curious call is that Joe Mennie already appears locked in to debut in place of Siddle. Reports were coming through even as early as Wednesday morning that Jackson Bird would only play on his Bellerive Oval home track if another bowler is ruled out before Saturday.

Now, I don’t really care if Mennie was always the preferred choice. Clearly being named ahead of Bird for Perth means the selectors believe Mennie is the better option, even if they got to that position by looking at his batting. If he’s the next in line, he deserves his debut.

But why make that decision known so early? Is there honestly nothing Bird can do in the two remaining days of preparation to strengthen his case?

Regardless of all this, and going back to this initial theme of watching the Wallabies closely this year, this second Test is already bringing back those same feelings of sinking dread that usually comes in the week before an Eden Park Bledisloe Cup match.

It’s becoming increasingly clear about this Australian side that that only way for them to win a Test is for David Warner and Steven Smith and Mitchell Starc to fire in the same match.

And South Africa, of course know this.

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Just as was the case in Perth, South Africa know that welcoming the Australian number five to the wicket early in the innings means their batsmen will be soon required. That’s how flaky the Australian middle order is currently looking.

And so naturally, that sinking feeling – which isn’t pleasant, I’ll add – leads to thoughts on who should come into the side. Who can be brought in to right this very rickety ship?

Well, if you start looking through the stats, numerous candidates start sticking out, but it becomes a question of whether you go for youth, or whether the middle order needs experience and patience more than it needs talent and flare.

If you want experience, then the names Bailey and White stand out.

George Bailey had a mixed ODI tour of South Africa and missed the BBQ Cup, but has started the Shield season very well. Cameron White has carried his outstanding BBQ Cup form into Shield cricket, and has four fifties and three centuries in his last ten games.

If it’s youth you’re pumping for, then you can probably take your pick: Kurtis Patterson, Peter Handscomb, Marcus Harris, Nic Maddinson are all building cases of various strengths. You would imagine Cameron Bancroft is in the selectors’ minds somewhere, too.

It’s arguable whether Glenn Maxwell still qualifies in the youth category, aged 28, but his international experience will matter for something, and like White, he could also carry off the number-six-who-bowls-a-bit role that Mitchell Marsh is battling with currently.

For what it’s worth, I rate Mitch Marsh as a cricketer, but the honeymoon is over. He’s got to make some runs.

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He’s hardly alone.

As the Wallabies have shown throughout this year, our cricketers cannot expect success being so wholly dependent on the performances of a couple of players. I can’t remember the last time the Australian cricket team needed so many players within the XI to suddenly fire, but that is the urgent desperation that now exists.

It’s all so worryingly familiar.

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